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Mitch Kapor Ventures into the Lion's Den

Mitch Kapor Ventures into the Lion's Den

Lotus co-founder Mitch Kapor is venturing into the lion's den.

Kapor, one of the key people behind the wildly successful Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet of yesteryear, is now the leading light behind a new open source initiative, code named Chandler (after the great detective novelist Raymond Chandler), to develop a Personal Information Manager that'll let users compose and read e-mail, manage an appointments calendar, maintain a contact list and share information with colleagues, family and friends.

Chandler's backers call it an Interpersonal Information Manager because of the supposed ease with which its users will be able to share information with others,

With Microsoft Outlook being the de facto PIM standard in both the corporate and consumer markets, what Kapor is in effect doing is throwing down the gauntlet to Microsoft.

Chandler is the first project that's being taken up by the non-profit Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF) promoted by Kapor to develop and gain widespread adoption of open source apps.

Kapor is reportedly bankrolling the project to the tune of $5 million through the foundation.

Of course, OSAF finds a lot that's not right with Outlook. It slams it as an "inelegant product to use" and "extremely complex to administer." The enterprise version of Outlook is also criticized for being expensive.

Then, there's, ahem, the little matter of platform support. Outlook runs on Windows. If you're a Linux or Apple aficionado, well, tough luck.

Chandler, on the other hand, is being designed for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. It doesn't require a dedicated server or complex administration either.

OSAF also faults other open source groupware products or projects like Evolution and Kroupware for using Outlook as the baseline of their design and for not taking design risks that could have a big pay-off.

"We're trying to rethink the PIM in fundamental ways," OSAF says.

Chandler is being built with technologies that include peer-to-peer networking, integrated instant messaging and an RDF-compatible semantic database. It's expected to be compatible with standards such as iCal and vCard and the Jabber protocol.

Much of Chandler's application logic is to be written in Python, an object-oriented programming language. Kapor and his team also plan to leverage technologies in Mozilla.

Chandler's first iteration is being designed for individuals and small-to-medium enterprises of up to 100 people. The foundation says it doesn't expect to cut significantly into Outlook's share of the overall enterprise market or its revenues.

Work has already begun on the project, starting with the calendar. The plan is to have a calendar alpha out by the end of the year and version 1.0 by the end of 2003 or early 2004.

The project currently involves eight people, mostly programmers, but is expected to ramp to 14. Kapor is inviting developers to lend their expertise to the effort.

According to Kapor, "We are trying to level the playing field by giving small and medium organizations collaborative tools which are as good as what large companies have had."

Kapor argues that he's not aiming Chandler at the enterprise market, but he's still nursing the hope that just like Linux Chandler could become an enterprise-class product in a few years if it gets initial traction. "So, in this sense, it's a potential long-term threat, just as Linux emerged as competition for Microsoft in the server market," Kapor says.

Chandler is described as the spiritual heir of Agenda, the DOS-based information management tool designed by Kapor and Jerry Kaplan that went nowhere.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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