Open-source collaboration software vendor Zimbra is adopting an intriguing approach to taking on proprietary titans like Microsoft and Google, using its channel partners as its competitive muscle.
The aim is for Zimbra to step completely out of directly selling the commercial versions of its products so the startup can focus fully on software development and support, according to Satish Dharmaraj, Zimbra's ebullient co-founder and chief executive officer.
It's a particularly interesting time to head up an open-source company in the wake of several surprising recent developments. Among them were Sun Microsystems's decision to use the GNU GPL (general public license) to open source Java and Oracle's move into providing what it terms full enterprise support for Red Hat's distribution of Linux.
Prior to founding Zimbra and executive positions at messaging software companies Openwave and Onebox, Dharmaraj was at Sun's JavaSoft division where he was a prime mover in designing and implementing JavaServer Pages (JSPs) technology to create dynamic Web content.
IDG News Service sat down with Dharmaraj to talk about Zimbra, its competition and recent developments in the open-source arena. An edited transcript follows.
What's your take on Sun's open sourcing of Java?
It's great news. It was surprising they're going with GPL. I only wish they'd done it four years before when the open-source movement was getting started. It would've killed, stopped [Microsoft's] .Net from ever having been. They [Sun] made a mistake.
And, your thoughts on GPL?
GPL is whatever [Richard] Stallman [the creator of GPL] decides it is. We chose to go with the Mozilla Public License [MPL] primarily because it allows downstream value-add by developers who can decide on their own whether to open source. It's more like the Lesser GPL.
We had a long debate on whether to go GPL or MPL. Firefox uses MPL and Mozilla is respected. We didn't have to worry what the hell is going to happen with GPLv3.
There's a shift going on. Companies are open source, but at the same time they need to feed their developers and run a company. Traditional GPL companies have been hobbyists. It's all pure speculation about what will be in GPLv3. [The license is currently in draft form.] Stallman is trying to really restrict all the commercial benefits of GPL. The philosophy of the Free Software Foundation is that software should be totally, totally free and companies shouldn't benefit from it ever. Ironically, Red Hat and MySQL are the ones he's killing with it.
What do you think about Oracle's move into Red Hat's territory?
There are inherent risks of the open-source model. It's a lot more than putting source code out there. You allow your competitors to take your code and compete with you on price and efficiency. Now Larry's joined the Linux market, Red Hat and Suse need to roll up their sleeves and compete more on price and efficiency. I don't think it's predatory per se, but Linux didn't need another vendor to split the pie. Why doesn't Oracle focus on the enemy, proprietary vendors, and go shooting at Redmond? From the purely customer perspective, it might actually be a good thing giving users one throat to choke if something goes wrong with the database or the Linux kernel.