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Archives | 2002

TECHNOLOGY; Nonprofit to Create Open Source Software


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Mitch Kapor, a software industry pioneer, has started a nonprofit organization to create software applications in the manner of the ''open source'' movement, in which the underlying code is freely shared with the public.

Mr. Kapor, who in 1982 created the first so-called killer app for personal computing, the Lotus 123 spreadsheet, and was a co-founder of the Lotus Development Corporation, has financed the new organization, the Open Source Applications Foundation, with $5 million of his own money. But he is also accepting donations. Andy Hertzfeld, a leader of the original Apple Macintosh development team, has joined as a full-time volunteer, and the foundation has five other employees, all based in San Francisco.

The foundation's first software program is to be a personal information manager, or PIM, as such programs are known. Code-named Chandler, the software is to combine e-mail and calendar functions with tools for sharing files among multiple users. Mr. Kapor said he planned to release a functional portion of the program by the end of the year, and hoped to have a finished product by the end of 2003. At this time the Foundation plans to release Chandler, both the production program and the underlying source code, as a free download, but Mr. Kapor said he would not rule out a commercial package, most likely from a third party.

''I actually think the PIM is the central productivity application, not the word processor or the spreadsheet,'' Mr. Kapor said last week. ''Where people spend their time is their e-mail and calendar,'' he said. ''I've felt frustrated that what is out there falls short of something satisfying.''


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Most large companies use Microsoft's Outlook Express for e-mail and calendars. But the program's more advanced features, like file sharing and collaboration, are available only when it is used with Microsoft Exchange, a more costly product requiring network server computers. Mr. Kapor said Chandler would offer this kind of performance to smaller organizations at much lower cost by using so-called peer-to-peer technology, which relies on the users' PC's and eliminates the server.

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''Individuals and small organizations are at a disadvantage today,'' he said, ''and I'm an old PC guy. I'm in favor of end-user empowerment and decentralization.'' Mr. Kapor said Chandler was aimed at filling an unmet need for smaller organizations, not at unseating Microsoft in large companies. Groove Networks, a company backed by venture capital and founded by the Lotus Notes creator, Ray Ozzie, has also produced a peer-to-peer e-mail and collaboration program, but it, too, is primarily aimed at large companies, Mr. Kapor said.

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The Open Source Applications Foundation will offer its code free to individuals or organizations, provided they also make any code they produce using the foundation's work freely available as well. Companies producing proprietary commercial products with the foundation's underlying code will pay a fee.

Jeff Tarter, editor of Softletter, said he was skeptical that there was a market for Mr. Kapor's new venture, but the success of the Linux operating system had also defied the skeptics.

''I haven't seen any evidence that there's a hole in the market here,'' he said. ''But all the rational people have been completely wrong about most of these markets. So the fact that this sounds loony is probably a good thing.''

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