Open Source Strategies

A blog about open source software and business models, enterprise software, and the opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM Suite.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Using Gmail as Hosted E-mail

My e-mail was broken this morning: Thunderbird is choking with the number of e-mails I get. So, as an experiment, I tried to set up Gmail as my e-mail client. This turned out to be surprisingly easy:
* I used the the Mail Fetcher to configure Gmail to pull my e-mails via POP3.
* In Gmail's Settings > Accounts screen, I added my e-mail address as a "send e-mail as" e-mail.

With just these two settings, I am now receiving and sending e-mails as sichen AT opensourcestrategies DOT com with Gmail through its web interface. This is much better than having a desktop e-mail client for me, though I found the Gmail user interface to be a bit strange.

How Gmail Works

All the e-mail client I've ever used, including Eudora, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, have the concept of a "folder." Your e-mails arrive in the inbox folder. After you send an e-mail, it gets stored in the sent folder. You can also create new folders, such as client X., and move e-mails into it to help organize your inbox.

Gmail works differently: e-mails come into an inbox, and then you can create labels for them. An e-mail could have several labels associated with it, allowing you to classify in multiple ways (client X., technical, support, etc.) After you are done reading an e-mail, you need to click on the "archive" button, so that it gets moved out of your inbox. Then you can still see it either by clicking on the "all mail" link, or by clicking on one of the labels to see the e-mails which have been tagged by this label.

In the end, I think this is better because I would be able to classify my e-mails across multiple criteria, rather than just one folder. However, it was a bit confusing when I first started using it, because the concept of an e-mail folder was so deeply ingrained in the mind of this user. I think it would be better for most users to introduce a folder concept, or at least to make the labels concept look and work more like a traditional e-mail folder.

Another interesting thing about Gmail is that it automatically groups my e-mails into threads, including both the incoming and the outgoing e-mails.

The End of Software?

A couple months ago I had considered implementing an open source Exchange solution. Now, after about 15 minutes of tinkering with Gmail, I've made that unnecessary, at least for myself. It does make me wonder, yet again, whether Gmail and Google calendar have just rendered a whole class of software, commercial or open source, irrelevant. You can bet I'll be thinking about that every time I get an email.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The Greater Community

For the first couple of years after we created the opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM, we thought about our community as many other open source projects do. We defined our "community" as the sum of all the users, developers, and contributors of opentaps, and we asked ourselves questions like "What can we develop for our community?" and "How do we increase the size of our community?"

Only much later did I realize that this is completely wrong. It is wrong because an open source project is not an island, but rather part of a greater open source community that really comprises of all the open source projects out there. In that sense, there is no such thing as "our" community or "your" community. Instead we are all part of one open source community that is linked together and ultimately succeeds or fails together.

What has created this greater open source community is simply the way that open source projects utilize each other's work to create new projects. For example, opentaps directly incorporates several major open source projects, including Apache Tomcat, Derby, Geronimo, Ofbiz, as well as non-Apache projects such as Funambol, JasperReports, Pentaho, and FCKEditor. Furthermore, most users of opentaps use it with an open source database such as MySQL or PostgreSQL, and most deployments of opentaps are on Linux. Therefore, opentaps ultimately relies on all of those projects and their communities. Similarly, when you build an application with opentaps, you are not relying just on our community, but on all these other communities as well.

Once I realized this, I began to think of opentaps in a different way. Instead of thinking about what we can build for our community, I began to think more and more about what other communities could help us make opentaps a better product. Ultimately, our goal with opentaps is not to do everything under the sun, but rather to find innovative solutions for business problems. As such, the central focus of opentaps has shifted over the past year towards creating a platform that brings together the best open source projects for addressing business problems. You have already seen us incorporate new open source projects in the last six months to support business intelligence and reporting and mobility integration. This is just the beginning.

Equally importantly, I started to think about opentaps not just as a product for users of opentaps, but rather as a product that could benefit the greater open source community as well. The various opentaps applications are ultimately not just a set of screens and tables and reports, but rather a set of best practices for handling business needs. Those best practices should be available to the greater community, and one of our key goals for this year is indeed to make opentaps useful for a much larger audience of users by creating extensions or bridges to other open source projects. In other words, when you choose to use something other than opentaps, you are not an enemy. We still want to help you, and we hope we will soon.

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