Open source identity: Horde lead developer Jan Schneider

Lesser known business suite contains wealth of applications

Horde lead developer and release manager Jan Schneider

Horde lead developer and release manager Jan Schneider

Are you looking for an open source, Web-based e-mail and groupware suite with its own development framework, Ajax interface, more than 50 applications, an active developer community, and millions of end users all over the world? The Horde communication and collaboration suite may not be as well known as the big name commercial offerings, but according to lead developer and release manager Jan Schneider it has just as much to offer, and more.

In this opening part of TechWorld’s Open Source Identity series, we explore how Horde, having laid the foundations of a solid Web application suite throughout the past 10 years, is poised to gain a lot more notoriety.

Tell us a little about the history of Horde and when and why it started, and how you got involved. How many developers have and are contributing to Horde?

Horde started in summer 1998, when Chuck Hagenbuch created a Web mail system for his university. It was called IMP 1.0.0, consisted of about 1500 lines of PHP 3 code, HTML and documentation. Since then, a Web application framework, over 50 applications, two groupware suites, and 350,000 lines of PHP code have evolved. IMP still exists and has just been released as version 4.3, while we're already working on IMP 5.

I personally started a typical open source career with the Horde project. I was in need of a Web mail solution and installed Horde, then updated translations, started fixing bugs and sending patches. Finally I got more involved into Horde development, project management and the PHP community as a whole. Today I'm one of the core developers of the Horde project, release manager and provide professional consulting for the Horde ecosystem.

Like in any open source project, the number of developers vary. At all times we have around half a dozen developers contributing to Horde, but according to Ohloh about 40 people have committed code during the years. But, of course, there is an uncounted "horde" of users, administrators, developers and translators who have contributed patches, bug reports, ideas, translations and more to the project.

How has Horde grown since its inception? Horde may not be as well known as other open source Web applications of its type, but it seems to have built up a significant user base. How many new users is Horde getting today and what type of organisations are they?

The kinds of organisations that use Horde vary a lot. It starts with small family servers for pure Web mail access, with the largest installations serving up to 3 million users. We don't have any hard numbers, but we assume from the feedback we receive, that the majority of users are larger organisations, especially from the education sector like universities and of course ISPs providing Web mail for their clients. But the most rapidly growing share is probably in small and medium size companies, especially with the focus on groupware functionality we had in the recent past. This emphasis not only added a lot of functionality required for business users today, but also made installation of the Horde software much easier and faster.

We initiated an advisory board earlier this year consisting of some of our larger users. Monthly virtual board meetings help us to take a break and discuss current development, ask for requirements from the users' point of view, cross check that our own ideas make sense to the end users at all, and decide on tasks to work on in the near future.

Recently there have been a lot of big announcements in the open source groupware space. A good, solid open source groupware suite is seen as the "missing link" for the open source stack if compared with Microsoft's Exchange and IBM's Lotus Notes. How does Horde compare with other open source groupware products and commercial offerings?

One thing that doesn't seem obvious for everyone coming to Horde in search of an open source groupware, is the fact that Horde Groupware is completely Web based. We don't provide any desktop clients or try to be drop-in replacements for Exchange or Notes where users could stick with their existing desktop clients. Horde Groupware is the client and the server at the same time.

Recently, we changed this position slightly when we added server functionality that can be used by desktop or mobile clients, for example, WebDAV support for calendar clients, and CalDAV support which is coming with one of the next releases.

From the sheer functionality we are on par if not better than any other open source or commercial groupware solution. And being a pure Web application, Horde has all advantages that software-as-a-service provides, like platform independency and easy deployment.

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