Hula Dancing


That effort hopes to solve one of the long-standing paradoxes of collaborative computing, which is that in order for the solution to be truly effective, everyone has to have access to it. But given the costs of deploying collaborative application software, not everybody has it.

The Hula project is trying to bring together blogging tools that allow people to publish journal entries that can be easily shared with others, wikis that allow people to edit Web pages from within a browser, and XML namespaces for bringing order to those documents.

One of the companies that expects to deliver low-cost collaboration software products based on what comes out the Hula project is Novell. In particular, David Patrick, vice president and general manager for Linux open-source platforms and services at Novell, sees the Hula project as the equivalent of the Apache Web server group for collaboration software.

There's no doubt that there is opportunity to create collaboration software products around blogs and wikis because people are already using them to collaborate--most notably, people trying to build applications and college students working on group projects. And once such products are created, Novell at least has some credibility in the groupware space with its existing set of Groupwise offerings and the fact that the initial e-mail server code for the Hula project comes from the company's NetMail e-mail and calendaring application. That product already supports SMTP, IMAP and iCalendar, and it will support the emerging CalDAV access protocol for calendaring.

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The question is whether the two largest incumbents in the collaboration space will sit still while Novell or somebody else tries to drive open-source into the collaboration space.

IBM, which has a Notes franchise to protect, has been a supporter of open-source projects such as Apache but has been notoriously disingenuous about open source at the application-server level or above. However, IBM is looking for any reason it can find to jump-start Linux on the desktop at Microsoft's expense. So it's conceivable that IBM could get behind Hula in a big way.

Then there is Microsoft, which has a big platform base with Exchange that it has never really been able to completely leverage to create a set of widely adopted collaboration applications. Most recently, Microsoft has reached out to acquire Groove Networks and the talents of Notes inventor Ray Ozzie. But while Ozzie's vision of Notes was a wild success in the 1980s and early 1990s, Groove in the age of the Internet was a spectacular failure--largely due to an inept go-to-market strategy that focused on the Global 2000 at the expense of creating a grassroots base for Groove.

That may be where Hula and its adherents ultimately prevail. By the time Novell and others such as Red Hat bring open-source-based collaboration suites to market, there will already be a large installed base of users that will have been exposed to blogs, wikis and other related technologies.

And as anybody in the collaboration software space knows, getting users to actually adopt collaboration software that ultimately changes the way they interact with applications and each other is more than half the battle. That will likely take a new generation of workers that train their colleagues on new approaches to collaboration by bringing skill sets around blogs and wikis with them, rather than hoping for the usual collaboration epiphany.