Hewlett-Packard Co.'s confirmation last week that it has released what will be the final version of OpenMail caught users of the software off guard and left them scrambling to find a viable path for their messaging-system future.
HP said Version 7.0, released for downloading last week, will end the OpenMail line. The company said it will continue to support the product for five years, but that didn't appease some users.
"I'm quite annoyed at what they're doing," said Tim O'Neill, e-mail administrator at the US Army's Aberdeen Test Center at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. "My agency spent a substantial amount of money for seat licenses, plus the subscription [update] program, which is extremely costly. I feel that they have taken our money and walked away from a commitment."
"Their decision came as a surprise to us," said Chris Brathwaite, a spokesman for United Air Lines Inc. in Chicago. United uses HP's messaging product for its in-house messaging, he said, and now the IT department will have to decide what to do with a messaging system that will be obsolete in a few years.
The eyebrow-raising has been widespread.
"It does surprise me," said Mark Levitt, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. "This is probably a business decision outside the OpenMail group to cut [an unprofitable product]."
While users and analysts expressed surprise at the news, the demise of OpenMail may have been a forgone conclusion, Levitt said. He noted that several years ago, HP backed off from plans to make OpenMail compatible with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT and 2000 servers.
When asked last week why HP opted not to release a version of OpenMail for NT, HP spokeswoman Shirley Quastler responded, "I can't speculate on that."
Levitt and analyst Dana Gardner at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston said OpenMail holds only about 5 percent of the messaging market, though HP claims that 60 percent of the 1,000 largest companies in the world use it.
Also portending OpenMail's demise is the fact that HP is building its hosted messaging products for Internet service providers around messaging software from Openwave Systems Inc.
According to HP, key among the requirements of Internet service providers -- and of hosted messaging in general -- is unified messaging.
"If OpenMail were to be modified heavily to meet new customer requirements [such as unified messaging], it would be a less-efficient product that had moved too far from its original design goals," wrote Nigel Upton, general manager for OpenMail, in an e-mail message to his customers Monday. .
Gardner said the fact that OpenMail is old and wasn't built to accommodate Internet standards makes it a liability for HP going forward.
"If you haven't moved now, you really ought to start thinking about it," Gardner said. And messaging heavyweights Microsoft and Lotus will be anxious to migrate users to their messaging platforms - Outlook/Exchange and Notes/Domino, respectively.
So the land grab begins. "HP has now invited the folks at Exchange and Domino to go in and say, 'We'll save you,' " Gardner said.
Some see a future for OpenMail in the world of open source.
Dan Kuykendall is a network administrator at Fortis Inc., an insurance and financial services company in New York. In his spare time, he does consultancy work on collaboration software and systems and develops open-source groupware.
"They're probably going to be limited in what they can actually release, but it would be nice if they would release what they could," Kuykendall said. OpenMail is a well-built product, he said, and if its source code is clean and modular, open-source developers could very well build on OpenMail.
Current OpenMail users could be a source of funding for that development, since they're going to spend the money on licensing anyway, Kuykendall said. "A lot of them could be convinced to put the funding toward open source," he added.
According to HP's Quastler, however, the company has no plans to release the code.