HP to end OpenMail with next version

Hewlett-Packard Co. has confirmed that the next release of OpenMail, its corporate e-mail software, will be its last, leaving some customers in the lurch.

"HP intends to release OpenMail Version 7.0 in the next few weeks. Since HP isn't focusing on developing end-user applications, we have notified OpenMail customers that Version 7.0 will be the last major release of HP OpenMail. HP continues to provide full support to customers for Versions 6 and 7 for the next five years," said HP spokesman Nam Lamore.

The most startling aspect of the decision to cut OpenMail is the lack of a newer HP messaging product to replace it. Both messaging heavyweights Lotus Development Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have been phasing out their legacy e-mail products, cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail, in favor of their newer messaging systems, Notes/Domino and Exchange/Outlook respectively.

HP has no such messaging product to fill the void once OpenMail is gone, and Tim O'Neill, e-mail administrator at the US Army's Aberdeen Test Center at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, says that he's not happy about it.

"I'm quite annoyed at what they're doing," he said, "My agency spent a substantial amount money for seat licenses, plus the subscription [update] program, which is extremely costly. I feel that they have taken our money."

O'Neill says he'll be particularly hard hit because he uses HP servers for his databases, which he can link to his messaging system.

The Aberdeen Test Center probably isn't the only government agency to feel this hit, O'Neill said, since OpenMail was the one program that met almost all government requirements for messaging systems. The standards that HP didn't meet were easily fixed, he said.

Now HP will release the last version of OpenMail and is urging customers to buy into the upgrade, which O'Neill balked at.

"To turn around and say go ahead and buy it after cutting and putting so much into subscriptions ... My opinion is that HP is walking away from a commitment," he said, "It's the irony of it. I want to keep paying them."

The news came as something of a surprise, since HP has worked aggressively to make OpenMail accessible on wireless devices. In September and December, HP announced deals with Nokia and the Sprint PCS Group respectively to provide wireless access to OpenMail.

"It does surprise me," said Mark Levitt an analyst at International Data Corporation. He said OpenMail developers have been ambitious and optimistic about new ways to build on OpenMail.

"This is probably a business decision outside the OpenMail group to cut [an unprofitable product]," said Levitt. Both Levitt and Dana Gardner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group, said OpenMail only holds about 5 percent of the messaging market.

Gardner added that OpenMail is too old and not built specifically with Internet standards in mind, which makes it a liability for HP going forward.

Levitt and Gardner said that HP will have to make an agreement with a messaging hosting provider or buy one outright to stay competitive.

HP already backed off on a plan a few years ago to build OpenMail capabilities on top of Microsoft NT servers and instead pushed its customers to Exchange. Unfortunately for users like O'Neill, Unix customers are the ones who will suffer.

"If you haven't moved now, you really ought to start thinking about it," Gardner said.

So the land grab will likely begin, said Gardner. "HP has now invited the folks at Exchange and Domino to go in and say, 'We'll save you.'"

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