Please help us spread the word on Roundcube Next

Paul Boddie paul at
Mon Jun 15 20:28:44 UTC 2015

On Saturday 6. June 2015 12.13.46 Georg C. F. Greve wrote:
> That said, I genuinely believe it is extremely important for the Free
> Software community to get behind Roundcube Next and help us push it
> forward, as well as bring others on board with it.
> The longer story is here:
> TL;DR, Part I: As a community we *require* technologies that compete with
> Google Apps, Office 365 and the likes in features, convenience, UI/UX, yet
> provide full control and freedom to users.

Since this message was posted to the discussion list, I think we deserve a 
discussion about this. ;-)

First of all, I completely support the further development of Roundcube to 
meet the expectations of its audience, and I already think it does a good job 
of offering an attractive and functional Web-based e-mail client.

I also agree that the competition to Roundcube includes cloud services such as 
those mentioned above *in addition to* the existing proprietary solutions that 
tend to be deployed in organisations. I have personal experience with the 
arguments that are raised around the procurement of such solutions, and I have 
seen largely baseless claims made about Roundcube in order to legitimise 
competing products, so it is only right that Roundcube see off such underhand 
practices not only with advocacy but also with robust functionality.

> TL;DR, Part II: Application Service Providers should get on board with that
> push *right now* because otherwise they will find themselves forced into
> becoming re-sellers for Office 365 and Google Apps -- and increasingly
> unable to compete with their features & networking effects.

There are pressures from several directions on end-users, organisations and on 
providers. It is true that providers will experience pressure to resell such 
proprietary services that are hostile to interoperability and heterogeneity 
(although some will gladly embrace the opportunity out of laziness and lack of 
vision, like large sections of the Norwegian IT industry, for example), and it 
is important to provide options for those who do not wish to abandon their 
independence. But we shouldn't forget the other groups.

It is also the case that end-user organisations experience pressure to move 
to, say, Office 365 through legacy purchasing decisions, dubious bundling and 
bulk-purchasing agreements, coercion by partner organisations (where those 
partners may advocate everybody joining the cloud service in question to make 
things "easier"), and the following of fad and fashion by people in key 
decision-making positions. Some of the processes that occur here can be quite 
corrupt in themselves, even without any vendor involvement.

End-users experience the most frustrating form of pressure: the done deal. 
People in organisations are frequently left out of a decision-making process 
that leads to them being pushed into using solutions they do not like or that 
are not in their best interests. Consequently, one reads numerous accounts of 
dissatisfaction with a given organisation's chosen solution that somebody 
decided was best for everybody.

In your blog article, you wrote the following...

"Open Source has managed to catch up to the large providers in most functions, 
bypassing them in some, being slightly behind in others. Kolab has been 
essential in providing this alternative especially where cloud based services 
are concerned. Its web application is on par with Office 365 and Google Apps 
in usability, attractiveness and most functions. Its web application is the 
only fully Open Source alternative that offers scalability to millions of 
users and allows sharing of all data types in ways that are superior to what 
the proprietary competition has to offer."

Naturally, we have to accept the veracity of your claims around Kolab here, 
although I am sure that there are other organisations producing Free Software 
that might offer their own perspectives on some of the above. But what I think 
is worth discussing further is the means of adoption of these solutions.

You also wrote the following...

"Fully Free Software, that solution should be the generic collaboration 
application that could become in parts or as a whole the basis for solutions 
such as mailpile, which focus on local machine installations using extensive 
cryptography, intermediate solutions such as Mail-in-a-Box, all the way to 
generic cloud services by providers such as cPanel or Tucows. It should 
integrate all forms of on-line collaboration, make use of all the advances in 
usability for encryption, and be able to grow as technology advances further."

Now, it is interesting that you mention things like Mail-in-a-Box as an 
intermediate solution. Presumably, the "intermediate" label refers to the 
targeted nature of that solution in that it does not seek to provide support 
for every kind of communication. Meanwhile, it is interesting that you do not 
appear to mention OwnCloud, perhaps because you do not regard it as a 
competitor or as a possible solution for some enterprises, but here I can only 

However, where I see a problem is the way that people always decide that the 
solution to a given problem is *one* single thing that does it all. Of course, 
there will be some businesses who want to offer a solution and who will adopt 
that solution on a completely fresh basis. Others will happily migrate from 
something else and take on the necessary infrastructure upgrade. But there are 
organisations who do not want to purge their infrastructure of existing, 
working solutions, change key components or introduce a completely different 
operating system distribution.

Here, I get the feeling that some groupware vendors may consider that the 
luxury afforded to Microsoft extends to them, too, but in general it does not 
and will not: such is the temptation of homogeneity and its supposed 
convenience, the likelihood of proprietary infrastructure already being 
present to satisfy the demands of petulant decision-makers and special 
interests, and the phenomenon where it is impossible to introduce a Free 
Software office application that closely resembles the proprietary office 
software people are already using without hearing all about "training costs", 
while at the same time an unintuitive upgrade to that proprietary office 
software merits widely-offered training at great expense. The incumbent almost 
always enjoys benefits that others do not.

What I want to know is how organisations can build on their existing Free 
Software infrastructure within your vision, how organisations can augment 
their infrastructure through mechanisms that deliver the existing 
infrastructure, and whether it is possible to adopt technologies on a piece-
by-piece basis instead of having to consume lots of things that have to be 
switched off or "configured out".

I have a confession to make here: I have some experience on the matter of 
getting Kolab into people's hands via the mechanisms they already use, as well 
as some experience with the notion that they might not want to use every last 
component of the solution, and in the end I decided that my time was better 
spent doing other things. Is Kolab available in Debian yet? I think it highly 
likely that one of your competitors (for which a degree of disdain seems to 
exist within the Kolab ranks) will get their own solution packaged and 
delivered via Debian long before Kolab is, if the latter ever happens at all.

And perhaps that brings me to a point that is pertinent both at the level of 
the initiative described in your messages and at other levels...

> Some already understood this, and have joined the Roundcube Next community,
> such as cPanel (, Tucows, and now
> also Fastmail
> (
> lopment/).


> So unless your provider is cPanel, Tucows, Fastmail or Kolab Now, all of
> who are part of this already, please encourage them to step up and join
> the community to push for Roundcube Next.

If what you want is people's money, you probably don't need any advice or 
opinions from me about getting it. But on notions of community, where a 
community is more than a collection of individuals and organisations that have 
pledged donations in a funding campaign, I see cause for concern.

I do not follow Mailpile enough to be able to say whether it has a development 
community, but one can see that the heroic efforts of the instigators are 
probably not being multiplied by a significant amount by community involvement 
(although this may have changed in recent months). Money, if substantial 
enough, can pay salaries and get things done, but it isn't a substitute for a 
viable community. My previous observations of the Roundcube community is that 
it is more visible and enjoys more outside participation than other Kolab-
related efforts, but it would be of great concern if genuine community-
building efforts did not occur while the opportunity exists for them to have a 
decent result.

A viable community could also mitigate any concerns about "classic" Roundcube. 
As I noted above, there are people who will happily make bad things up about 
Roundcube and Free Software in order to make the easy procurement decision 
that their bosses want to happen in favour of proprietary software. I have no 
idea what the roadmap is like for Roundcube as a whole, but there is plenty of 
experience available within Free Software communities that should inform the 
strategy and help avoid the mistakes of the past (especially given that some 
people in your employ have been heavily involved with KDE, for example).

You also wrote this...

"Just as Kolab Systems will keep driving the commercial ecosystem around the 
solution, allowing application service providers (ASP), institutions and users 
to run their own services with full professional support. And all parts of 
Kolab will remain Free and Open, as well as committed to the upstream, 
according to best Free Software principles."

I have no idea about the "commercial ecosystem" and how successful it is. 
Again, I will have to take your word for how well it is going, and hope that 
Free Software is holding its own. But the "best principles" part is worth a 
closer look.

I will admit that my own efforts to contribute to Kolab were not always 
optimal or well-formulated, but my impression was that if something did not 
serve the direct interests of Kolab Systems, it was considered a liability and 
not to be encouraged or entertained in Kolab "proper". While I can understand 
people wanting to take full responsibility for what they deliver to their 
paying customers, I had to deal with two simultaneous messages: "don't fork 
Kolab", and "patches are welcome"! Ultimately, I felt that the resulting 
effect was equivalent to being trolled.

When one cannot even improve a component that was supposedly thrown over the 
wall as a gift to the community to get them going, being something that is not 
even used to serve paying customers, one realises that there is no real basis 
for dialogue. And without dialogue, a true community cannot exist. Now, such 
functionality will inevitably migrate into separate projects, and if, in such 
cases, Kolab cannot be an upstream for people's work, the challenge then is to 
cultivate a proper community that embraces such separate projects. My personal 
conclusion is that groupware is indeed best done as separate projects, anyway, 
not as a collection of highly-interdependent entities. But my impression was 
that outsiders were merely being allowed to play with toys on someone else's 
lawn (and yet be told to keep off the grass, perversely enough).

Kolab existed in two previous major versions before the current one. I think a 
lot of people assumed that there had been continuity and that it was thriving, 
when I now suspect that this was not the case for some time, and those 
investigating it for potential deployment presumably came to an unfortunate 
conclusion that possibly taints the current offering even now. Did somebody 
declare groupware "done" and "won" for Free Software? There is also plenty of 
experience in Free Software communities of showcase projects and complacency 
that drives people to look elsewhere.

I don't believe in "too long, didn't read", even though I often write too much 
and could always edit my writing down to something more concise, but what I 
really want to know is whether there is an appetite to encourage a thriving 
environment providing choice and convenient adoption in Free Software 
groupware for end-users, developers and implementers, or whether we are just 
going to be picking winners again and end up in the same situation in ten 
years' time.

Thank you for your considerable attention!


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