15 February 2005
The Hula Project
Today we are thrilled to be launching Hula, a new project to build an open source mail and calendar server.
Hula is a really exciting project already in part because we think that we can fill a hitherto-unclaimed spot in the stack of open source applications and in part because we’ve “primed the pump” by basing it on an existing, functioning codebase: a Novell product called NetMail. NetMail already runs millions of calendars and mailboxes. And so we’re starting off with the mundane work of building a functioning server done, leaving us to focus on creating interesting new functionality.
We know the demand is high for a credible piece of software in this space. Ever since we first released Evolution in 2000, people have been asking us where they can find an open source server. The lack of an implementable open calendar server protocol has crippled calendar-server efforts for years; we think CalDAV is finally going to fix that and are getting behind that as our primary fat-client interface for Evolution and Chandler and Sunbird, and maybe Outlook as well.
Our direction is distinct from other open source collaboration server projects in that we’re not trying to build every conceivable bit of functionality that someone might consider “collaboration” into the server. Instead, we are focused on building great calendar and mail functionality. The dominant collaboration solutions today (Exchange and Notes) are built on a pre-Internet design and are just no fun to use for real people who live on the web, who collaborate across organizational boundaries (or who don’t have organizational boundaries to worry about), who want light-weight tools and URLs for their meetings and their appointments on their cell phone and so on.
So we have a couple of specific ideas we want to focus on.
We will build a real web-based calendar. Every networked calendar I’ve ever used has been exactly the same: create appointment, specify subject, location, start time, duration. Accept/tenatively accept/decline. Private/public. Free/busy search.
The current Hula web interface, by Garrett LeSage
And yet there’s no way to schedule appointments with people for whom I only have an email address, no way to get at my calendar data programmatically, to script it, to view it with an RSS feed, to access it via IM or SMS, etc. Thanks to the webcal URI standard people are starting to publish calendars but there’s no easy way to maintain these other than exporting an ICS file from your client and copying it to a server every so often.
Why has no one rethought this model?
Well, we’re going to try to. Our first ideas are up on the Hula web site. Take a second and check them out. Some of this came out of conversations with Jamie Zawinski, and he deserves credit for focusing us on calendars instead of floating off into, I dunno, voice over IP integration or something.
This announcement has been several months in the making here at Novell, but the real work to build a community and interesting new functionality is just starting. Hula is new. It’s young. If you want enterprise-class groupware functionality on Linux today, your only reasonable option is GroupWise. Hula will grow up over time, and probably go in new and unexpected directions. We’re looking forward to seeing where people take it.
One of the incidental things we are doing with Hula is that the web site is a wiki. I’m really interested to see how well that works out; for today’s launch we’ve locked the pages to prevent opportunistic vandalism, but we’ll probably open them up to world-writeability (literally) in a couple of days. Many thanks to Kate Turner and Brion Vibber for their help with MediaWiki over the last few days.
I’m probably going to be spending a lot of today explaining Hula to journalists, but when I’m not doing that I’ll be in #hula on freenode.