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The felt dependency on Microsoft Outlook

Posted by Andreas Rösler on Monday, April 17, 2017

This is a guest post by my friend and colleague at the OSBA Andreas Rösler - one of the minds behind Kopano.

Andreas published on his blog a german post on "the felt dependency on Microsoft Outlook" that I really liked and wanted to have a english version of it available. Please enjoy reading!

felix kronlage

The felt dependency on Microsoft Outlook

On 10th April an international journalist team around Harald Schumann of the German tagesspiegel published the results of researches they did over several months about “Europe’s dire dependency on Microsoft“. The article mainly focuses on LibreOffice as an alternative to Microsoft Office. I can only underline all of the explanations, experiences and facts described in this article from my eleven years of experience in the OpenSource groupware scene.

This post is not supposed to be any form of Microsoft-bashing. It is not the one big company, but the relationship between the company and its customers from the public sector - the ratio can be equated well with a strong, but only felt dependency. Why a "strong, but only felt dependency"? Because it is not correct to accuse Microsoft alone for this dependency. The other side easily could break out. But it does not do it. Microsoft is also not the only group that behaves in this way. However, the number of those who do not work with its software on a daily basis is rather countless.

Our evolution with the market power

Us - this means my company, my colleagues and myself - have seen the market power of Microsoft on the clients-side already a long time ago. With Zarafa we have built an alternative solution. Our goal at that time was to offer a server for Microsoft Outlook, which does not have to come from Microsoft. This had initially technical advantages, then financial and ultimately the word "openness" played an increasingly important role. This openness meant Open Source, but also the interfaces to user management systems or other infrastructures. While Microsoft Exchange - to the present the Microsoft server component behind Outlook - necessarily requires a Microsoft ActiveDirectory, which requires a Microsoft Windows server and so on, we were almost open from the beginning for OpenLDAP, Novell eDirectory and all other user directories following the Open LDAPv3 standard.

The leading client for Zarafa was MS Outlook. Why? Convenience. There is hardly anyone in the corporate world who does not have it. In addition to MS Word and MS Excel, quoted in the named article, Outlook is not just another, but in my experience a much stronger lead into this dependency. With its office suite LibreOffice offers good alternatives to the two first mentioned solutions. Here, as a user, you may be bothered by the look and feel and the little things that you can solve with trainings, as described in the article. But which software is used as an user in order to efficiently manage his e-mails, appointments, tasks and contacts? Here the market is sown thinly.

When Outlook 2010 was released, we realized at Zarafa that things are going to change. Where previously fixed, standardized out of habits interfaces were, there were suddenly fixed dependencies to MS Exchange in elementary basic functions. Maybe you realized it: where the Outlook installation routine used to ask whether you have Exchange, Lotus Notes, Groupwise, POP3 / IMAP or another mail server, the program asks for Office365 or Exchange only these days - both are from Microsoft. Even their connection to Outlook was changed. Outlook can no longer be the leading client of a groupware that is not named Exchange or Office365. Last but not least, we created Kopano as a fork from Zarafa, which primarily connects its own clients - DeskApp and WebApp. In doing so, we address exactly the dilemma posed in the previous paragraph.

The addiction to Outlook

Regarding the daily workflow in offices without Microsoft Outlook, I would like to quote a department manager of one of our customers in the public sector. The task she gave me was so special in my memory:

"Please give us something - anything - so that those who can no longer work with Outlook do not feel like second-class people!"

No Outlook = second class people?!?

This quotation summarizes in all brevity and conciseness, why I wrote in the summary of a "strong, but only felt dependency". What has Outlook that other solutions - in this case our own - do not have? Already one and a half years ago I once listed ten thoughts to ask when it feels like being dependent on Outlook. And it clearly shows: One can replace Outlook. Today we are even a few steps further.

Alternatives

"What is there to counteract Outlook? It should only be the same as Outlook." - a requirement, which I have heard in the last ten years countless times. "What does Outlook do?", is my usual reaction to this. Very few things are listed which our DeskApp does not cover. Mostly one wants to edit e-mails, use shared calendars, send e-mails directly from his desktop. And the assistance of the management needs Outlook – A vicious circle: Why does the assistance need Outlook? Because she learned it. Tadaa This is precisely the "dependence on the one provider" which "slows down the technical progress in the public sector", as Dietmar Harhoff, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, was quoted in the article .

And there are, the alternatives. One of these is our Kopano DeskApp. This "non-Outlook" runs on Windows, on macOS and on Linux. It even looks a bit like Outlook. You can write emails, work together in calendars, delegate tasks - actually do all that Outlook can do. And if you want to send a document in Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer, the DeskApp jumps up and a new e-mail with the attached document is ready for dispatch.

New dependencies on the part of Microsoft have been installed slowly and steadily in the form of Sharepoint and Skype. The Kopano DeskApp supports a file integration to integrate any file storage one already has in use and web meetings to communicate quickly and directly with one another.

There is endless more. But the most important thing is: All this is open source. This is how we can earn money as an European company, which we have been demonstrating for years. And that is how we deliver confidence. Our source code can be checked. There are the experts - be it in the student community, at the Max Planck Institute, or in the company specialising in audits, which also do this occasionally. Vulnerabilities in terms of security or compatibility are thus sought and discovered by a swarm intelligence. This helps everyone and does not exclude others from using their knowledge and experience.

Last but not least, it is a basis for innovation. Our files integration was a community add-on of a student of the university of Graz. We liked it and have taken it into our product and significantly expanded it. The web meetings are based on spreed.me, which is published under the AGPL license as well. Partners integrate their solutions, such as e-mail archiving software and others. All this goes without complex contracts, manufacturer certifications and mutual license payments, which would have to be paid by the customer in the end. This is innovation made by Open Source!

Summary

I could still write endlessly on this subject. With our customers and those who want to become one, and also in the OSB Alliance, I am almost always talking about these issues. But the main message of this blog post is: There is a dependency on Microsoft. This is, first and foremost, in the minds and is technically predominantly only a felt dependency. Courage is the only thing needed by the single authority to go the step away from Microsoft. Some already did it. We and many others in our ecosystem do everything to enable more of them!

Thanks to the journalist team for this work! The article describes everything I have experienced again and again for more than ten years.