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The End of Eudora as We Know It?
by
Posted On October 23, 2006
On Oct. 11, 2006, Qualcomm, Inc. (http://www.qualcomm.com) announced the release of the last commercial version of its popular e-mail client, Eudora (http://www.eudora.com). Future versions of Eudora will be free, open source, and available through the Mozilla Foundation (http://www.mozilla.org/foundation). They will use the same underlying technology platform as Mozilla's own e-mail client, Thunderbird.

As Qualcomm's core business evolved over the last several years, it became clear—as far back as the late 1990s—that Eudora was no longer in sync with Qualcomm's other product lines. Though still profitable, the required resources needed to continue Eudora's development were quite different than those of the rest of the company.

According to Jeremy James, Qualcomm's senior director of corporate communications, a loyal base of Eudora users exists, even though it represents only a fraction of e-mail users. In general, Eudora users are somewhat of an "anti-Microsoft Outlook" group; they are more inclined to have an interest in open source products. Most Eudora users have expressly made the decision to use Eudora; many users of Outlook (or Outlook Express) use the service because it was already loaded (for free) onto their computers and/or their companies required it.

The dilemma for Qualcomm was how to remain faithful to Eudora fans while arriving at the right business decision for the company. It wanted a pragmatic and realistic solution; competing with Outlook was not even a consideration. As it turned out, the two concerns were not mutually exclusive, and the final decision was not financially based.

Qualcomm and its Eudora development group worked out an arrangement with the Mozilla Foundation. Eudora developers will continue to update and refine the software, and Eudora will become an open source e-mail client under the auspices of the Mozilla Foundation, currently with the project name Penelope. The intent is to maintain Eudora's integrity.

Many Eudora users are concerned about Mozilla's ability and interest in maintaining two open source e-mail clients: Eudora and Thunderbird. It is not a new concept for Mozilla to offer more than one open source product in a given area. The Mozilla Suite includes the Mozilla browser (which may be installed as a stand-alone program) and an integrated e-mail client, as well as other components. Also offered are the Firefox browser; Thunderbird e-mail; the SeaMonkey project, which is a new product similar to the Mozilla Suite; Camino, a browser for Mac OS; and more. Frank Hecker, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, emphasizes that, at least for the short term, the Mozilla Foundation plans to continue both Eudora and Thunderbird. As with most technology-related matters, it is nearly impossible to predict what might happen in the long term.

Eudora and Thunderbird will continue to offer different interfaces. Eudora users need not be concerned that once the open source version of Eudora appears, the product will look and act differently than the current commercial version. Aside from the interfaces, another differentiation might be the manner in which each e-mail client relates to other software, such as browsers. Depending on the development path of each product and future technology, Eudora and Thunderbird could continue to diverge or become more similar. When possible, functionality that is added to one might be added to the other.

People unfamiliar with the concept of open source products might worry about increased security vulnerabilities and easier infiltration by hackers. Hecker was reassuring: So-called hacking does not require having access to software codes. Therefore, just because a product is open source, its vulnerability to hacking does not automatically increase.

By joining the ranks of open source software, Eudora's developers will be able to take advantage of user input. For example, Firefox, one of Mozilla's open source browsers, has close to 2,000 available extensions or add-ons. These add-ons are generally not written by people at the Mozilla Foundation—individual developers, programmers, and volunteers write these short programs that add to Firefox's functionality; they then submit the programs to Mozilla. A process to review the add-ons prior to posting them on the official Mozilla add-ons page exists. However, given the large number of add-ons submitted, Mozilla can't guarantee that each one will perform exactly as planned under all circumstances; the permutation of combinations is just too high.

A similar process is planned for Eudora once it becomes an open source product. Add-ons will allow Eudora to change and improve at a more rapid pace than was possible when it was a commercial product.

Two Web sites are already in place for input and development information for the Penelope project: a wiki for developers (http://wiki.mozilla.org/Penelope) and a wiki for user comments (http://wiki.mozilla.org/Talk:Penelope).

The final commercial versions (v 7.1 for Windows and v 6.2.4 Mac) of classic Eudora were released Oct. 11, 2006. Until the open source version of Eudora is released (expected in the first half of 2007), the paid mode of Eudora is still available for $19.95. (This price includes three incidents of technical support in a 6-month period.) Once the open source product debuts, sale of the commercial version will cease. In theory, current users of the Eudora software will be able to continue to use their existing version of Eudora in perpetuity; they will not be forced to switch to the open source product. However, due to the speed at which technology advances, it is impossible to guarantee that this will always be the case.


Sheri R. Lanza is a business research specialist and editor of The CyberSkeptic's Guide to Internet Research.

Email Sheri R. Lanza
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