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Eudora's open-source future; MySpace Chat

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on March 2, 2007
(Issue 2509, HDTV)

If you use the "Eudora" e-mail client program – and Qualcomm, the San Diego-based publisher of "Eudora" says about 20 million of us do – changes are afoot.

Originally developed in the late 1980s at the University of Illinois as a free e-mail utility for the Macintosh computer, "Eudora" was purchased by Qualcomm in the early '90s and ported over to Windows. In the decade and a half since, Qualcomm has made various improvements to the software, but has always had a free version available even while selling beefed-up and advertising-free versions for sale.

But starting in 2007, "Eudora" is returning to its roots as Qualcomm spins it off into the open-source movement.

The last official release from Qualcomm is the one already out: 7.1 for Windows, and 6.2.4 for Mac OSX.

In fact, as of Feb. 28, Qualcomm's servers that feed the ads to the free, or "sponsored," version of "Eudora" now on the market will be turned off – meaning you'll no longer see ads in the bottom left-hand corner of your "Eudora" window. (Right now, I have an ad from a Café Lisa displaying.)

Eudora's future

The open-source development of "Eudora" is being taken on by the well-organized and very successful Mozilla open-source develoment team. Under a project nicknamed Penelope, Mozilla's team (including original "Eudora" creator Steve Dorner and other longtime Eudora veterans from Qualcomm) will be working on an open-source upgrade to the client throughout the year, according to the Mozilla site. No date has been given for an initial release.

But for its part, Qualcomm is apparently releasing all its financial interests in the software's source code and letting the Mozilla team publish it on the Internet.

Interestingly, Mozilla already has a solid e-mail client in "Thunderbird" – and the Mozilla site indicates that both programs will continue to be supported side by side.

"Thunderbird" development hasn't been as active in the few years since it was detached from the Mozilla Web browser. Of course, the "Firefox" Web browser is now Mozilla's only Web browser, too, the main Mozilla browser having been dropped a couple of years ago.

And the real strength of "Thunderbird" is as a newsgroup reader. It will be interesting to see if Thunderbird's e-mail capabilities continue to be developed down the road, or if the Mozilla team makes "Eudora" the default e-mail client, and "Thunderbird" the default newsgroup reader.

IM and MySpace

Last year, the buzz in the instant messaging world was whether the seemingly omnipresent Google would jump into the fray.

With AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN all having their own competing IM standards, in which you can't send messages across those different networks, there was talk in industry magazines that pressure from online giant Google might force these companies to accelerate vaporous plans to come up with a truly universal IM standard.

Or at least, to adopt one of the existing univeral standards – IRC, perhaps.

Instead, up-and-coming online presence MySpace has launched its own IM client that – like all the others – only works on its own network.

But with an established user base numbering in the hundreds of millions and growing by millions a day, MySpace apparently feels little to no pressure to open up its system to outsiders.

That same model of e-mail has served MySpace well: You can only send messages to other MySpace users, and have to log in to the MySpace Web page to read and send e-mail.

The IM client is different in that regard – it's a Windows-based client you have to download, install and run separately from your Web browser.

It's a little rough around the edges: For instance, the MySpace IM client lists your friends by their MySpace URL and not their display name. Makes sense, I guess, in that you can change your display name while your URL stays the same, but as a lot of folks – perhaps most – have a user name different from their URL, it can be confusing figuring out who you're trying to chat with!

Also, while it's easy to add your existing MySpace "Top Friends" to your IM client contact list, adding others involves opening your browser rather than doing it all from an integrated environment. Bit odd, that.

And few of my MySpace "friends" have installed the IM client. So I've yet to have a real MySpace chat.

But I'm ready when they do install it!