Hosting companies don't exactly have the friendliest of reputations. This was highlighted again for us by the recent attempted name grab against the Python community by a UK based hosting company. Which is why an open letter asking hosting companies to provide financial backing for the development of a new free email client, might seem a surprising move. Yet that's exactly what Matthew Bloch has decided to do.
Bloch is the managing director of Bytemark Hosting and is ready to put his own company’s money where his mouth is. How much of a stretch is it though to ask his "Dear colleagues and competitors in the hosting industry", to do the same?
The argument put forward is that independent hosting providers have lost customers to big proprietary email platforms because there isn't a viable and attractive free email client they can offer as part of their services. He urges his industry to get behind the creation of a high quality free email client with a view to collectively gaining ground on the proprietary groups.
“What about Thunderbird?” I hear you calling. “Why not ask them to back that instead?”. Bloch points us to Mozilla’s own lack of confidence in the future of Thunderbird, illustrated by their removal of development staff from the project in 2012. Instead “Geary”, a new free email client project from San Francisco based non-profit “Yorba”, is the chosen focus for this campaign for mutual improvement. Their crowdsourced funding round ends tomorrow on IndieGoGo.
The appeal has a strong practical flavour, claiming that hosting providers need to do this or something like it to “help us all to sell more servers, and to grow our industry”. Yet there’s a clear vein of ideology running through the letter too. Bloch points out that the big name vertical systems have a strong tendency to tie users into their respective systems, dragging the internet back into a prior age when messaging was subject to all manner of restrictions, the most prevalent of which being that different systems were unable to interact with each other.
The realisation that in order to improve their services hosting companies need to contribute towards the success of relevant free software is an important one. The customers of such companies rely on a range of software projects, the best of which are regularly improved and updated. Whether email clients like Geary, productivity software like LibreOffice or database solutions like MariaDB, free software needs the support of its users.