JBoss Mail Server is so stable and the installation is so clean that after only one month of having dedicated company support for it and full time development (well 75% since all developers are expected to do 25% services), I'm already getting pressured to call it 1.0. It is a high compliment.
Moreover, a user emailed me saying his boss told him he was outsourcing their mail server unless they could get one up in running in 30 minutes. He installed JBoss Mail Server and wrote me to tell me about it.
I picked up the phone.
"Hi Marc, how is it going?"
"Listen, this JBoss Mail Server thing...its really good...lot of people use it...but after a year of stable releases there is no business... we have to dump it... You shouldn't have made the Installer and admin tools so good."
"What do you mean?"
"Well no on needs support because it is too easy to use."
"Yeah, I see what you mean."
"Good luck in your next endeavor."
I woke up in a cold sweat.
So I thought about this seriously. Could an open source mail server be too easy to use such that it was a commercial failure? However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how ridiculous it is. While we're already incredibly easy to use, running your mission critical software without some guarantee of support is not a smart thing to do. For most businesses an email outage costs money. Lost mails are a critical problem that affect the bottom line. Take "firstname.lastname@example.org" as an example. They don't want to miss a potential support, consulting, training or partnership opportunity because of the latest Exchange security hole or the upgrade cycle to prevent the next 10 of them...
Yet despite this, we put up with outages in critical services every day and often times due to the unreliability of existing vendors (you know who I'm talking about -- remember the helicopter joke) and their support offerings, we go it alone and sometimes spend needless hours of downtime instead of getting the prompt answers we need from the experts and guys who develop the software we use.
I suspect if the software is good enough and the tools are good enough then there are some who will go it alone who might not have gone it alone with other software, but frankly those are the same people who drive around with no insurance or don't wear seat belts because they don't usually get into car accidents. Moreover, I don't expect to do consulting for simple installs, frankly consulting for simple installation and configuration is a cost sink not a profit center. I want to eliminate that opportunity where possible. Instead I want to open up a high end consulting service opportunity. Ultimate scalability, big organizations who need help figuring out how to structure their mail infrastructure to allow it to handle an enormous (and ever growing) messaging load. Mail based/Mail driven application developers wanting to do new and interesting things on a mail platform. Complex routing. Custom plugins. Partner integration.. Those are where I expect the project to make a profit, I hope to never have to do consulting for a simple 1-3 server configuration -- I'd rather handle that as a simple support offering (and those should be few and far between because the installer should be that good).
To me, in order to get to the high end, we need to make the low end a nearly brainless venture. We're not there yet, while installation and initial configuration is trivial (a mail server in 30 minutes or less supporting POP/SMTP over SSL/TLS), administration beyond initial configuration is still a jungle of XML. While I exaggerate when I say we're nearing the XML version of sendmail.cf, it is something I fear. We've made progress and have plans to solve this in the next milestone release after M4(which won't be called 1.0-final ;-) ). However, the final piece will be a bang-up GUI that dynamically configures a cluster of JBMS instances. What form the GUI will take hasn't been decided (if it can use the same stuff as is being built for the appserver or what). My take is that the counter-intuitive notion of making thing easier to use and less difficult will drive adoption and hence support (how many of you really drive with no seatbelt and no car insurance, if you're on the high end and an expert can save you weeks or months by helping out for a few hours/days/etc then are you really going to balk). We see some of the same logic happening in the Appserver world with EJB3 and the upcoming admin console, it is time we had a reliable mail server that takes 30 minutes or less for simple installation, is easy to administer, and yet flexable and scalable enough to handle anything from 1 user or a complex enterprise.
I'd really be interested in talking to GUI people interested in getting involved in open source. You're a hot commodity! Join us in the JBMS forum and/or email me. I may not reply immediately as I'm conducting my 25% services in Matsuyama Japan this week, but I value you and your contributions! In addition to JBoss, we have a great bunch of volunteers I think you'll enjoy working with. I'm lucky to work on the best damn project in all of JBoss. :-)