Jive's Openfire: New Version Gets New Name and Feature Boost
June 27, 2007
Openfire: Cross-platform Jabber-based collaboration server.
What's in a name? Instant messaging (IM) is the backbone of real-time communications, but too often today's collaboration server platforms are called simply "IM servers." In fact, they do much more than that, which is why Jive Software calls its IM platform a real-time collaboration (RTC) server. And now, the company is calling the latest evolution of the product formerly known as Wildfire, "Openfire." The old name, it turns out, was the subject of a claim by another vendor.
In a sense, Openfire is a more appropriate name, because open-ness is a fundamental design element of Jive's collaboration server.
Built on the standardized, widely deployed Jabber protocol (i.e., XMPP), Openfire is available as commercial open source. The open source edition contains most of the server features and is supported by an informal but active community. The enterprise edition adds, for a fee, enhanced functionality and commercial-grade support. This hybrid commercial open source software model is proving increasingly popular, empowering customers to choose between self-serve and full-serve solutions.
Whether you ultimately deploy the open source or enterprise edition, the base Openfire install is between 6MB and 9MB to download (depending on platform), without the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Bundled with the JRE, download size varies from 16MB to 40MB. The Windows version installs into 20MB of initial disk space. Installation, such as it is, is simply a matter of extracting the downloaded archive. Even the Windows version does not include or require a traditional installer. Simply launch the Openfire server executable. Windows users also have the option of installing Openfire as a service.
Once Openfire is launched, you can launch the Web-based administration interface. It begins with a guided setup of server configuration. Steps of note include choosing between Active Directory or internal user authentication and selecting a back-end database. Openfire, true to its name, supports a variety of databases, including MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and IBM DB2.
Alternatively, you can choose to integrate the Java-based SQL engine into Openfire.
Jive developers might also want to clean up vestiges of the old "Wildfire" name branding from the setup interface, which still shows up here and there.
At its core, Openfire is a Jabber server, meaning it can host exchanges between Jabber clients. Jive produces its own free, open source Jabber client called Spark. The licensed enterprise edition includes a Web-based version of Spark that users can access from anywhere. Alternatively, users can choose from among dozens of Jabber clients from third-party developers, some free and open source. Openfire can be configured as a gateway to public IM servers including AIM, Yahoo, MSN and ICQ. Access rights to particular IM networks can be granted at a per-user level, and any logging and archiving in place applies to exchange both internal and external to the Openfire server.
Openfire uses SSL to encrypt messages with supporting Jabber clients, which includes most. Like with most IM platforms, users can dynamically set their presence status to alert others as to their availability. Openfire can also use plug-ins like Asterisk-IM and SIP to automatically update users' presence in response to telephony activity.
The enterprise plug-in enables several added features near to the heart of businesses and larger organizations. Complete conversation archives can be stored and searched to help organizations comply with record-keeping laws. Softphone support for Windows and Mac OS X enables Openfire clients to make VoIP calls, unifying voice calls with messaging and presence. Enterprise users can quickly push Web site visitors to live chat using Fastpath, which integrates a customizable Jabber client into public-facing Web sites. Although Openfire supports a wide range of third-party Jabber clients, enterprise administrators can restrict access to preferred client applications.
With its open source architecture and well-documented plug-in API, even non-enterprise users can extend Openfire or take advantage of community-developed plug-ins.
Pros: Open source; Open architecture; Strong development and support community.
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss