“Thwump” sounds happen in boxing matches, not offices. So when a loud thwump bounces off the exposed-wood ceiling in an office in San Francisco’s once trendy south-of-Market district, every head turns. Programmer Jed Burgess is flat on his back next to a blue fitness ball. Burgess gets up, pulls his socks off for traction, and manages to balance atop the ball. Applause breaks out. Then the office returns to quiet discussions of software architecture punctuated by the clicking of keyboards. Welcome to Mitch Kapor’s Open Source Applications Foundation.Kapor himself, famous as the founder of Lotus Development and one of the software industry’s chief malcontents, is away from the commotion. But if his foundation succeeds, it’ll make a thwump the entire software business will hear. The organization’s 13 programmers are hard at work on a piece of software that could change the way we manage our digital lives, curing the headaches of having to juggle the dozens of types of information stored on personal computers by a variety of applications-and, Kapor hopes, making computer users happier and more productive in the process.
Code-named Chandler, after the mystery writer (because, Kapor says, what they’re creating was something of a mystery even to them when the venture launched two years ago), the software promises to put all related e-mail messages, spreadsheets, appointment records, addresses, blog entries, word-processing documents, digital photos, and what-have-you in one place at one time: no more opening program after program looking for the items related to a specific topic. It takes the core functions of Microsoft Outlook, the Palm Desktop, and other personal information management programs and integrates them with the rest of your PC and the Internet. All the information you need to complete a given task or project is grouped on-screen, organized around the one function-e-mail-Kapor sees as the central conduit of our electronic lives.