Chat by Mail: The German attack on WhatsApp

That’s COI

The abbreviation stands for “Chat over IMAP” – that means for the chat over the IMAP servers, over which the world-wide E-Mail traffic runs. Around 76 percent of these servers use Dovecot software from the Cologne company Open-Xchange, which also offers an open-source alternative to Microsoft and Google office software with its “OX App Suite” software package.

For mail servers, the company founded in 1996 with its 270 employees is the world leader. His software is also used in Germany in almost all major providers, from 1 & 1 to Telekom. This resulted in an idea a few years ago that company founder and CEO Rafael Laguna describes: “Why should mail servers only send e-mails – and not also messages and chats?”

Rafael Laguna
Mother German, father Spaniard – and passionate open source advocate: Rafael Laguna shakes the monopoly of WhatsApp (Photo: Open-Xchange)

The result is COI or “chat over IMAP”, which extends the functionality of IMAP servers so that they could become in the future the powerful competition for WhatsApp. Or, as the newly launched COI website confidently states, “Discover how COI will change the world.”


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This idea is behind it

“The Internet has emerged as an open-source system,” reminisces Rafael Laguna, who, as an open-source advocate, has been competing with giants such as Microsoft and Google for more than two decades as passionately as successfully. “All the basics of TCP / IP to HTML, or even IMAP, were available to all users as open source, only later came Microsoft, Google or Facebook and built their sealed data silos where they hoard everything they know about their users. ”

His conclusion after about a quarter century of the World Wide Web: “Only open standards ensure freedom, innovation and growth in the long term.”

Whats App Falling
Falling giants: Can open source be dangerous for a giant like WhatsApp? (Photo:

Laguna calls Facebook & Co. “Hotel California”, after the legendary hit of the Eagles. “They’re comfortable, they’re tempting and free, but once you check in there, you’ll never get out.” See the last line of the Eagles classic: “You can check out anytime you like, but you never leave!” Even if you want to leave WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, there are hardly any comparable alternatives. And even if they existed, he could not take his data there without much effort.

These are the benefits of “Chat over IMAP”

Messenger with comparable or even more features than WhatsApp is quite, from Threema via signal to telegram. But in comparison to WhatsApp, despite better data protection, they remain haphazard outsiders – just because of the manslaughter argument “My friends are all with WhatsApp”. “The number of users is the main argument for WhatsApp,” says Rafael Laguna, who also has little interest in alternatives such as Telegram: “These are also closed systems where the user can not be sure what happens to his data Wants to switch chat processes to another service: Unfortunately, unfortunately, is not. “

Chat monopoly
Stop monopoly and control – that should be good news for WhatsApp users (Photo: Open-Xchange)

But there is one application that outshines WhatsApp in terms of distribution – the e-mail with nearly four billion users worldwide. With 76 percent market share in the servers, Open-Xchange comes to 3 billion users in mathematical terms – twice as many as WhatsApp. And this potential is to use “chat over IMAP” to become a powerful competition.

The goal of Open-Xchange: “Only COI can crack the current news silos and ensure that everyone is competing at the same level again.” Because his own WhatsApp can raise no user – his own “chat over IMAP”, however, already.

How “Chat over IMAP” works

Although the communication is running via IMAP server. But from this technical background, the users should get as little as possible. It is indeed possible to have the chats in the e-mail program if necessary – which can even be very useful if there is a smartphone or computer somewhere, but no app for COI.

Coi functioning
The basics: How “Chat over IMAP” works (Photo: Open-Xchange)

However, more convenience and more functions on smartphones, tablets or computers should enable their own apps and clients for “Chat over IMAP”, which may or may not be similar to WhatsApp. “The programs have to be so easy to use and at least have the same features as WhatsApp, otherwise users will not get around,” says Rafael Laguna.

What at first glance looks like WhatsApp, however, is based in the background on a completely different technique – which, like the e-mail does not collect data and also offers the possibility that the user with his chat histories at any time to another Provider or another client can switch. Modern encryption is also standard at COI. And all e-mail users can communicate with each other, regardless of the provider or the client they use. A system as open as the Internet was once thought.

This is the plan for “Chat over IMAP”

The basic server software for COI is available. At the FOSDEM developer conference in Brussels in early February, Open-Xchange publicly presented the project for the first time. Meanwhile, a website and a wiki are online, the “chat over IMAP” and support developers at work.

Coi client
Looks (almost) like WhatsApp, but is the first demo client for COI (Photo: Open-Xchange)

Although Open-Xchange has already created a first client for the new e-mail chat itself. “But we,” says Rafael Laguna, “now rely on the creativity of the developers”. Over the next few months, the first programs for COI will come onto the market. And in two years? “Then we want to have WhatsApp already significant market share decreased,” Chat Revoluzzer Rafael Laguna describes the goal in his “Relief of the Internet”.

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