Open-Source Elixir - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Open-Source Elixir

It slices, it dices, it waxes your car, it flattens your tummy, it improves your... well, it's open-source software, of course. Follow the money, and it ends up often enough on the open-source model these days, whether it's venture capitalists investing in startups or proprietary software sellers hedging their bets with an open-source offering. Sun looks like it will be the big open-source news of this week. But last week showed the range of companies and software categories that can't get enough of giving away software.

Do We Need Another?
There are at least a dozen open-source content-management software systems. Does the world really need another?

John Newton thinks so, and he knows a bit about the market. He co-founded Documentum, a content-management company that EMC Corp. bought in 2003 for about $1.7 billion in stock. Last week, he revealed the launch of Alfresco Software Inc., an open-source content-management company aimed at smaller companies than the likes of EMC, IBM, Oracle, or SAP serve well.

Newton contends Alfresco will leverage open-source principles to deliver content-management technology to places where it had been too expensive to use, and that it will stand out among developers because of the sophistication of the core code and the experience of developers who've worked on business-oriented software. Newton and other investors are funding the company, along with venture-capital firm Accel Partners. Of the $2.5 billion market for content management, more than half is spent on services, Newton says, making it fertile ground for the open-source model, which relies heavily on service revenue.

Can open-source applications seriously challenge entrenched veterans such as IBM or Oracle? "One only has to look at Linux to see the possibilities," Newton says. "Linux is close to being 'game over' for Unix."

--Larry Greenemeier

Open Source Against Poverty
Here's a daunting goal for open-source software to take on: world hunger. A consortium of companies and nonprofits led by Hewlett-Packard last week released a system of open-source software and handheld hardware aimed at helping what's known as the microfinance industry. That's the business of providing small loans to farmers and other businesspeople in the poorest countries, where lack of credit often blocks efforts for people to wrench themselves out of poverty.

In order to make the process of microlending more efficient so it can reach more people, the consortium built a Remote Transaction System aimed at tracking loan information in remote areas. The software runs on a handheld device and a back-end system that processes loan data uploaded from handhelds. That software will be available free to microlenders.

The system was tested for six months in Uganda under various business models, and the consortium acknowledges it isn't a fit for all of them. It also came to this conclusion: It's not all about technology, since microlenders get the most benefit if they reengineer their lending processes as well as add IT.

--Chris Murphy

EBay Courts Developers
EBay Inc. last week launched an online forum for open-source developers interested in accessing source code so they can build tools and sample applications that add eBay services to Web applications. Perhaps just as important, it made it cheaper for those developers to interact with eBay.

The eBay Community Codebase is available at no charge to all members of the developer networks for eBay and PayPal, the payment service eBay owns. EBay hopes that by opening up more of the code that runs its marketplace, developers will create services that add to the eBay market--ideas eBay didn't think of or pay for.

EBay does bear the cost of the computer networks supporting those programmers' efforts that, say, make a computer-automated request for information. EBay last week said it would absorb more of those costs in order to attract more developers. It introduced a pricing structure for Developers Program members, in which individual tier members can access 10,000 free application-programming-interface calls per month, up from about 1,500. And eBay has waived certification fees for individual members. EBay believes open source lowers the cost and time of development, and improves quality through collaboration, Greg Isaacs, director of eBay Developers Program, said in a statement. EBay knows it's not just competing for shoppers; it's competing for open-source developers.


Repeat After Me: Two Markets
Iona Technologies plc killed two buzzwords in one announcement last week: an open-source strategy and services-oriented architectures. Iona plans to contribute Java-based middleware, called an enterprise service bus, to the open-source community, hoping its application-integration technology will be picked up by companies considering services-oriented architectures.

Iona plans to contribute the Java enterprise service bus to ObjectWeb, an open-source community focused on middleware. The project will be named Celtix.

Iona's strategy is starting to sound familiar among proprietary software vendors. It will keep selling a proprietary enterprise service bus called Artix to large companies looking to integrate complex business software such as a billing application into a services-oriented architecture, says Eric Newcomer, Iona's chief technology officer. Celtix is more of an entry-level technology that's better suited for departmental-level projects within an enterprise. Sound familiar? It's just what IBM is doing with its proprietary app server and an open-source version of it.

Says Newcomer, "We feel there's two different markets for the products right now."


RSS Shoehorned Into Longhorn
Windows Longhorn will include features to help PC users subscribe to RSS feeds used by bloggers and Web news sites and make the information available to desktop applications. A test version of the operating system the company plans to distribute at its Professional Developers Conference in September will include the ability to subscribe to news streams and blogs published via the Really Simple Syndication protocol from within the Windows user interface. The feature will require upcoming version 7 of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, due in test form this summer. Longhorn also will be able to store data from RSS feeds and make it available to applications through an API.

Even though it's a popular way to read news and blogs among tech-savvy users, RSS still hasn't caught on with most people, says Matt Rosoff, a Directions on Microsoft analyst. "It's cutting-edge technology but not something that would enlist a ton of new users," he says. But Microsoft wants to expand the applications for RSS. "We want to enable RSS at the Windows platform level to open it up to new developers," says Gary Schare, Windows product-management director.

The company last week published extensions to the RSS protocol for viewing and sorting lists of entries such as items on an E-commerce site or songs from an online music store. Microsoft published the extensions under the Creative Commons license, named after the public domain licensing organization founded by Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig.

--Aaron Ricadela

SCO Swings Deep
SCO Group, led by CEO Darl McBride, last week unveiled OpenServer 6, software that unifies the company's all-in-one, Web-based platform and its Unix operating system. Making its debut in a product launch at Yankee Stadium, OpenServer 6 integrates the System V Release 5 Unix kernel of SCO UnixWare 7.0 with the Web-based OpenServer so customers and independent software vendors can develop Unix, Web, and Java applications for Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. systems on a single code base.

OpenServer 6 comes with the latest versions of Java 1.4.2 and popular open-source products such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, Apache Web server, Tomcat Java Servlet, Mozilla browser, and Samba file-and-print server. The upgrade offers up to four times the performance of the previous version of OpenServer, along with support for 32 processors and file sizes of up to 1 terabyte.

SCO remains embroiled in intellectual-property litigation with IBM, Novell, and Red Hat over the alleged use of System V Unix code in the Linux operating-system kernel, among other issues.

--Paula Rooney, CRN

Wickety Split
An open-source framework is available for building Java applications, called the Wicket Java Web Framework, that allows a division of labor between Web-page designers and code developers. The approach lets both groups work on applications without stepping on each other's toes. Web pages are kept in Extensible HTML pages, which can be edited with standard Web tools. The pages are made dynamic by associating components coded in Java. Kees Mastenbroek, a project leader at application company Topicus BV, says, "Wicket has dramatically improved our ability to create large-scale Web applications with complex user interfaces."

--Charles Babcock

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