Is the Enterprise Ready Open Source Java CRM technology a killer app?

Open Source has been here for quite some time and large and smaller enterprises have learned to deal with it. With developing commercial open source business models and a shake out of who the winners in each category are, software evaluation and acquisition has become easier and less risky. Are you looking for a database? Then typically your choice will be MySQL. An application server? Sure, JBoss should be a safe bet. Business intelligence? Pentaho or Jasper will be the answer. For document management you probably are going to select Alfresco. And the list goes on. Only in a few domains there are many or no clear leaders. The exception is certainly Content Management where some 2’000 plus technologies fight for users, but even there the short list can easily be reduced to 5-8 players and if programming language is a criteria you probably don’t need to look at more than 3. Is Customer Relationship Management different in this aspect? Well, at first sight SugarCRM seems to be the clear leader and it certainly has more downloads and paying customers than most other CRM tools out there. But it caters more for small and midrange customers or for departmental applications than for the large enterprise. And the fact that it is PHP based limits its use in many strongly Java focused IT departments.There is clearly room for a Java based componentized CRM platform that can be integrated with existing CRM applications as easy as used stand alone. It needs to support open standards and allow for low effort configuration and customizations while still remaining upgradeable. And it needs to be able to compete with the Siebels and SAPs of this world, not in terms of functional richness as nobody can consume all what Siebel is offering, but in terms of being extendable and customizable. While there are Java based CRM technologies out there such as Adempiere, Compiere or OpenCRX none of them is really state-of-the-art in many aspects, be it concerning the integration of the online channel, the features for campaign management and marketing analytics/automation or the quality and adaptability of their frontends. They are not customizable to the extent Enterprises need it. And they have in common that they are not componentized, you either use the whole thing or you take another. And finally the lack the ease of use and low effort install approach that is needed to be effective as an open source vendor. So, who will take this challenge and is there a business case for the “Alfresco” of CRM? I strongly believe so and I can guarantee that VCs do so too if the right team comes with the right plan and ideally at least half of the technology already built. And what has been said is at as well true for the even larger ERP domain.But remember, commercial open source is at least as much about online marketing and highly efficient and effective sales processes than about software.

Will OpenOffice 3.0 enable Enterprises to go away from MS Office?

With all the bad press around MS Windows Vista and the frustrations of many users with the user interface of MS Office 2007 3.0 looks to many like the white knight in the office productivity battle. OpenOffice 3.0 (currently in Beta) comes with a number of new features that make it an even better competitor to MS Office than the versions before. It opens MS Offic 2007 files (e.g. ldocx, .pptx) and it offers enhanced compatibility between the different operation system platforms (e.g. Mac OS, Windows, Linux). So the key goal is to allow more people to collaborate, regardless of their platform and their office suite they are using. Interesting for many could also be the new collaboration features when working on the same spreadsheet files with other people or the Solver functionality that MS Office users may know and Microsoft apparently doesn’t offer for MS Office 2008 for Mac OS any more. Many other changes have been incorporated into OO 3.0, from better PDF support to enhanced charting and better compatibility with MS Office. So it could well be that with these recent changes OO 3.0 will receive an even higher rating on EOS Directory than before. And it’s clearly time for enterprises looking for alternatives to investigate again.

State of Drupal

At the recent DrupalCon 2008 in Boston, Dries gave usual "State of Drupal" keynote: After a quick mention of the work the community did on Drupal 6, Dries focused mostly on what is coming in Drupal 7 and what he sees as the important work to be done. This included showing video from the recent University of Minnesota Libraries usability testing. It’s great to see the lead on a significant open source project highlighting the importance of usability, especially as the community grows. Additionally, Dries highlighted test coverage, and made the argument that the "code freeze" portion of the development cycle for Drupal 7 could be much shorter if broader test coverage were provided. Having a good automated test framework contributes greatly to the ease of development and debugging for new module authors, existing module maintainers, and the implementers of sites based on Drupal. Finally, Dries also described longer term planning about the use of Drupal in places where HTML is not the assumed or even primary output: social networking frameworks and the semantic web. This resonates with much of the discussion in other open source communities (DiSo, for example) and reinforces the critical role open source plays in innovation on the web.

Microsoft APIs – Not Open Source, But More Open

Was it pressure from the EU, a ploy to encourage ISO adoption of MS-friendly document formats or maybe, just maybe, the “disruption” created by enterprise adoption of open source? Whatever the reasons, Microsoft today announced it is:

“implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.”

The products include:

“Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products.”

As Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie put it in the press release: “By increasing the openness of our products, we will provide developers additional opportunity to innovate and deliver value for customers.”According to Matt Aslett of The 451 Group, what it really means is this:

“It’s an acknowledgment that in today’s world, many more flowers bloom when platform companies make their APIs completely open for developers to write to, a la Google and MSFT’s recent investee, Facebook. This is yet another thing Google has taught the largest software company in the world. It appears on the face of it that Microsoft now intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in.”

Of course, it could also be just a “Good Steve Day,” according to ZDNet’s Open Source blog:

“Is this an honest change of policy, or is this just a bow to political pressure, pressure which lobbying and campaign contributions might some day remove?”

Speaking for myself, I tend to agree with Jay Lyman at The 451 Group, who calls this “Open source disruption realized“:

“This is just another case of companies coming around to market realities. Look at it like the Internet. Did the Internet suffer when Microsoft finally came around and began supporting and focusing on really working with it? Hardly. The companies that have already focused on the enterprise potential and opportunities for open source software retain their lead. They may have to work harder to maintain it, but that is a good thing, both for users and for open source.”

Is a more open Microsoft a good thing? Is it an open door to better interoperability or an open jaw to swallow open source competitors? Post your comments below?

Google’s Enterprise Open Source Blog

Maybe you should pay attention to the man behind that curtain — the curtain with all those “Gs” and “Os” on it.If you think obscure techie blogs might be the canary in the coal mine for spotting the biggest, neatest and next-est idea to reshape the world, you might want to keep an eye on “Open Source at Google.“Launched with typical Google low-key non-fanfare a week or so ago, recent posts include:

  • Project Hosting Just Keeps on Growing Look out SourceForge. Google reports hosting over 80K open source projects in just 18 months.
  • Google Sponsors Freedom Training Task Force This post thanks Google for contributing to the Free Software Foundation in support of their efforts to explain how free software licensing works. Talk about doing no evil!
  • Announcing the Grand Prize Winners for the Google Highly Open Participation Contest Learn who won Google’s “experiment” (contest?) to see how many secondary school students would contribute to open source development projects. More than 350 participated on ten different projects. Check out the graphs in the post.

While I don’t expect a Google blogger to inadvertently reveal Google’s secret search sauce, this blog bears watching, if only because they keep trying new things over at the Googleplex. Why? Because they can.

Sun Acquires VirtualBox Open Source Virtualization Tool

InformationWeek today reported Sun bought German open source firm Innotek, developers of the VirtualBox desktop virtualization tool used by developers. According to the IW report:

Sun said VirtualBox has been downloaded more than 4 million times since being made available in January 2007, and Sun moved quickly to become the acquirer as it maps out a future suite to virtualize customer environments. It plans to use VirtualBox to extend the Sun xVM virtualization software, its hypervisor based on open source Xen.

The story does not mention the price Sun paid, but it’s a sure bet it’s not close — by several factors of ten — to the $1B US the recent convert to commercializing open source paid for MySQL.What confounds me is … why? VirtualBox is a nice addition to a developer’s toolkit, and would make sense if Sun were pursuing a more developer-centric path into the market. But while NetBeans is a mature open source IDE for Java, supported by Sun, it does not have the following of the Eclipse-based Java products. So maybe that’s the answer — Sun IS trying to woo developers out of the long shadow IBM casts over Java development with Eclipse. Can someone shed some light on this issue? Post your comments below.

Enterprise Open Source News Roundup – 11 Feb 08

A couple of headlines to start off the week.

Not about open source, exactly. The issue is ad-supported web productivity applications that will compete with Office, though the story does mention Yahoo’s Zimbra in a comparison to Microsoft Exchange.

The Alfresco “content community” is surveyed, and the results are in. Ubuntu & Red Hat Enterprise Linux are moving up. Tomcat and JBoss hold the lion’s share of the app server market. More details and graphics in the post.

Why the Open Source Acquisition Mania? It’s the Distro

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s newly buzz-making CEO thanks to the company’s $1B US acquisition of MySQL last month, gave the keynote at this week’s SugarCRM conference. In his keynote, as reported by InfoWorld, Schwartz identified a key reason why his company scooped up the widely-used open source database firm: distribution.

“What was attractive was how profound their distribution was,” Schwartz said. MySQL offers access to about 11 million deployments around the world, and Sun began to see MySQL delivering real value, innovation, and choice, he said. MySQL sells services and support for its database.

If you’ve been wondering about all those other open source acquisitions, wonder no more. The value is in the distros.Paying less than $100 US for each deployment — make that ‘prospective paying customer who is already using the product’ — Sun has access to millions of potential customers for Sun services, other software products and hardware. That’s not a bad price for a solid customer lead in a business where the long-term value of any enterprise customer is measured in six or seven figures, and it ignores the very real value of MySQL’s current annual service and support revenue (estimated at $100M US) and harder-to-quantify value of its intellectual property.So maybe we’ve got an algorithm for an open source project valuation. For example, Yahoo’s acquisition of Zimbra last September cost big Y $350M US. According to a Wall Street Journal story on Zimbra in November 2006, they had some four million users. Allowing for some shrinkage, that’s quite close to the $100 per deployment for MySQL.But for all you FOSS project leaders out there who are running to check your download and registration numbers, keep in mind MySQL and Zimbra had “commercial” versions and paying customers prior to the big buyout. So don’t count on pocketing a Franklin for every download just yet. Still, a community can dream, can’t it?Got some other ideas for valuing an open source project? Post your ideas and comments below.

OpenID Brings Five Tech Heavyweights on Board

The OpenID Foundation today announced Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign and Yahoo! had signed on as the open source identity project’s first corporate board members. If you were concerned about the all those mammoth tech firms weighing in on the spec, the foundation’s announcement says:

“Today’s announcement marks a milestone in the maturity and impact that the OpenID community has had. While the OpenID Foundation serves a stewardship role around the community’s intellectual property, the Foundation’s board itself does not make any decisions about the specifications the community is collaboratively building.

The release goes on to say:

At the beginning of 2006, there were fewer than 20-million OpenID enabled URLs and less than 500 websites where they could be used. Today there are over a quarter of a billion OpenIDs and well over 10,000 websites to accept them. OpenID has grown to be implemented by major open source projects such as Drupal, cornerstone Web 2.0 services such as those by 37signals and Six Apart, as well as a mix of large companies including as Apple, Google, and Yahoo!.”

Even non-tech sites like CNN/Money were picking up the news today. Having Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! all the same story that’s NOT about the Micro-Hoo buyout is probably a good thing.But while there may be a lot of OpenIDs out there, I’m not sure I’m holding one, nor am I sure any of the sites I visit make use of OpenID. Do you — or sites you frequent — use OpenID? And are any enterprise companies using OpenID as a way to authenticate their users behind the firewall? I’d like to hear about it. Please post your comments below.