InfoWorld’s annual BOSSIES recognise the best free and open source software the world has to offer to businesses, IT professionals, and productive individuals who rely on computers to get work done. The 2008 BOSSIE winners include 60 products in eight categories covering business and productivity applications, development tools, middleware, networking, security, and storage. This month net.work highlights the enterprise application winners.
If the phrase 'open source software' continues to conjure images of impassioned programmers selflessly collaborating for the common good, it may be because, even as commercial interests are behind many of the most prominent projects, the results are no less inspired – and typically no less free.
Yes, advanced functionality or maintenance and support may require writing a cheque, but freeloaders looking for high-quality software – of almost any kind – have never had it so good.
Some of the picks were easy. For office productivity suite, what else but OpenOffice.org? For network intrusion detection, what else but Snort? And for security log analysis, nothing beats Splunk. Even in areas where good options abound, sometimes one solution is head and shoulders above the rest: In CRM, Sugar; in content management, Alfresco; in IP telephony, Asterisk.
But in most categories, stiff competition made the choice difficult. Choosing was not easy, but here we go.
Best of open source enterprise applications
The best free application management, BI, BPM, CRM, ERP, e-commerce, portal, and project management software.
There are many server- and vendor-specific application performance monitoring tools, but if you want to see everything from one dashboard view, Hyperic HQ is the place to watch. It can monitor and manage numerous flavours of server hardware, operating systems, and application software, as well as networks and virtualisation environments, providing granular control on thresholds and alerts, remote control, and management via the Web. Hyperic HQ can also monitor logs, help with security issues, and track inventory changes. Especially liked is the ability to track historical changes in our environment, whether network or otherwise.
Business process management
Intalio BPMS combines a J2EE/JBI-based BPEL 2.0 process engine with an Eclipse-based designer for modelling business activities, while the Intalio Tempo workflow runtime (based on the BPEL4People spec) rounds out the offering with AJAX-driven Forms on the Orbeon engine. The toolkit does a good job of introspecting back-end resources and makes quick work of exposing Web services. End-users gain good Web-based access to task management duties. Work remains to be done, but all told, it is a respectable effort.
Open source BI options are pretty slim pickings, but the contenders are top notch. Judges leant to Pentaho Open BI Suite over JasperSoft in recognition of its fleet of well-crafted modules for reporting and dashboards, data integration (via the Pentaho Kettle ETL integration engine), data analysis (thanks to the Mondrian 3.0 OLAP server), and advanced data mining (with the addition of the Weka project). End-users like the browser-based, self-help wizards that simplify creating and generating reports, and there are good tools for automating delivery via e-mail and portal access and formatting to HTML, Excel, and PDF.
Virtually identical to Alfresco Enterprise, Alfresco Community is available under an open source licence (only lacking formal support). In both cases, you get a product that addresses the four major ECM activities: image management, document management, records management, and Web content management – all sitting on top of Alfresco’s JSR 170 content repository. Beyond often surpassing commercial offerings’ features, Alfresco is truly easy for end-users, who access content in much the same way as a shared drive. Developers get a jump-start with preconfigured templates. And the system’s distributed architecture is tailor-made for building scalable, fault-tolerant applications.
Customer relationship management
Judges were still sweet on SugarCRM, hands down the most complete and commercial-grade free and open source CRM solution. A flexible AJAX-driven browser interface is backed by an off-line client and plug-ins for Microsoft Outlook. Version 5.1 (currently beta, due in July) supports smartphones and PDAs with a pared-down Web GUI and nice search options that get data into the hands of mobile users quickly. A wizard-driven interface takes much of the setup work out of generating complex reports, while Excel integration complements a nice set of dashboards. Sugar just gets more refined with each new release.
Do not be fooled by the version 1 label on Magento’s eCommerce platform. This PHP-based package brings power and flexibility to catalogue and customer management, providing unified administration over multiple storefronts and support for multiple currencies and languages. Hierarchical navigation allows shoppers to sift goods, while rules-based promotion tools and proactive alerts rival the realtime order management capabilities of many commercial products. Magento lacks the performance and breadth of the Apache Open for Business project, which builds in Java-based ERP and CRM features, but is far easier to install and manage.
There are a number of well-known open source portal solutions, including JBoss, Metadot, and MindTouch Deki. But when looking for enterprise strength, Liferay Portal stands apart. To start, it is easy to customise and handles large organisational structures, such as giving each business unit a unique look and security permissions. For users, the GUI offers conveniences such as drag-and-drop portlet positioning. And Liferay ships with more than 60 JSR-168-compliant portlets covering everything from administration and content management to community features and personal tool. A Web services portlet lets you access information from other systems.
Enterprise resource planning
Compiere delivers a good, general-purpose ERP package along with basic CRM functionality. You get financials, HR/payroll services, procurement and inventory management, as well as general sales and good reporting. Compiere recently improved both security – now showing data-level granularity – and the user experience, with a browser-based UI and stronger search facilities. The features still fail to rise to the heights of, say, NetSuite, and some important new features are only available in the Professional Edition. But if you are seeking an open source ERP alternative with broad functionality, look no further.