By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-07-09 Print this article Print

At the same time, the proliferation of open-source databases such as PostgreSQL and MySQL and open-source operating systems like Linux and its brethren are opening the door for more trust with open source for core business functionality.

In a previous position, Stream had used OpenOffice and liked what it could do, without the cost associated with leasing Microsofts Office platform. That familiarity led him to Compiere and its VAR KnowledgeBlue, of Salt Lake City.

"It was pretty amazing what OpenBlue [KnowledgeBlues open-source application based on Compieres technology] did for us to get [Compiere] working," Stream said. "Every time I touch this thing, I am amazed."

Its About Community, Right?

The vision of ERP is to integrate all the classic departments across a company into a single system that can then serve each departments particular needs. A typical breakdown includes modules for human resources, order processing, payroll, purchasing and shipping. For both proprietary and open-source offerings, functionality doesnt differ much across the board: General ledger is pretty much general ledger.

Where the difference lies is in the ability, with open-source ERP, to impact source code—be it through direct input to a community or to the vendor or VAR, which, in turn, writes new code.

"I personally dont [post code] because we have this relationship with Knowledge

Blue—they definitely share code," Stream said. "But I just love the fact that if I need something, I can turn around and, boom, [KnowledgeBlue] gets it done. At Oracle, youd pay a ton of money to get the same thing done."

According to users, that give-and-take can be a good thing, except when its in reference to core code. To this extent, open-source ERP companies tend to take a hybrid approach to software development. Compiere, for example, doesnt allow just anyone to contribute code—the majority of contributors are partners that have undergone training and understand Compieres business model.

"We make sure its new functionality—hard-core requirements," said Compieres Pink. "What were seeing now is real business applications—people who are basing their models off that open-source product."

The theory also is that if an open-source vendor closes its doors for whatever reason—for example, if it runs out of money, is acquired or has management issues—the community will continue to sustain the code.

OpenMFG takes a slightly different approach to code input from community members. Customers and partners get the source code and are encouraged to extend and enhance it, but the company is the one to bring the enhancements into the product.

That suits Rogelstad just fine. "Im not sure how open-source ERP would work if it was purely open source," he said.

Even with the upside to open-source ERP, there are challenges to finding and running the software: The movement is still in its infancy (good referrals can be hard to find), and application usability is still green. (User interfaces are, in some cases, downright inelegant.)

"My big hurdle has been that Compiere has somewhat of a European flair to it," Stream said. "Its not like a Windows-based application. Its a tad bit harder to use, more cumbersome, like doing 10 mouse clicks when there are other programs out there that wouldnt even require a click [to perform the same function]. But its working great."

Pertronixs Reh agrees, saying that Crystal Reports looks much better on other systems than it does on Compiere. But, he said, the applications themselves work great.

Then theres also the misconception that open source is free, but consultants are a necessity, just as they are with proprietary ERP implementations. At the same time, theres the myth that one has to be hard-core to implement and maintain open-source software.

"The biggest challenge for open-source ERP is stigma," Reh said. "Any time you have something in the small stage, you have fanatics that get it started, but theyre also what hinders it a bit; you view open source as something thats complex, and you need to be a fanatic to get it."

Thats just not the case, according to Reh and other users. Thats what consultants are there for.

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