Best of Open Source Awards 2013

Bossie Awards 2013: The best open source applications

InfoWorld's top picks in open source business applications, platforms, and middleware

The best open source applications

From personal finance and small-business servers to integrated ERP stacks with thousands of modules catering to every need, we've rounded up the best and most active application projects the open source world has to offer. Remember when downloading a virtual appliance was the easiest way to get started? More and more companies behind the projects are making it even easier with SaaS options. Other app projects are catching mobile fever, adopting mobile-friendly JavaScript frameworks to create more flexible front ends.

Nginx

Apache HTTP Server, move over. In the space of only a couple of years, Nginx has risen to become one of the most widely used Web servers out there. It's not hard to see why. Nginx delivers terrific performance -- thanks to an event-driven architecture that consumes very little memory per request. Its ability to simultaneously handle thousands of requests without choking up has made it a key component of many major Web stacks, from Netflix and Pinterest to Heroku and WordPress.com. A superfast server of static Web pages and a highly efficient proxy to Apache and other services, Nginx has been the key to unlocking high performance for many heavily trafficked websites.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Varnish

Sometimes the best things are the most humble and unassuming ones. Stacks like the Apache HTTP Server, Nginx, and Node.js may be powering more and more of the Web, but let's not overlook their invisible helpers. Varnish is an HTTP caching and acceleration proxy, designed to do one thing and do it well: make Web pages load faster. The creators boast speedups of anywhere from 300 to 1,000 times, "depending on your architecture." Varnish comes with its own configuration language to allow fine-tuning for your needs, add-on modules for dealing with everything from authentication to secure downloads, and extremely liberal licensing.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

MariaDB

MariaDB works as a binary-compatible "drop-in replacement" for MySQL. Databases created in MySQL can be used transparently in MariaDB. The upcoming Version 10.0 of MariaDB backports some changes from MySQL 5.6 and adds new features unique to MariaDB, such as the new Cassandra storage engine (for access to Cassandra clusters). What's more, the project is controlled by a foundation that aims to keep MariaDB independent of corporate control -- a safeguard against history repeating the turn that the MySQL project has taken under Oracle.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

WordPress

The world's most widely used blogging platform now powers some absurdly large percentage of websites -- not just blogs, websites. In addition to blogging, WordPress supports message boards and mini social networks, thanks to the user community that has written a massive range of third-party themes and functionality extensions for it.

Few software packages of this scope make it as easy to get up and running, and to stay on top of updates and everything else with relatively little sweat. Note that you do need to choose your themes and plug-ins wisely, and the default configuration isn't always the best one, especially if you're on low-end or shared hosting.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Alfresco

Still the only open source content management platform to conquer the entire content lifecycle, Alfresco impressed even further this year with new blending for cloud-based and on-premise content. The platform's openness is stellar, thanks to support for standards like CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Services) as well as REST. Connectors to popular partner systems such as SharePoint, Google Drive, SugarCRM, and Salesforce.com (and many more) bring rich transaction and routing capabilities to traditional document management. Support for mobile workers is also seamless with a well-supported SDK.

-- James R. Borck

SugarCRM

Our favorite PHP spaghetti ball bundles SFA, marketing campaigns, customer support, collaborations, mobile CRM, social CRM, and reporting into a unified software system. SugarCRM allows companies to track their customers and drive business processes more effectively. This year top improvements include an excellent dashboard, full-text search capabilities, and snappier performance.

-- Michael Scarlett

Vtiger

Vtiger continues to impress. The current stable version, 5.4, has matured and stands out in the areas of post-sales customer service, support (with trouble ticketing and FAQ module), customer portal, and rules-based mail handling. The project started as a fork of SugarCRM, and it has evolved quite a bit in a different direction. The entire codebase is both free and open source. The project includes all the standard CRM capabilities and many other features, including sales orders, purchase orders, invoices, asset tracking, SMS notification, PBX manager, and workflows, to name a few. The community is large and active, and the wiki is comprehensive. An inexpensive hosted version allows you to choose between the old and new interfaces.

-- Fred Blauer

Magento

Magento is the leading, best-of-breed open source e-commerce solution for B2C, and it even has some B2B capabilities. The company behind the software is owned by eBay, and the project itself has the largest community and share of the market.

There are three versions: the free and open source community version, a subscription-based SaaS version known as Magento Go, and the commercially licensed enterprise version that's packed with premium features. The Magento system is powerful, it performs well, and many add-ons and extensions (such as connections to ERP, online payment, and shipping systems) are available through the Magento Connect marketplace. It is hard to go wrong with this proven and well-supported project.

-- Fred Blauer

Feng Office

Feng Office is a project formerly known as Open Goo. Now, ironically, it helps to unstick worker productivity with a nice set of browser-based project management and collaboration tools. Whether on-site (Apache/PHP/MySQL) or hosted (Feng Sky), the software lets you create project workspaces along organizational lines or for specific projects.

Feng Office offers a solid feature set that encompasses document sharing, calendars, task management, contacts, and email. Issue tracking and resource management lag behind commercial tools like Clarizen, and it could use a mobile app like Basecamp's. But good usability and easy administration make Feng Office a solution you can build on.

-- James R. Borck

ProjectLibre

ProjectLibre is a Java-based project management solution that gives Microsoft Project a run for its money. Offering a UI similar enough to ease the transition from Microsoft's market leader, ProjectLibre packs in calendars, resource tracking, task management, and cost-tracking tools.

ProjectLibre produces the same familiar Gantt and critical path method charts that project managers rely on, and its project files are interchangeable with Microsoft Project. It is not yet suitable for multiproject management, as support for subprojects and resource pooling is lacking, but for small and medium projects, ProjectLibre has the right stuff. This project management project also has big plans for the future. New cloud and server versions are in the works.

-- James R. Borck

GnuCash

GnuCash is still the most popular free and open source application in the personal finance category. The system will run on Windows, Mac, or Linux, but it isn't designed for the cloud or mobile and is typically installed and run in-house. The project has released a few incremental improvements in the last year.

GnuCash has good bank reconciliation features, and it can import bank transactions. It also includes investment tracking capabilities. Although the system can support multiple users in a very small business, you will have to look elsewhere if you have demanding accounting or ERP requirements such as inventory control, order entry, purchasing, and project or time tracking.

-- Fred Blauer

FrontAccounting

FrontAccounting incrementally improves and matures. The past year didn't bring any revolutionary changes, but the current version (2.3.18) works well, and it's a good fit for a small company with modest needs. The system is built on a PHP framework with a MySQL database, and it's easy to use. There is no hosted option available, so you have to run it in-house or use one of the commercial partners if you want to deploy in the cloud. Integrations with best-of-breed e-commerce and CRM apps are available through commercial partners.

-- Fred Blauer

OrangeHRM

Built with PHP and deployed on a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack, OrangeHRM is relatively easy to install and has some good documentation and videos. There hasn't been a lot of activity or major changes with the OrangeHRM project over the past year; however, Version 3 improves the user interface and adds better support for mobile access, and new integration with xTuple ERP and accounting is in the works. The community edition of OrangeHRM covers the essentials from applicant tracking to performance management, whereas more advanced functions are available through add-on modules and in the cloud-based Live edition.

-- Fred Blauer

ERPNext

ERPNext is a relative newcomer in the world of integrated, open source ERP. This India-based project is targeting smaller companies but has managed to pack in a lot of features while remaining relatively easy to use and configure. Built with Python and JavaScript, ERPNext is fully Web-based and quite comprehensive, recently adding an integrated website and shopping cart for selling online. An inexpensive hosted edition is also available.

ERPNext has a good discussion forum on Google Groups, the community is growing, the company recently introduced a new partner program, and the core team posts presentations every month to update the community on news and strategy. This project has a bright future.

-- Fred Blauer

xTuple

The xTuple project continues to evolve and innovate. The free open source community version, known as xTuple PostBooks, is fairly comprehensive and suitable for many small businesses. The open source commercial versions add premium functionality for manufacturers and distributors. Third-party add-ons and extensions are available through xTuple's app store. The project is currently phasing in a new mobile and Web client platform, which runs concurrently with the Qt GUI client. Based on Enyo, the new mobile/Web client will soon be available in the CRM modules, followed by the sales. The company has also announced integration with OrangeHRM.

-- Fred Blauer

Openbravo

The Openbravo ERP system is backed by the commercial sponsor of the same name. There is a new version for coworking environments and startups that share resources. The new point-of-sale system, based on the Enyo JavaScript framework, is designed to work on mobile devices and touchscreens. The layout of the screen will automatically adjust and conform to any client device -- PC, tablet, or smartphone. You'll find plenty of third-party extensions available for Openbravo, and the community is quite active. There are integrations with several leading open source projects, including SugarCRM, Magento, and Alfresco.

-- Fred Blauer

uniCenta oPOS

Openbravo POS was a popular, open source way to run point-of-sale devices such as cash registers or checkout computers. The Openbravo POS project stalled in 2011, but the source code lives on in a very powerful and beautifully redone fork, uniCenta oPOS. The folks behind the new project have gussied it up with a new look (along with 38 different skins), provided commercial support for customers who needed it, and released the source code as GPLv3 to prevent it from being resold as a service. Everything from automatically figuring sales tax to inventory management, scale integration, and employee control is included.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

OpenERP

OpenERP is a Python-based Web application that's completely open source, with commercial versions providing bug fixes, migrations to new versions, and a hosting option. OpenERP 7 is a major upgrade that overhauled the user interface, which no longer requires the native client, only a Web browser.

OpenERP is loaded with features and modules (more than 3,000 at last count); lots of third-party add-ons are available, and the system is relatively easy to customize. The project originated in Europe, but there has been considerable progress in North America in the past year. The community is large and active, with many value-added partners in most areas of the world.

-- Fred Blauer

OpenEMR

OpenEMR is an EHR (electronic health records)- and HIPAA-compliant electronic medical records platform (scheduling, billing, and reporting) and patient portal. This repeat winner recently added better management of lab results, essential record de-duplication tools, and encrypted e-delivery of medical records in support of the new Direct Project (part of the Nationwide Health Information Network System).

OpenEMR runs on Windows and Linux, and it's available in a preinstalled XAMPP (X, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl) package or VMware appliance, lowering the bar to getting started. The project has an active community and a number of third-party support options. Pay someone to spruce up the interface and you have a very customizable EMR suite suitable for most small health care facilities.

-- James R. Borck

Pentaho BI Suite

Pentaho is the BI tool of choice for many of the larger integrated open source ERP systems including OpenERP, xTuple, and Openbravo. A powerful business intelligence and data integration platform that has proven itself in large organizations, Pentaho provides basic reporting and integration tools in a free community edition. It packs its more sophisticated features -- including dashboards, interactive reporting, data visualization, and mobile clients -- into the professional and enterprise editions. The latest Version 4.8 adds features for big data analysis, which is becoming more popular as companies collect more and more data from internal and external sources.

-- Fred Blauer

Colosa ProcessMaker

For smaller businesses and departmental projects, Colosa's ProcessMaker may be the smartest choice for approval-based workflow. This year's Version 2.5 release brought easier WYSIWYG customization of forms and reports. New syntax validation for forms prevents your underlying XML from going haywire -- a royal pain to troubleshoot in the past. 

ProcessMaker lacks extensive process monitoring and optimization capabilities, nor does it offer tools for BPMN 2.0 (business process model and notation) modeling, process validation, or debugging. But this LAMP/PHP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack is easy to get started. In addition to the community edition, ProcessMaker is available in cloud-hosted and enterprise editions, including one edition that installs as a SugarCRM module.

-- James R. Borck

Activiti

Activiti is an independent project funded by Alfresco and the SpringSource division of Pivotal. Sporting native BPMN 2.0 (business process model and notation) execution and a liberal Apache license, Activiti launched as a clean-sheet BPM engine in 2010. Led by the ex-Red Hat developers responsible for jBPM, this rebooted process engine incorporates many features found in commercial BPM implementations and includes plug-ins for open source powerhouses such as Liferay Portal, Mule ESB, and Spring. The system includes a form modeler for human workflow, LDAP integration, and a REST API to nearly everything within.

-- Steven Nuñez

Bonita BPM

Years in the making, Bonita BPM 6 was worth the wait. The new release sports a speedier services-based runtime engine and a REST API. It also abstracts configuration parameters from applications for deploying updates without rebooting. A sleek redesign of the user portal improves accessibility and mixes in mobile.

The Bonita BPM Studio still makes easy work of forms editing and process modeling. With the new release, parallel flows function as expected under the BPMN 2.0 spec. More advanced features such as subtasks and error management require a commercial subscription. Activity monitoring and business rules management could be stronger, but the latest updates and a solid portfolio of connectors make Bonita the best in open source BPM.

-- James R. Borck

Mule ESB

Mule ESB underwent some changes this year. The Mule Studio is now available as an Eclipse plug-in and no longer requires a dedicated setup. Developers will like the new DataSense filter even more. This new tool will examine a data resource and prepopulate configuration options with endpoint-specific data type and structure information -- a vast improvement to the wiring process. Mule also removed an important performance bottleneck by adding support for concurrent file processing.

Mule combines a light footprint, good scalability, and an easy development path. It lacks the business rules and process management tools required for more advanced integration projects, but it shines as a stand-alone ESB or as an adjunct to more sophisticated platforms already in place.

-- James R. Borck

SwitchYard

Not every integration project requires XA-reliable messaging or strong business rules management capabilities. For those that do, Red Hat's next-generation ESB, SwitchYard, makes a superb choice. SwitchYard represents a refactoring of traditional service bus runtimes to put the focus where it belongs: on the application. You might call it "ESB plus."

SwitchYard embeds service endpoints -- orchestration, POJO (plain old Java objects), workflow, and routing components -- directly within your apps. Rather than using gateways and listeners, it exposes these services via bindings and contracts. In a nutshell, SwitchYard makes a clean break from legacy architectures to make service-oriented architecture more service-oriented and application integration faster, simpler, and more flexible.

-- James R. Borck

Service Stack

Started in 2008 as an open source replacement for Windows Communication Foundation services, this .Net integration stack is complete, well engineered, and fast. Service Stack is simple to add to a project via NuGet, and the services easily allow you to consume XML, JSON, or SOAP objects. NoSQL, messaging, logging, all work seamlessly together. There is an active community, with plenty of users on StackOverflow for problem resolution. Finally, the project has made it a design goal to support Mono, so you can use its services on both Windows and Unix.

-- Steven Nuñez

Open edX

A not-for-profit online learning consortium founded by Harvard and MIT, edX created quite a stir by releasing the source code to its Python-based LMS (learning management system) this year. Running on Ubuntu, Open edX combines the LMS, deployment and configuration tools, courseware modules, and an authoring environment called Studio. A number of add-ons provide for a messaging interface, JavaScript-based analytics, and machine-learning-based grading assessments (a work in progress, to be sure). The software is available to developers looking to contribute back. EdX is not yet offering support services or hosting to anyone beyond its signed partners.

-- James R. Borck

inBloom

U.S. school systems purchase scores of software packages, each of which has its own representation of a student and his or her data. However, school systems can't afford a point-to-point IT integration project for their unique mix of software. inBloom creates a common platform that allows vendors to write to one data API. The goal is to not only avoid data integration costs, but to expand the market for software aimed at K-12 school systems. inBloom is a multitenancy system based on MongoDB, and maintains local control of student data. The first few packages have been released on GitHub and more are to come.

-- Andrew C. Oliver

BigBlueButton

BigBlueButton is a free open source Web conferencing system that allows multiple audio and video streams with integrated whiteboard, chat, and desktop sharing. It's tailored for academia, but potentially useful to anyone. The server installs on Ubuntu (detailed instructions available), but it's much easier to download and install the VMware image.

Performance is good. I was able to connect four simultaneous users -- all video streaming -- with the BigBlueButton server running in a VM on my Core i7 2.33GHz laptop with 8GB memory without any issues. Clients need a modern browser with the latest version of Flash. An online demo server is available for you and your friends to try.

-- Joseph Roth

TurnKey Linux

TurnKey Linux is a project devoted to building free, easy-to-install, ready-to-run, Debian-based software appliances. Currently more than 100 appliances -- including Tomcat, LAMP, LAPP, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Django, Rails, Drupal, WordPress, and other servers -- are available for download, preconfigured with a minimal OS footprint and packaged in many build formats and as an installable Live CD. Builds are available for VMware, OVF, OpenStack, OpenVZ, and Xen. Once deployed, TurnKey appliances receive updates and security patches automatically.

-- High Mobley