InfoWorld's 2009 Bossies spotlight today's Top 40 open source products for business and IT pros
In spite of these bounteous capabilities, Openfiler's actual processor and memory requirements are modest. A standard x86 system with 256MB of RAM, 1GB of disk space for the OS image, and at least one Ethernet card is all you need to get going. Installation is as easy as booting a CD, though managing Openfiler will take some time to learn, given everything it can do. We're fond of FreeNAS also, especially because it runs in flash so nicely. But Openfiler is the bomb.
Reporting and BI
Open source BI stacks offer exciting, lower-cost alternatives to the traditional commercial juggernauts. Java-based projects Pentaho BI Suite and Jaspersoft Business Intelligence Suite dominate the open source playing field, and while their basic reporting capabilities are free, getting advanced functionality out of either stack will require a commercial license.
Other open source BI solutions, notably the well-rounded SpagoBI toolset and Actuate's scalable, RIA-enabled BIRT-based tools, show solid underpinnings but fall short of Jaspersoft's and Pentaho's more complete BI stacks.
Both Pentaho and Jaspersoft have streamlined their design tools, helping to bring more minds to the data mining mix with minimal training. Pentaho has even added an Adobe Flash-based dashboard UI that breaks the bonds of static reports, while Jaspersoft has incorporated in-memory analysis for ad hoc queries, performed locally in the browser or pushed back to the server when the client device has resources.
For multidimensional analysis, OLAP, workflow, and ETL, Pentaho's well-guided interfaces and robust engine make it the best choice. Jasper, however, delivers a better overall reporting experience and ready customization. Considering the two are not mutually exclusive in their deployment, you might find it beneficial to look at both for their respective specialties.
That said, Pentaho's dashboards and wizards for report creation are nothing to sneeze at, although some of the more enterprise-worthy features like cluster and repository management require a paid subscription. By the same token, Jaspersoft's professional edition provides solid data mining with drag-and-drop tailoring of analytics.
To be considered beyond departmental-use cases, both Pentaho and Jaspersoft must continue to improve their handling of larger data sets, beef up overall security, and incorporate performance management features: financial/operational performance metrics that help companies align their strategic goals and business planning across their organizations.
Nonetheless, plenty of bells and whistles such as workflow and alerts help round out both of these stellar offerings.
SFA and CRM
SugarCRM takes the Bossie for best open source customer relationship management platform. With tools for salesforce automation (leads, pipeline forecasting, and account management), e-marketing, and online lead capture, as well as customer support and automated service handling, Sugar has the most comprehensive feature set among open source competitors.
The sizable user community behind Sugar brings with it a wealth of connectors to integral business systems and plug-in options to extend functionality. Another big plus: SugarCRM's well-designed user interface and uncomplicated setup and customization help speed up deployments and make new users productive quickly.
SugarCRM's advanced functions -- sales forecasting, order management, report customization, automated alerts, customer self-service portal -- are available only in professional and enterprise editions, as are interfaces that make the application accessible to wireless devices and Microsoft Office. The new SugarCRM 5.5 beta streamlines interfaces for mobile users and adds a collaborative tool. SugarCRM also supports REST Web services, making it easier to integrate the CRM application with legacy systems.
Sugar's e-mail marketing and campaign management tools are challenged by no other open source competitor. Budgeting and response tracking support tactical marketing efforts versus generic carpet-bombing campaigns. And automatic lead routing (also available via the customer portal) employs predefinable forms that help lock in potential leads.
SugarCRM does have open source rivals. The .Net-centric SplendidCRM shares many of the features in SugarCRM 5.2 and does a good job with mobile access. As with SugarCRM, advanced features such as full Outlook integration, the new workflow engine, and reporting require a professional or enterprise license. Concursive continues to carve out a niche market with its combination of basic CRM functionality and social networking, but falls short of a complete CRM solution.
Enterprise resource planning
Open source ERP has come a long way in a short time, and may in fact be the next big growth area for open source in the coming year. Because ERP is anything but one size fits all, specialized verticals will no doubt begin to take root.
The two projects leading the way in open source ERP are Compiere and Openbravo, and both earn a Bossie from us this year. Although forked from the same code base, both companies have moved in slightly different directions.
Along with these co-winners, OpenERP and OFBiz deserve mention. Tiny's OpenERP (formerly TinyERP) has significantly improved its strength and scope -- even wading into BI and workflow. The product could still use more enterprise features, such as an asset management system, but this Belgian company is on the move.
Apache OFBiz is also one to watch. Its rich e-commerce functionality, strong services layer, and handy MVC (model-view-controller) framework unfortunately remain overshadowed by usability issues and installation complexity. Themed interfaces are being introduced to improve the UI, and Derby -- OFBiz's embedded database for transaction processing -- is incorporating examples that should help draw interest. OFBiz will start to look much more attractive as these wrinkles get smoothed out.
Openbravo impresses with a well-developed POS (point-of-sale) solution, procurement and warehouse management tools, financial and accounting features, and production logistics for shop floor oversight. Further, Openbravo's plug-in architecture offers the same sort of extensive modularity found in SugarCRM and traditional commercial applications from the likes of SAP and Oracle. That means your developers can extend system functionality without worrying about stepping on core functionality. And the entire Openbravo system is supported by a healthy set of alerts, role-based user provisioning and access control, and a good Web-based UI.
Most of Openbravo's functionality is available in the free community edition, while more Compiere features -- including a Web UI, PDF reports, and warehouse and manufacturing management capabilities -- are locked away in paid editions. You will need Openbravo's enterprise edition to get OLAP functionality and clustering -- crucial for any large enterprise deployment.
Compiere's core features are also top-notch. The free community edition has the basics for materials and order management as well as purchasing, finance, and business performance management. As noted above, warehouse and manufacturing management are absent, but if those are not a requirement for your business, you'll find the HR/payroll features, reporting, and Java client in Compiere's community edition to be up to the task.
Although both Compiere and Openbravo offer some CRM-style features, you won't mistake them for full-blown solutions. Features such as forecasting, pipeline workflow, mobile access, and partner relationship management are light-years behind SugarCRM and commercial offerings such as NetSuite. But they cover the basics of sales management vis-à-vis master data overlap with ERP.
Business process management
When it comes to automating business tasks, the only open source solution capable of addressing the full matrix of enterprise requirements is Intalio BPM. It's simply the most comprehensive open source BPMS available.
The remaining choices are rather narrowly focused. Active Endpoints makes its ActiveBPEL Engine available free under the GPL, but requires you to pay up for the companion orchestration toolkit, the ActiveVOS Designer. (Intalio includes its modeler, BPEL server, and workflow in the free community edition.) Colosa ProcessMaker and uEngine have well-developed human workflow support, but they lack the heavy-duty, system-to-system integration capabilities of Intalio.
Intalio has been criticized regarding its open source claims, most likely because the company does not provide source code on its Web site (where binaries of the free community edition can be downloaded). However, Intalio's enterprise edition customers do get full access to source code, and the source code of community edition components -- which fall under Apache and Eclipse licenses -- are obtainable from their community-based repositories.
Intalio's Eclipse-based graphical modeler simplifies process design while the Intalio Server provides an extensible plug-in environment to connect most enterprise infrastructures. The Tempo framework (part of the server) adds human workflow and connectors to a variety of technologies including BPEL, Web services, REST, and XForms, while Intalio's underlying ecosystem stretches from lifecycle management tools to deployment monitoring. A new perk comes by way of the OpenPMF 2.0 framework, which is now included for application security. Your developers don't need to be security experts to configure security properly.
Intalio has been working to plug CRM functionality into the mix, but so far those capabilities remain basic. Another nit: Apache Geronimo is the only application server supported in the community edition.
However, new beta features reflect enterprise needs, including a business rules engine, Ajax-driven forms for easier editing, and a more streamlined deployment interface. The full enterprise edition also includes BAM (business activity monitoring), a portal interface, ECM (enterprise content management) based on Alfresco, fail-over clustering, and support for application servers beyond Apache Geronimo.
Free vs. free
Clearly, as open source marches into the enterprise the term "open source" no longer equates with "free of charge." Free open source makes good sense if the abbreviated features or limited number of seats in community versions serve your business needs. Otherwise costly consulting and customization charges may begin to outpace savings on commercial licensing.
Although many companies will find the free versions of open source applications sufficiently appointed for small workgroups and department level projects, purchasing a license and support package will still frequently reap a better deal, feature by feature, than you'll find in closed commercial offerings.
InfoWorld Test Center contributing editors Andrew Binstock, Brian Chee, Curtis Franklin Jr., Rick Grehan, Martin Heller, Neil McAllister, James Owen, Paul Venezia, and Peter Wayner contributed to this article.
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