Open source CRM

Manage sales and customer relationships without spending a fortune on software

The open source community can't provide a drop-in replacement for expensive, high-end CRM applications from the likes of Salesforce.com or Siebel just yet. Still, you might be surprised at the level of sophistication some of the available projects already offer, particularly for midsize organizations.

SugarCRM, for example, offers a complete, enterprise-class CRM system built on open source technologies, including PHP, MySQL, and the Apache Web server. The base package, called Sugar Open Source, is available for free download under SugarCRM's custom license. The company also packages a commercial version of the software called Sugar Professional. SugarCRM offers paid support packages for both the commercial and open source versions of the product.

The InfoWorld Test Center reviewed Sugar Professional 2.5 in April and found it to be a reasonable solution for small and midsize enterprises. What's more, SugarCRM is no slouch when it comes to feature enhancements. Version 3.0 introduced campaign and contact list management, e-mail marketing, project management, employee directory, and calendar synchronization tools. The forthcoming Version 3.5 will add an offline client for traveling sales staff, an extensible module framework, and support for Oracle databases.

Primarily an ERP solution, Compiere offers some CRM functionality. Instead of an independent module, Compiere presents the user with a logical view of all customer- and prospect-related activities, and offers lead tracking, campaign management, customer profitability analysis, and self-service online inquiry for business partners. You can read more about Compiere in our open source ERP roundup.

The Open for Business Project offers a suite of e-business applications under the MIT License, including CRM, ERP, and e-commerce features. Similar to Compiere, the Open for Business Project does not break out its capabilities into discrete modules. Rather, the entire suite is built on top of a common data model that facilitates a variety of sales, accounting, facilities management, and collaboration activities. This has its ups and downs; it means the various activities are well integrated within the suite, but it also means you must buy into the entire, monolithic package to take full advantage of its capabilities. A number of premium consulting organizations provide support for the package.

Sales and customer support activities are too critical for most businesses to commit to a CRM package lightly. One advantage of the open source model, however, is that you aren't restricted to a limited trial run, as you would be for a commercial package or a hosted offering such as Salesforce.com. All of the packages listed here are readily available for download, so go ahead and experiment -- it costs you nothing to try.

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