OFBiz officially joins the ASF

As of this writing, the DNS/infrastructure hasn’t quite caught up, but ofbiz.apache.org ought to be live soon. “Apache Open For Business”, aka OFBiz, has been promoted out of the incubator (the term the ASF uses for projects hoping to become full-fledged ASF projects) to its own top level project.

As J Aaron Farr mentions, they managed most everything on their own, and were a project that wouldn’t have looked out of place as part of the ASF even from the beginning of the incubation period, which made my job as a “mentor” pretty easy.

What will be interesting is to track the project going forward. It has tremendous potential, because it focuses very much on providing not only the low level tools (which is still where most open source is), but also on creating good business models and processes, which is relatively newer terrain in the open source world.

I think they face a couple of important challenges. First and foremost, a way to lower the barrier to entry. OFBiz is a big collection of code that in some ways tends to stand alone compared to the “mainstream” in that it uses its own tools in terms of the framework. Also, since it encompasses so much, it’s a lot to come to terms with when you get started. This means that the initial step of the “learning curve” is pretty high, and I imagine that a lot of people stumble. Clearly, it’s not a simple application, but I think efforts to make it more approachable will pay off in terms of attracting more users (and eventually, developers).

The broader challenge is simply the fact that in some ways, this is uncharted territory for free software, so it remains to be seen what sort of “ecosystem” (if you’ll pardon the buzzword) grows up around it. For instance, at this point in time, no one, least of all the core developers, sees it as a program that you simply download and run, but rather as a place to start from for integrators and developers who mould the code to fit the needs of the particular firm adopting it. That’s working right now, but perhaps at some point it will be more of an out of the box system. Or maybe not – attempting to make it work well for a vague ‘everyone’ might just be chasing taillights and prove ultimately fruitless.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t had the opportunity to use it “in anger”, as they say, so I don’t have much to say about it technically, but from a business point of view, I really like their data model, and the system of processes they’ve put together, which allows you to capture a great deal of use cases in a very flexible way, which is no mean feat.

In any case, a big round of congratulations to the core developers, and best wishes for the future!

Open Source as a business side effect

In a few days, I hope to launch a little project that I’ve been working on, that was inspired by some concrete needs at work. That’s nothing new, as I’ve often undertaken new projects after seeing needs out there in the ‘real world’. What’s going to be different this time, though, is that I’m not going to release it as open source software. Instead, I’m going to make the basic version available for free on the web, and charge money for more advanced versions, in various ways.

That’s a pretty big change for me, as I’m very dedicated to the idea of open source software. It’s simply more fun than the proprietary sort, and I love cooperating with other people on things, and all in all, it’s just easier to release stuff that way.

However, I want to try something new… I want to see if I can make some money on a few ideas and projects that I have in mind. I’ve thought about it a lot, and the shortest, most direct feedback loop in the types of end-user applications I have in mind is going the ‘commercial’ route. If I can make a bit of money on the applications, I can spend a bit more time either improving them or developing new ones. If they were open source, the most I would get is other people contributing a little bit back, but that doesn’t matter much, as none of these ideas are all that complex.

I’m not giving up on free software… I couldn’t. My hope is that by providing myself some extra income, that I will be able to produce some free software as a ‘side effect’, ala 37 signals or google, or any number of other groups that contribute a lot of ‘side dishes’ to open source, while saving the main course to make their money with.

Hopefully you will see more in this space in the next few days.