Free the Code!

Open the cage and let the bits run free! Open source has come to the AS/400. Soon, applications that once cost tens of thousands of dollars will be free and we will all contribute our time for the good of the community.

In the middle of February a rather unusual press release came our way. It announced the formation of a group, OpenSource400, to promote open source development on the AS/400 and it’s first project, WyattERP, an open source Enterprise Resource Planning suite. We rushed to get this story into our e-mail newsletter and you will find a follow up to the newsletter story on our front page.

I perused the site and found it to be amusing. Very little information and poorly organized—the site certainly doesn’t engender confidence in the project. I browsed the site and found the list of WyattERP developers. My first reaction was that this was a joke. One of the developer’s names is Buck Colabro, a fake sounding name if I ever heard one, and the developer bios are a little cutesy for my taste.

The person responsible for all of this is one James W. Kilgore, which the press release lists as the founder of a company named Progressive Data Systems. We contacted Progressive Data Systems, an 11-year-old services and support firm in North Windham, Conn. And they had never heard of James W. Kilgore. Kilgore's Progressive Data Systems is actually a one-man development shop in Puyallup, Wash. I also visited the site and found a link to the “press release” about the open source ERP project that turned out to be a link to our newsletter story about the project. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of other information concerning the project on the NetShare400 site either.

All of this highlights my problems with the whole open source software movement. First, I think that people want to have a certain degree of confidence in the provider of their enterprise software, and second, they want someone to go to when something goes wrong. I know this last one paints me as an incurable pessimist, but let’s face reality, something always goes wrong. To me the question is not whether the glass is half empty or half full, but what’s in the glass and why do you want me to drink from it.

The press release states, “Those involved say they see two extremely important subjects being addressed here. First, putting source code for an enterprise-level application into the hands of those who need to understand it from end to end—the programmers. Second, it will allow companies of all sizes a choice when investigating an ERP-type solution.”

Let me address the first “important subject” first. Call me clueless, but why do programmers need to understand WyattERP from end-to-end unless they are actually coding WyattERP? When you implement ERP software from companies such as J.D. Edwards they don’t give you the source code. They don’t need to give you the source code. What they do give you is an API that exposes the data and procedures that the software encapsulates so that you can extend the software if you so desire. This API is independent of the implementation, and even if the implementation changes, the API doesn’t have to. Therefore, any enhancements you have made to the software are protected.

The second issue is actually more important. The costs of bringing in ERP software to your organization lie mostly in the implementation of the software, and the ongoing support and maintenance, not in the initial acquisition cost, therefore, eliminating the cost of the software does not buy you much. What this costs you is a lack of someone to go to when something goes wrong. You know what they say, “You get what you pay for.”

Go ahead and use free complicated software and see how far you get with when you find a bug that brings your enterprise to its knees. They might fix the problem in a timely manner, or they might not. Your guess is as good as mine. Of course you have the source code for WyattERP so you can fix the software on your own if you want to—but do you really want to? Reliability and accountability are essential. Over time, WyattERP may become reliable, but will ever be accountable? I can’t answer this question for sure, but I’m betting the glass is half empty on this one.

Related Editorial:

  • WyattERP: Showdown at the Open Source Corral?

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