Feature

Getting wired: Applications of originality

New work by open source developers is producing innovative solutions for business.

Last week I noted that free software has come up with plenty of new ideas in the past, but that all of the big success stories were first coded many years ago. Could it be that open source has simply been coasting since then?

A quick glance at the Apache site gives a hint that this is not the case. The Apache web server has blossomed into the Apache Software Foundation, which now organises a number of important projects ancillary to the main Apache code. These include comparatively well-known free software projects such as Jakarta for server-side Java; web services ; XML; and a module for running Perl scripts.

The latter is used by a number of sites to offer interactive capabilities, and also by Mason, which provides a classic example of how open source is continuing to innovate by building on existing achievements - in this case, Perl and Apache.

Mason is a tool for creating, serving and managing large websites running under a high load. It achieves this by embedding Perl code in HTML pages. There is a list of its features, a FAQ and a detailed online manual. There is also a book from O'Reilly - proof that Mason has arrived - which is freely available online.

Another way of producing the same effect as Mason is to use PHP. I have written about this open source tool several times before, but it has since turned into an Apache Software Foundation project. This apparently subordinate role might give a rather misleading impression about the importance of PHP. As a graph on its home page indicates, PHP is extremely popular.

There is a FAQ and further documentation, and more than 40 books about PHP - an indication of its massive uptake. There is also a PHP company, called Zend, which was set up by some of the people behind the latest PHP version. It offers various commercial solutions based around PHP.

Midgard integrates PHP with other open source software - Apache and the database MySQL - to produce a comprehensive content management system that is freely available. There is a FAQ and a list of companies providing services and solutions based around the software.

Similarly, there is a company offering commercial solutions for the open source Zope system. Built around the Python language, Zope is a fully fledged application server. Comprehensive documentation is available, including several FAQs and the full text of the first book about Zope.

In a sense, content management and application servers are the heirs of the basic interactive web server concept that Apache and Perl pioneered. So it is appropriate that this area should represent such a rich seam for open source developers - one that gives the lie to any claim that free software is not continuing to innovate.

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This was first published in March 2003

 

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