Ten Open Source Business Applications

Looking for a business application that is free as in speech? Adam Turner lists business applications and infrastructure to support them... all free!

There's more to open source than Firefox, so don't spend a cent on software for your business until you've evaluated these open source alternatives.

Of course the days of considering open source to be "free" as in "free beer" are long gone. Sure you might not pay a licensing fee for the code itself, but open source applications are only "free" if you don't value your time. Like any software, you still need to deploy it, integrate it with your existing systems, maintain it and train your staff to use it. While some businesses may have the in-house skills to handle such a project, many turn to specialist open source systems integrators. As such, the cost of the actual software itself is often only a minor component of the overall project budget.

The real appeal of open source is that is is "free" as in "free speech". The ability to dip into the underlying code means open source software offers businesses the ability to design custom solutions. They can also avoid locking themselves into upgrade cycles due to the proprietary formats of the old-world software giants.

Open source is moving into a "more pragmatic state of evolution," says Forrester Research's open source analyst Michael Goulde. While anyone can download an open source application for free from sites such as sourceforge.net, open source vendors such as Red Hat and Novell are providing the maintenance, support and training that organisations would expect from any large commercial software house.

In turn, this is giving large enterprises the confidence to embark down the open source path.

"At Forrester we're seeing a significant amount of use of open source in large enterprises, companies who don't ordinarily make technology decisions based on philosophy," Goulde says.

"They're choosing open source because of the flexibility it gives them in development, they're selecting open source in some cases because they feel a particular piece of open source is actually better than the commercial alternative."

If your business is open to open source, here are ten applications you should road test before you buy anything.

1. Operating System - Linux


The poster child of open source software, the Linux operating system runs on both desktop and server computers with the look and feel of Microsoft's Windows. It is compatible with a wide variety of hardware including the Intel x86 architecture used by Microsoft Windows, which means Windows PCs can be easily upgraded to run Linux (or dual-boot with Windows). A number of vendors now sell computers with Linux pre-installed, such as IBM, HP and Dell. There are many distros, or distributions, of Linux but those with commerical-grade support and service include Red Hat and Novell SuSE.

2. Web server - Apache


Probably the world's most widely deployed open source application, Apache serves up roughly half of all websites ahead of Microsoft'sIIS (Internet Information Services). Apache runs on a range of hardware and operating systems including Unix, Linux, Solaris, Windows and Mac OS - whereas IIS is designed only for the Windows environment. Some of the world's biggest websites run on variations of Apache, such as Wikipedia and Google's search engine front end.

3. Database - MySQL


MySQL is a multi-user database management system to rival Oracle, Sybase and SQL Server. MySQL sits at the backend of many open source apps and is often combined with the PHP scripting language for producing dynamic web pages on the fly - powering sites such as YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia. An enterprise version of MySQL is supported by MySQL AB, which recently became a subsidiary of Sun Microsystems.

4. Database administration - phpMyAdmin


phpMyAdmin is an open source tool, written in the PHP scripting language, for administering MySQL over the internet. phpMyAdmin is an invaluable database recovery tool should things go pear-shaped when running one of the vast number of open souce apps designed to run with the LAMP stack of open source applications (Linux, Apache, MySQL and the PHP scripting language).

5. Customer Relationship Management - SugarCRM


SugarCRM is an alternative to Siebel, Salesforce.com or Microsoft CRM which offers sales force automation, marketing automation, customer support and reporting capabilities. It is designed to run on the LAMP stack of open source apps, but will run on other operating systems compatible with Apache, MySQL and PHP such as Windows, Solaris and Mac OS. SugarCRM is available as a hosted solution, running on in-house servers or running on an in-house dedicated appliance.

6. Enterprise Resource Planning - Compiere


Challenging the likes of SAP and Oracle, Compiere is an ERP and CRM solution targeted at small to medium-sized enterprises. It offers modules such as Quote-to-Cash, Requisition-to-Pay, Customer Relationship Management, Partner Relations Management, Supply Chain Management, Performance Analysis, Warehouse, Double-entry Book- keeping, Workflow-Management and Web Store. Compiere runs on a wide range of operating systems and works with a number of databases including Oracle, SQL Server and EnterpriseDB. Implementations on MySQL, PostgreSQL and Sybase are in beta.

7. Human Relations Management - OrangeHRM


Competing with PeopleSoft, OrangeHRM's modules include Administration, Personal Information Management, Reports, Employee Self Service, Time and Attendance Management and Leave Management. It is accessible to all staff members, with finely-grained access restrictions.OrangeHRM is designed to run on the open source LAMP stack or with Windows.

8. Content Management - Joomla!


Joomla! is an open source content management system challenging the likes of Vignette and SharePoint. Joomla! is highly modular, with more than 2,800 extensions available offering a range of features including blogs, polls, RSS feeds, podcasts, calendars, reader comments, wikis and shopping carts. Joomla! is designed to run on the open source LAMP stack but also runs on other servers such as Microsoft's IIS.

9. PABX - Asterisk


As businesses replace their traditional PABX in search of new functionality such as VoIP, Asterisk is competing against the big boys such as Cisco and Avaya, along with newcommers like Microsoft.

Asterisk offers features such as voicemail, call forwarding, conference calling, Interactive Voice Reponse menus and automatic call distribution. Asterisk distributions such as Worxbox aim to provide a complete open source Unified Communications server.

Originally designed for the Linux, Asterisk also runs on NetBSD, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Mac OS X and Solaris.

10. Web Conferencing - vMukti


Again competing with the likes of Cisco and Microsoft, vMukti is a multi-point unified communications, collaboration and conferencing server platform. Core features include audio and video conferencing, instant messaging, whiteboard, file-sharing, presentation and remote desktop access. It can also interface with PSTN, IP and mobile phones.

vMukti can be deployed as a hosted, on-site or appliance solution. It runs on Windows under the .NET framework 2.0.

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