Open Source Tools Built The Web

Ironically, while open source is often associated with the Internet, many Web development managers remain uncertain about whether open source software can become a viable source for the tools they need to deliver their e-commerce projects on time.

However, open source has huge potential advantages when compared to traditional proprietary software models. The obvious advantage is that, with the software freely available to developers, open source is developed by, in effect, the world’s largest R&D teams. Improvements such as bug fixes and functionality extensions become available much faster–sometimes literally overnight–compared with traditional vendor models.

Another effect of the open source community is the ability to experiment in marginal areas or produce enhancements that do not have immediate, known commercial potential. Conventional ISV teams are rarely allowed to produce things that the customer isn’t asking for.

ostbtwFor instance, an integrated development environment (IDE) may provide the development and debugging environment. However, an IDE typically does not address design and analysis, configuration management, project management, and testing. And it won’t easily support the unique workflows, project management requirements, or technology requirements of specific deployments, such as multiple application servers or highly distributed components. Most IDEs run only on Microsoft Windows, so they really can’t handle optimization, testing, and deployment spanning NT, Linux, Solaris, and mainframe platforms.

Open source, with its wide platform support and rapid innovation, promises a wider range of solutions to development teams under the gun. For instance, while a development team might not have the time to port the source code of the right tool to another platform, the open source model makes it more likely some third-party vendor will rise to the challenge.

Impact on the Toots Market

Today, most commercial development tools are sold only in binary form, created from proprietary source code that is available only to the vendor. Add-on products from third parties must use limited, predefined extension interfaces provided by the tool vendor. This model and its associated business arrangements have limited the availability and longevity of add-ons. When customers require features not provided by the core IDE, the only alternatives have been:

* Using third-party add-on tools endorsed by the core tools vendor;

* Trying to integrate third-party tools themselves; or

* Using multiple tools in standalone mode.

By contrast, publicly available open source code encourages any vendor to develop complementary add-ons, without having to sign restrictive technology or marketing agreements. The only requirement is that the add-ons be fully compatible with the standards and APIs (application programming interfaces) of the source. The resulting add-on tools may be open source, but most of the commercial ones are not. However, by operating from a common, publicly available source code base, customers are assured that the add-ons will be compatible with their core tool system. This mixture of open source technology base with commercial add-on modules changes the business model of the tools industry.

The result is that the barriers to market entry are dramatically lowered. Any vendor with a development team and Web site can afford to introduce a new tool. The lowered barriers, in turn, make it easier for vendors to justify developing niche tools, such as content-driven Java Server Page (JSP) editors, that might not have been feasible under traditional proprietary software models.

And thanks to the Internet, these tools are more accessible than ever. All it requires is a search engine or a portal. Developers don’t have to wait for the sales rep to call.

Impact on the Development Cycle

Open source technologies fit nicely with the new, shorter-fuse development cycles that typify e-commerce projects. With only weeks, rather than months, to deliver, development teams don’t have time to evaluate large umbrella tool suites or endure lengthy sales cycles from their enterprise software company. Instead, they can get the right tool at the right time.

Here’s how it works. The team must start with an almost-immediate learning curve, and then produce a small deliverable. As the project progresses, developers add niche tools to satisfy specialized requirements that suddenly crop up. For instance, a state-of-the-art e-commerce site containing highly dynamic content may require tools supporting advanced technologies such as EJBs for distributed business logic, along with servlets and JSPs for generating dynamic content, XML, and HTML pages. The team itself might be spread across several locations. They would need tools that allow Java developers, HTML coders, and graphic designers to collaborate and produce new site updates on a daily basis, such as:

* IDEs for developing the Java business logic;

* Analysis tools for application designers;

* Testing tools for developers and deployment staff;

* Authoring tools for Web page design;

* Graphic and animation tools for designers; and

* Project management, workflow, and change management tools to coordinate the teams.

As an example, open source development has come to the Java community. is an independent organization for the Java community. The site provides the downloadable source code for the purpose of applying patches, adding extensions, or developing complementary add-on tools. Under terms of the open source license, any vendor is free to take the IDE and develop new products without cost or marketing obligation. Modeled on the Mozilla open source license, the NetBeans license allows the community to evolve freely and rapidly.

If development tools are open source, developers can count on finding compatible tools. If a tool system is proprietary, developers have to wait for one vendor team to get it right.

When Push Comes to Shove

With e-commerce ratcheting up the demands to deliver new applications quickly, development teams require a dependable source of tools that will satisfy often-unpredictable development requirements, a “just-in-time” tools system.

A new hybrid open source software model is emerging that features communities of commercial products available in finished binary form. The model is based on the premise that a core tool, such as a Java IDE, becomes freely available to the community of tools developers, who in turn are free to develop their own offerings that may–or may not–be open source. In the new model, open source does not mean trolling the Internet for “do-it-yourself” source code. Instead, open source translates to a vast new market for compliant tools. For development teams and vendors alike, open source is a win-win situation.


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One comment on “Open Source Tools Built The Web

  1. Warren F on said:

    It’s funny how open source was such a big thing in the 90s, but now just doesn’t have the same cache it used to. Is it because we’ve all become greedy bastards, or is it because we only “share” when it profits us.

    That’s the real question here.

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