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Pitfalls In An Open-Source World

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OSS

Developers working on open-source projects for business need to think beyond the technology and develop new ways of approaching the business issues of software development. They need to be careful where they get code that they believe to be open source and be sure the code doesn't have licensing provisions that could cost their employers money in the future, cautions Mark Rankin, director of research and development and a research fellow at ADP Dealer Services.

Developers need to get used to the idea that they can get some--but not all--of their tech support from the open-source community, Rankin said last week at the Burton Group Catalyst North America conference, which was co-sponsored by InformationWeek and sister publication Network Computing. Developers also need to give back to the open-source community by donating code so that other organizations can use it, he said.

ADP Dealer Services, which started its migration to open source six year ago, provides line-of-business computing systems to car and truck dealerships. Its parent company, Automatic Data Processing Inc., provides technology including servers and IP telephony; ADP Dealer Services focuses on applications, offering modules for accounting, reporting, finances, insurance, human resources, parts inventory and forecasting, and scheduling. Revenue for the business unit is about $1 billion, and for the parent, about $8 billion, Rankin said. The company's customers range from mom-and-pop car dealerships with 15 to 30 employees up to multibillion-dollar corporations.

ADP's legacy software runs on Unix platforms--60% Linux and the remainder Digital Equipment Tru64 Unix running on Alpha processors. It's a green-screen application written in an antique programming language, Pick/Basic, with SNA and X.25 networking. The company's main competitor runs on the same technology.

ADP has been replacing the applications gradually, using mostly open-source components. It chose the PHP scripting language, in part because of IBM's and Oracle's support for it. ADP used PostgreSQL, with a front end consisting mostly of HTML and JavaScript. "Where we needed a little more oomph, we used managed controls and .Net framework on the side," Rankin said.

The migration has been successful, but it required developers to learn some new habits, he said.

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