Interesting question, James.
A friend pointed me to SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/top/mostactive.php?type=week). I was surprised to see that the top two "projects" last week were both ERP packages. I don't know anything about them, however, they appear to be aimed at small/medium businesses.
So, I wonder whether free, open source, ERP is:
- really being used (and being used successfully)
- assuming it is being used successfully, at least in some cases, what are the characteristics of the applications where it works and where it does not work
- having any impact in sales numbers or selling price of not-free packages (and, if so, in all markets or just small and mid-size)
Would anyone like to comment on their experience with open source ERP software?
I must first state that I am a VAR with xTuple. I have been involved with xTuple for the past 5 years. I have seen the product evolve dramatically in the past 2 years. I have implemented xTuple's ERP solution numerous times and can assure you that businesses can run on open source software.
I think the future could very well belong to OpenSource ERP. Ridiculous purchase costs and extortion level maintenance fees means more and more companies will be looking for alternatives to Big ERP. One of the key tenants of OpenSource is that the source code is out there for people to use and expand upon. This brings some significant benefits;
- Software is continually being updated, and bugs are often quickly addressed
- If there is a need, someone will likely be working on a solution
- You don't need to worry about a software company going out of business - you still have the code and people will continue to work on it.
That being said, OpenSource projects are not a panacea. While I haven't used any of the ERP packages listed in the article, I'm a bit of a geek and I love OpenSource software. I have Ubuntu Linux running on a computer that I rescued from the trash. I have used open source software from OpenOffice to VLC and Audacity, I've played OpenSource computer games and even explored an OpenSource genealogy application. have learned that to be truly successful OpenSource developers need to overcome some hurdles;
1) UI Design: If I have a complaint with OpenSource, it is with the UI. Often the UI is created by the programmers and while they are brilliant and well meaning, programmers have a difficult time understanding how users actually need to use the software. Complex, confused UI is often the result.
2) Installation. Some developers get it, others don't. Ubuntu Linux has one of the easiest installation procedures I've ever seen. Easier then installing Windows in some cases. The Ubuntu developers at Cononical get it. OpenOffice (from Sun- now Oracle) is also very easy to install and use. However, the genealogy program and several other smaller applications were extremely challenging to install. No installer programs. You often need to download and install supporting applications (like databases) that are not included as part of the main install. In some cases you are required to download the code and COMPILE THE PROGRAM YOURSELF! This is not something mainstream users - or mainstream IT staffs are going to want to do.
3) Support - OpenSource is interesting in that in most cases, users support each other. This can be good...and it can be bad. I spent a week trying to get a wifi card working in my Ubuntu machine. I found hundreds of posts explaining in painful detail how to do it. Each of the recommendations I tried were different. None of them actually worked. Larger projects often have 3rd party companies that will provide consultation and support services for at a cost of course. This could be a very worthwhile investment if you go OpenSource.
4) Product roadmaps - With some exceptions, OpenSource projects often don't have any product management support. In many cases, features get added because the feature is one that the programmer is interested in. This means that a really cool algorithm that uses planetary alignment to forecast widgets could get done instead of that critical safety stock algorithm that would save you millions.
One other thought is if you do use the software and get value from it, donate to the project and help keep it going.
If you are going to go OpenSource, keep these items in mind and go into it with your eyes open. I've seen OpenSource programs like OpenOffice that are in many ways just as good as commercial software with the added benefit of being free. There are others that just aren't worth the effort. The nice thing is that you can download and use the software without having to layout huge amounts of cash...too bad SAP and Oracle didn't do that.