Open Source Strategies

A blog about open source software and business models, enterprise software, and the opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM Suite.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

OFBIZ Approved to Graduate from ASF

Today the Apache OFBIZ project, for which I'm one of the committers and core developers, was approved to graduate from Apache incubation. It has been almost exactly a year since David Welton from the Apache Foundation first talked to me about OFBiz joining the Apache Software Foundation. At the time it almost seemed so far off and in the distance, but now that it's close at hand, I'm going to jot down a few notes about it.

What is OFBIZ?

For those of you who don't know, Apache OFBiz is a community-developed open source project for building business software: everything from high end ecommerce sites to Point Of Sales to document management to open source ERP and CRM systems, to less common things like telco billing, equipment maintenance, subscription sites. It was started in April 2001 by David E. Jones and Andy Zeneski, who met for the first time through the project (who says you shouldn't meet people online?) I got involved with the project in 2003 and became a commiter in 2005, along with several other committers from around the world. Today, we have seven committers and a few dozen contributors to the project worldwide. (Click on the link to the right or some of my other posts to learn more about OFBiz.)

How Did We Join the Apache Software Foundation?

About a year ago, David Welton, who lives and works in Italy, asked on the OFBiz mailing list whether we'd be interested in joining the Apache Foundation. We had been a successful open source project for several years now, but collectively we decided that it would be the best thing for the project to do so, even though it might be quite a bit of work. A proposal for OFBiz to join the Foundation was put to the Apache Foundation's Incubator for a vote and approved 10:1 in favor, and David Welton, Yoav Shapira from MIT, and J. Aaron Farr signed up to help mentor the project.

The process of becoming a full Apache Software Foundation project is fairly complex and involved. Since it's well described on the Apache website, I won't go into details here. Instead, let me share with you some of my own recollections of the key steps.

First, it was necessary to review all the libraries and code in OFBiz to make sure that they are compatible with the Apache 2.0 License. Since OFBiz was originally under the MIT Public License, we were already compatible with the Apache 2.0 License. However, we had to make sure that all the other open source libraries included were compatible as well. This was no small task for a project as large as OFBiz. Libraries which were released under the BSD, Apache, and MIT licenses could stay. A few LGPL libraries had to be replaced with Apache-licensed equivalents. Fortunately, David E. Jones wrote a new transaction manager using the Apache Geronimo project, and this substantial re-wiring of OFBiz was completed without a hitch in April. Jacopo Cappellato from Italy extended the form tool in OFBiz to do PDF reporting, replacing the LGPL reporting libraries. Sadly, some OpenOffice libraries which had been included for document management applications had to be moved out of the main OFBiz code base as well.

The next big thing was to get a Contribution Agreement from every contributor who had ever contributed to the project since its inception--again not a small feat, since OFBiz has always been very open about accepting community contributions, and over the years we've had over 74 contributors worldwide. When the project had been under the MIT Public License, submitting a contribution to a file with an existing MIT Public License basically means that you granted an MIT License on your contribution (check with your lawyers on this to be sure.) To join the Apache Foundation, however, all those contributions had to be vetted by having each contributor sign a Contribution Agreement which officially granted a license to the Foundation. This meant contacting every single contributor who ever contributed to OFBiz. Again, Jacopo and David took the lead on this, and over the next six months, the agreements trickled in. Everyone whom we reached was receptive. Only a couple of contributors could not be reached, and their contributions were re-coded.

Finally, new license headers and notices had to be posted to the thousands of files in the project, and new NOTICE and LICENSE files had to be created to comply with Foundation rules. Several test snapshots were created for the Foundation to vote on, and today's vote means that the members of the Apache incubator think that OFBIZ is ready to become an official Apache project. Of course, there are still more steps before OFBIZ is officially an Apache project: the approved resolution would now have to be voted upon during a full Apache Board meeting.

What Does It Mean?

For OFBiz users, it means more clearly defined licensing rights and responsibilities for the software that you would be using. More importantly, though, it means that we are committed 100% to being a community-driven open source project. In the Apache OFBiz project, everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and shape the future of the software that they and their peers in our community would use.

For me personally, I hope that joining the Apache Software Foundation would help OFBIZ become a better open source project still. The project has grown by leaps and bounds since when I first joined, and it has gone from just David and Andy writing practically all the code to a global project with many contributors and committers worldwide. I am hoping that the Apache Foundation can help us develop the kind of structure that would allow us to harness the potential of this entire community to create great software.

Equally importantly, I hope to see greater interaction between us at OFBIZ and the developers of other Apache projects. We could certainly benefit from many of the great infrastructure projects at Apache, and our experience dealing with real world applications problems should hopefully be valuable to those developers as well. (I myself have been hoping to spend some more time on Apache James.)

No model, including the Apache model, is the perfect open source model that could solve all the software developments out there. However, I do believe that the road to better software is best traveled together. OFBIZ is living proof of that--we've built an enormously powerful enterprise applications suite from the grounds up, without a dime of Venture Capital funding. I hope that traveling with our peers at the Apache Foundation will be a lot more fun.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Where Have I Been?

If you've read this blog in the past, you may have wondered where I've been all these past five months. In truth, I often wonder myself--the last five months have gone by like a blur, as we've been doing a tremendous amount of work for both the opentaps open source ERP + CRM project and for the soon-to-graduate-from-incubation Apache OFBiz project.

Happily, all is for naught. opentaps and OFBiz have both come a long way in these past months, with better features and stability and more users and contributors.

The down-and-dirty work of making an open source ERP system work for real users is not necessarily glamorous, but it's definitely given me a better perspective on the how and why of open source ERP. Some of it falls in line with what we had expected, but some of it were quite surprising--in a good way. I hope to share that with you in the coming weeks.

Ok, now back to work.

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