Auspost bundies on open source

Although reluctant to deploy open source software within its corporate network, Australia Post, has developed a time-keeping system for some 35,000 employees using a collection of open source tools.

Australia Post's new Time and Attendance Rostering System, or TARS, is a J2EE Web application developed in-house with help from IBM Global Services Australia.

Matthew Magain, IBM GSA portals and content management consultant, said while TARS, which provides information to the department's payroll, was built with open source the production environment was proprietary.

"The client was very security conscious and didn't want to install open source tools on the corporate network," Magain said. "We had two options - work with the client's machines, or on an isolated VLAN. This gave us an environment to get the development project up and running. The isolated LAN bypasses the regular IT bureaucracy."

The team set up a TARS development server called DevNet which hosted the project's Web site. Some of the open source tools used included PHP, CVS, Apache, DHCPServer, Posadis, Apache Ant, DBVisualizer, phpbugtracker, phpeventcalendar, phpBB for knowledge management, MySQL, Thunderbird, and Eclipse was used as the integrated development environment.

"PHP is the crux that brings it all together [and] phpBB is the TARS development forum," Magain said, adding that the project's homepage is divided into portlets for each team resulting in improved workflow.

Magain said an advantage of using open source software is cost savings because "PHP was quick to set up" and open source code can be modified to suit project needs.

"If I had to set up this development environment all over again I'd have it running in a few days," he said. "We used a suite called Xampp which is a bundle of open source tools which requires less configuration," adding that Apache is normally a headache to set up on Win32 systems, but Xampp works "out of the box" with little configuration required.

Indicating that Australia Post and IBM GSA are good, open source citizens, the team contributed the code back to the community when it modified phpbugtracker.

Magain cited a number of disadvantages with open source software, such as limited documentation, a cross-platform nature "in theory, but in practice...", and design with usability "not always in mind".

"Factors to consider include your budget, time and resources," Magain said, adding that the activity of a product can be seen by the number of downloads it receives and from tool comparison sites.

Regarding the benefits, Magain said the flexibility of the software is good.

"When you get stuck you can hack the code [and] you can use product-specific forums," he said. "Try another project if a particular one doesn't fit your needs [and] use Google."

Australia Post was invited to comment but did not respond before deadline.

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