CEBIT - Open source helps SMBs customize applications

Software vendors are increasingly offering customers open source options so that they can customize the software.

Small and medium businesses increasingly want to customize their business applications and some software vendors are making sure they can, mainly through open source initiatives, vendors at Cebit said on Saturday.

SuperOffice, a developer of CRM (customer relationship management) software for small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), decided to open its source code to a developer network that can build new applications and modules on top of the software, said Tanja Heyde, spokeswoman for SuperOffice. Developers, who have to pay to join the network, can exchange applications and programs and discuss projects with other developers, she said.

SuperOffice also plans to introduce a similar program for customers who can then access the source code to build their own applications, she said.

Abas Software, a developer of ERP (enterprise resource planning) software for SMBs, said its customers are free to choose from a range of add-on capabilities and customers and developers can also write their own applications to customize the software, said Marion Schafer, marketing manager for Abas.

Abas' customer base clearly prefers the open source environment. Schafer said that 80 percent of Abas customers run its software on Linux servers. Another 19 percent use Unix and just 1 percent use Windows servers, she said. "The atmosphere is positive for Linux in Europe. It's stable and the price-performance is good," she said.

SMBs are often drawn to open source products in part because they can often take advantage of development done by larger enterprises, said Olaf Jacobi, chief executive officer for Collax. "The SMB would like the same software that the enterprise has," he said. Because open source developers at large enterprises create new applications and then share those applications with the community, smaller companies have the opportunity to use the new applications, he noted.

Still, he said that the big Linux vendors like Red Hat don't cater to smaller businesses. Most SMBs don't have highly skilled Linux administrators who would be in the position to choose among the many available business applications running on Linux, he said. Collax aims to help smaller businesses by choosing the best available applications and packaging them together, he said.

Other vendors agreed that ease of use is very important for SMBs. SuperOffice designed its software to have a clear and easy to use interface and also offers training designed to instruct one person at a company who can then train colleagues, said Heyde. "SMBs need an easy product where you don't need a long training," she said.

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