Enterprise toolbox: Giving open-source ideology an ERP face

Would you ever consider that the words AS/400 and open source would be in the same sentence? Perhaps not. The term open source is often seen as being synonymous with the Linux platform. But the fact is that there are many open-source projects that span one or more platforms.

For example, Argo/UML (argouml.tigris.org), is an open-source object-oriented software design tool that can run on any platform that supports Java. Another tool is Lutris Technologies' Enhydra (www.enhydra.org) - a multiplatform application server that is firmly rooted in the open-source community.

Both Argo/UML and Enhydra are good examples of projects that draw on the open-source paradigm. Some of the business benefits of open-source development include faster time to market and an increase in software quality - both of which are lacking today in many industry segments.

But what does this have to do with the AS/400? Plenty. Normally, you might think of developing AS/400 business applications as a rather closed, proprietary affair. However, a group of AS/400 professionals aims to challenge that notion by creating the first-ever open-source ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.

James Kilgore, the founder of Progressive Data Systems, started the project, which is known as WyattERP. Since he began creating the base code for WyattERP, Kilgore has heard from more than 50 AS/400 professionals who want to work on the project.

I agree with Kilgore's notion that the AS/400 community would benefit from applying open-source ideology to business applications and enterprise-related software.

Those working on the WyattERP project expect to include modules that support general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, inventory control, sales analysis, job costing, order entry and billing, and purchasing. The "WyattERP-ers" plan to have a working demo by August and to have the project completed by the end of the year.

According to Kilgore, the goal of WyattERP is not to compete with existing ERP solutions, such as SAP, Oracle, Baan, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards. Instead, the WyattERP group wants to give customers another ERP choice on the AS/400 platform, while also proving that open-source development approaches are the way to go at AS/400 sites.Information on WyattERP can be found at www.opensource400.org. The host site for the product's source code - and for the working demo, when available - is www.netshare400.com.

Open-source OS/400? In a slightly off-topic discussion, I also asked Kilgore about his thoughts on what the benefits and detriments might be should IBM consider making OS/400 (the AS/400's operating system) into an open-source operating system. Kilgore said he felt the number of business applications would expand greatly, the number of AS/400s sold would probably increase, and the number of developers who might contribute to the platform would also grow tremendously.

I believe that ‘open-sourcing' the OS/400 might be an interesting idea for IBM to pursue. The company has already put forth a lot of effort to embrace open-source technologies. Given that the AS/400 heavily supports Web-based technologies (including Java), the number of developers who could contribute to the operating system and related business applications could grow quite quickly.

In addition, installed AS/400 systems now number near 700,000, and the sites that have implemented the AS/400 will find it highly viable for both mid-tier functions and back-end services. Thus, by considering a move to open up OS/400, IBM could potentially present the AS/400 platform to a much wider audience.

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