Open-source software catalogue angers those snubbed

Open-source systems integrator Optaros Wednesday released a guide listing and reviewing what it considers the 262 best open-source applications for companies.

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Open-source systems integrator Optaros Wednesday released a guide listing and reviewing what it considers the 262 best open-source applications for companies.

The catalog, available on Optaros’ website, rates software on a scale of 1 to 5 on factors such as functionality, the vibrancy of the developer community behind it, the software’s maturity and stability, and its projected trajectory. Those factors are then used to calculate the software’s readiness for use by midsize and large corporations.

The mini reviews were based on the experiences of nearly 100 consultants, many of whom had directly installed or maintained the software for clients. The reviews all involve products released by last fall and include only the best of the nearly 140,000 open-source software projects available, according to the catalogue's primary author, Bruno von Rotz.

“Every tool that made its way into our catalogue is already pretty good, even if we gave it only a one or two [out of three] for its enterprise readiness,” he said.

Some of the rankings for well-known open-source software were surprising. The Berkeley DB XML database garnered only an enterprise readiness rating of 1. Oracle, which acquired the database last year, did not reply to a request for comment by press time.

Hot groupware product Zimbra also got a 1 for enterprise readiness (products rated zero are not included in the guide). According to a spokeswoman for Zimbra, the review was for the 3.0 version of its collaboration software. “Optaros has been so impressed by the improvements in Zimbra Collaboration Suite 4.0 that they are deploying it for internal use, and they are now a customer,” she said.

OpenJMS, a seven-year-old open-source middleware product based on Sun Microsystems Java Messaging Service, also got low ratings. But Tim Anderson, an Australian developer who is one of the OpenJMS’s project leaders, said he has “no criticism of the accuracy. OpenJMS has been in a holding pattern for some time due to family and work commitments. There will be a beta released in the next few months.”

Other open-source developers, however, disputed Optaros’ ratings and questioned the consultancy’s objectivity because of marketing or reseller relationships it has with certain open-source vendors.

Jeremy White, CEO of CodeWeavers, is one such critic. His company sells the CrossOver family of software that has long let users run Windows software on computers running Apple Mac OS X or the Linux OS.

CrossOver is based around the open-source Wine project, for which White is one of the chief maintainers. Optaros gave Wine only a two out of five for the product’s maturity, and an overall score of one for enterprise readiness.

White takes “serious issue” with those ratings. “We’ve had a professional product out around Wine for four years now and Wine has been around for 13,” he said. “I’m quite offended by the one for enterprise readiness... given that we have a fairly substantial number of large enterprises using our product, some on rather large scales [thousands of seats]. I think the real-world evidence backs my claim.”

White is “even more offended” by Optaros’ decision to give the competing Xen virtualisation technology higher marks; it got threes for both maturity and enterprise readiness. “Now Xen is a great, new technology, lots of promise, but a maturity of three?” White said. “All I can imagine is that Optaros has an expertise in Xen and is trying to hawk that expertise, which means I don’t see how this report can have a scrap of credibility.”

OpenJMS’ Anderson said he was “surprised” by Optaros’ list of AJAX programming tools, which he said left out worthy tools such as Echo2 and Google’s Web Toolkit.

Von Rotz acknowledges the criticism, but he said it’s not in Optaros’ interest to boost weak software just because it wants to offer it to clients. “We don’t favour tools because we use them; we use them because we think they are good,” he said.

He also defended the guide against accusations of being overly reductionist, saying the goal is to give time-pressed IT managers and CIOs something akin to a city map to help them “navigate” through countless unfamiliar, oddly named applications. Von Rotz also pointed out that higher marks for functionality don’t always mean the software is better for the end user.

“We feel that a lot of our customers are overserved by the features in commercial products, and could live with much less in many cases,” he said.

Von Rotz, who is a manager for Optaros’ Switzerland operation, said that the categories with the strongest open-source software today include content management, CRM, application frameworks and operating systems. The weakest areas remain offerings in identity management, where software tends to have narrow functions, e-learning and enterprise-level ERP. “There’s no alternative to SAP yet,” he said.

While Optaros ranks open-source productivity software, such as OpenOffice, and desktop operating systems, such as Red Hat, SUSE Linux and Ubuntu, highly, von Rotz admitted that the company has few clients making the jump from Microsoft Office or Windows to open source on client PCs.

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