Software development benefits from open source

New Zealand's Katipo is an example, says Mark Rais

Increasingly, open source tools and development methodologies are fundamental to software initiatives. Gains in flexibility, availability of coding tools and the principles of collaborative development are among the many benefits of using open source tools and solutions.

In many cases where software firms rely on testing services and beta-testers, open-source collaboration offers engineers a third and often highly effective mechanism for cross-checking underlying code.

David Lane, director of the open solutions company Egressive in Christchurch, says "we can opportunistically download and test technologies, and be busy implementing customer solutions with those technologies on the same day.”

“No wading through purchase agreements, getting registered, inserting access keys, and arranging for customer Client Access Licences,” says Lane.

The use of open source can also offer a number of tangential benefits. Rachel Hamilton-Williams, general manager for the Wellington-based web development firm Katipo, says, perhaps most importantly, [there are] professional benefits, as staff know their work will be judged not only by clients but also by their peers.

“Open source leads the way in providing a vast array of modular (each does one job very well), standards-based, powerful tools that, when combined, give us a development infrastructure with which no proprietary tool-set can hope to compete,” Lane says.

Many companies now see the benefits gained from incorporating open-source tools in their development processes.

“In many ways open source is the foundation of our business,” Hamilton-Williams says. Her company launched Kete, an open-source Web 2.0 tool for enabling the Horowhenua Library Trust to build a collaborative online community archive. The entire initiative relies heavily on open source development and technologies, including Ruby-on-Rails framework and plug-ins, Subversion source control, Mongrel web server, and GNU emacs.

Katipo Communications and the Horowhenua Library Trust were also responsible for the creation of the popular open source Koha library management system (ILS). Koha is a fully integrated library system that manages catalogues, circulation, and acquisitions management. It is now used far and wide in Argentina, Cyprus, France, India and the US.

At Netscape Communications, open source software enabled rapid prototyping for strategic web portals including the original MyNetscape and Hometown web tools. By utilising Linux, and other systems, engineers quickly tested front-end GUIs and their associated databases.

Similarly, lead engineers and architects at CompuServe and America Online utilised open-source software to build testing environments in preparation for the launch of major initiatives including the AOL Shopping portal.

Having meticulous control over all facets of the environment offers engineers flexibility without the typical time delays associated with installation and environment configuration. Prototyping and the test phases can be reduced from weeks to days. It also allows for design change requests to be modelled and evaluated in a matter of hours.

In the past, any major software development was forced to rely on proprietary and commercial off-the-shelf software. Today, open-source tools and methodology provide invaluable benefits to development cycle time, cost and quality of the end product. Organisations can integrate open source tools within their existing development processes with minimal effort and often fundamental gains.

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