Beyond Linux

With Linux approaching ho-hum status in its ubiquity and MySQL getting its fair share of attention these days, there are still a few open source projects out there that sometimes slip under the hype radar.

Last week I wrote about the solidification of Linux as an IT phenomenon and the impending rise of MySQL's MySQL in the enterprise. In my opinion, neither technology is an underdog anymore in the overall IT contest.

With Linux approaching ho-hum status in its ubiquity and MySQL getting its fair share of attention these days, there are still a few open source projects out there that sometimes slip under the hype radar. If you haven't heard of these projects, or you've heard of them and have never taken a closer look, you might be missing out on some solid options for your enterprise.

Those who have not been involved in IT for long might think Linux is the only free Unix-like operating system out there, but that impression would be wrong. The free BSD derivatives -- FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD -- have been around for years and deserve consideration alongside Linux. In a nutshell, FreeBSD provides a blazingly fast TCP/IP stack; OpenBSD gives you the most secure free OS available; and NetBSD will run on a broad range of hardware, making it arguably the most portable, free, Unix-like OS around.

One reason you don't hear that much about the BSD variants is that use of software covered under the BSD licence doesn't demand the careful attention that the GNU GPL (general public licence) requires. In sum, the BSD licence says that, as long as you credit the authors of the code and agree not to sue them if the code breaks, any commercial or non-commercial use of the code is fair game.

If you're developing proprietary products that you want protected from the viral nature of the GPL, you might consider one of the free BSD variants listed above. Products as diverse as Apple's OS X and F5's BIG/IP line of networking products are based heavily on BSD. I'm a big fan of Linux, but it's not the only OS game in town.

In last week's column I provided an obligatory tease for PostgresSQL in my discussion of MySQL. A deeper examination of PostgresSQL suggests that it could be vastly under-hyped. Historically, PostgresSQL has been consistently ahead of MySQL in enterprise database features with support of transactions and stored procedures.

An April 2003 report from Davis Group points to one key, high-end PostgresSQL success: in January, Afilias, an Irish provider of domain-name registry services, assumed operational support for the .org domain registry, taking a 2.4-million-record Oracle database previously hosted at VeriSign and successfully migrating to a PostgresSQL database.

Commercial support is available from PostgresSQL with 24 x 7 support available for as little as $US1000 per month. Although MySQL is probably advancing more rapidly, PostgresSQL (with a BSD licence, incidentally) is worthy of consideration.

My open source upstart award definitely goes to Compiere, a J2EE-based ERP/CRM solution that I had never even heard of until a trusted friend pointed it out to me last week. I learned that Compiere was one of the top 10 most active projects on the open source development web site SourceForge, with over 500,000 downloads.

I haven't had the immediate need to check it out fully, but the availability of a seemingly viable open source ERP/CRM solution flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that open source software is mainly for low-level plumbing. Compiere currently requires Oracle, but the project team is soliciting donations for a port to PostgresSQL. The fully open source enterprise has never been more possible.

Dickerson is InfoWorld's CTO. Read his weblog.

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