Hard slog for developer

The past few months have been a mixed bag for Peter Harrison, an Auckland developer who's been trying single-handedly to create an open-source system that enables the transfer of encrypted business documents between different accounting systems.

The past few months have been a mixed bag for Peter Harrison, an Auckland developer who’s been trying single-handedly to create an open-source system that enables the transfer of encrypted business documents between different accounting systems.

The good news is that a couple of backers, including accounting software company Profax, have joined the project and development has progressed somewhat; however, major financial support has been lacking and a job change means Harrison can only work on the project at weekends.

In December Profax’s Paul Heinz said the project — previously called DevCentre and now called The Internet Document Transfer Project, or IDTrans — was “laudable”, and the sponsorship would take the form of public support and “small levels of funding”.

Harrison aims to develop the system, based around XML and open source software, to:

  • transmit and receive business documents
  • authenticate documents and keeps them secure
  • use a free public key infrastructure
  • be used with the software in all accounting systems.
All source code is intended to be free of paid licence or patents. All major programming languages will be supported and the project is “vendor impartial”.

Harrison recently released a secure encryption component for Delphi, which will allow Delphi developers to send encrypted emails directly from their applications. An update of the secure email specification has been produced, and a licence for the source code is available. Harrison hopes to move toward support for popular email encryption product PGP after corresponding with its inventor, Phil Zimmermann, who also offered advice on how to proceed with IDTrans’ encryption systems.

Harrison is disappointed accounting system developers haven’t got behind the project, despite a few who are privately interested in the idea. He intends to develop the system to a beta stage before again asking developers for support. “I believe that perhaps the understanding of open source in general is not yet sufficient for people to trust it to deliver real products — hence why I have changed my approach.

“The sad thing is that a meagre $30,000 project could develop something quickly to let most businesses in the country transfer invoices and orders electronically rather than by mail. The alternatives that are coming from the overseas corporates will cost New Zealand businesses millions of dollars a year — so I find it amazing that I can’t get such a small amount of funding.”

IDTrans is now hosted at open source development site SourceForge. DevCentre will become a more generic resource for developers, says Harrison.

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