An interview with Frank Bergmann of ]open-project[
Open source project management on the rise
Frank Bergmann, founder of ]project-open[, talks with us about the integrated open source software stack. He says maintaining communication is essential, and it entails complete transparency.
The community will quickly punish you if you cheat. This is at the core of open source.
Frank also tells us who his open source hero is. Read on for more insight into how this open company operates.
Q: What is your flagship product and how does it excite the industry?
A: ]project-open[ is a kind of open source version of Microsoft Project Server. It coordinates the work of project managers, project members and stake holders across multiple projects. IT organization typically use ]po[ to record time sheets, predict project overruns, write invoice, approve vacation requests, create project reports, share information and many more.
]po[ focuses on customers with a relatively high Project & Portfolio Management sophistication. So, we're not dealing with individual project managers, but focus on organizations with 10-1.000 users that earn their money by executing projects. There are about 6,000 companies worldwide using ]po[ in production, including some Fortune 5000 companies.
]po[ usually costs 1/10th of what our closed source competitors are charging, and we are exclusively competing with closed source packages in our core market. The open source nature of ]project-open[ convinces many customers, because it allows them to modify the product during it’s relatively long life cycle.
Q: What OSS does ]project-open[ use?
A: A full installation consists of more than 100 different open source packages that need to work together in order to form a complete application. ]po[ is massive (3.000.000 LoC).
These packages include: a Linux distro, PostgreSQL (database), AOLserver (Web/application server), OpenACS (community platform), TCL (main language), Perl (for system's integration), GraphViz (graph rendering), ImageMagick (image processing), Pound (reverse proxy), Funambol (sync calendar + contacts), Daemontools, Postfix (mail integration).
The next version of our Web-Gui is based on Sencha Ext-JSand jQuery. Development exclusively works with CVS + Git as version control systems and usually Emacs as editor.
]po[ includes integration links to >30 external sofware packages, and most of them are OSS: GanttProject, OpenProj/ProjectLibre, OpenOffice (for reporting & document formatting), Nagios/Icinga, OTRS, OCS Inventory, OpenLDAP, CVS/SVN/GIT (for associating VCS logs with tickets and projects).
Q: How do you support your employees in an open environment?
A: CentOS is our main and standard development environment. However, ]project-open[ also runs on Win*, OSX, BSD, Solaris, and even AIX without changes, so employees and partners are free to use whatever they want.
Two years ago we tried to force everybody to use OpenOffice/LibreOffice, but failed miserably. Impress just sucks. So, most of the high-level consultants and sales guys use MS Project & MS Office.
Q: What does top management do to encourage open source business practices at the office?
A: We have a policy of trying to not remove nasty comments from SourceForge or other platforms. If somebody says something bad about us, then we need to make sure we can demonstrate the contrary. If we decide for some reason to do something in a non-OSS manner (we have some commercial add-on packages), then we announce it prior to release and provide users and everyone the chance to comment on it.
We engage actively in the OSS communities that are critical for us (mainly, OpenACS and AOLserver). But we'll also contribute fixes, comments, or anything useful where we can to other communities.
Open source and product development: Customers are more willing to talk with us and to share information when they see that we are living an open source business model. I believe that we have access to more valuable insight this way, compared to our closed source competitors. We are going in the direction of "open innovation."
Open source and sales & marketing: Open source channels are a great avenue for our PR efforts, but our OSS model is still an obstacle with our more conservative customers. Also, there are many groups who don't consider anything else but Microsoft as an option.
Q: Who is your open source mentor or hero?
A: Philip Greenspun is the founder of ArsDigita that developed the initial version of the OpenACS community.
I fell in love with the data-model when I first saw it. It's incredibly compact, straight-forward, logical, and powerful. I believe Phil wrote a good part of it himself, and everyone else that contributed followed his style.
Phil combines very sharp and high-level business skills with deep open source convictions. It's a pity he works in a completely different area now.
Q: How can the community engage with ]project open[?
A: Starting with V4.0, you can write add-on packages using Sencha Ext-JS Java Script libraries.
Previously, a contributor needed to know a lot about OpenACS and the TCL language; they still need to know a lot about project management best practices.