Open-source ERP (enterprise resource planning) software may still represent a small chunk of the overall market, but as a concept it has clearly gained a critical mass of adherents.
Two open-source ERP suites, xTuple and ADempiere, were listed as the two "most active" projects Wednesday on SourceForge, which bills itself as the world's largest Web site for open-source software development. Projects WebERP and OpenBravo also made the top 20.
XTuple probably has about 500 active participants in its open-source community, and roughly 25,000 people "who have raised their hand somewhere along the line," said xTuple CEO Ned Lilly. There have been nearly 400,000 downloads of xTuple software, he added.
The "single hardest thing to pin down," however, is the number of companies using the suite in production, Lilly said. XTuple, based in Norfolk, Virginia, has 200 paying customers. Lilly's "best guess" is that there are actually between 7,000 and 10,000 installations of xTuple up and running around the world.
Lilly also maintains the "ERP Graveyard" blog, where he chronicles the fate of vendors and products swallowed up via acquisition. The trend has hit open-source ERP too, evidenced by Consona's recent move to purchase Compiere, maker of an open-source suite. Consona has said it plans to continue supporting Compiere's open-source strategy.
But overall, it's "a good time to be in open-source," Lilly said. "It's still the case that the technical guys find us and fall in love with the product and community," he added, but business users understand the model much better than in the past. "It's almost happened overnight that we didn't have to explain open-source to people anymore."
Open-source ERP has its advantages, particularly when the software in question has an active community and forum like xTuple's, said Ray Wang, partner with analyst firm Altimeter Group.
"I would argue that in some cases, the response times for support are better than most software companies," he said.
There are tradeoffs with open-source ERP, and it doesn't seem likely that such products will make traction in the upper end of the market, dominated by SAP and Oracle, anytime soon.
Still, it's conditions imposed by proprietary ERP vendors that are spurring more adoption of open-source platforms, said Frank Scavo , managing partner of the IT consulting firm Strativa.
"A lot of companies are getting fed up with the restrictive licensing, forced march to new versions, and exorbitant fees for ongoing maintenance," Scavo said via e-mail. "For organizations that are willing to take responsibility, open source provides the ultimate in flexibility, low cost, and control of one's own destiny," he said.
Many system integrators are getting fed up as well, Scavo added.
"They are getting tired of one-side vendor partnerships, where the relationship is at the whim of the vendor and it is always a question of who owns the client," he said. "Open source leaves more money on the table for service providers to create solutions that really fit the client. It's an especially good approach when the client needs a custom system but is willing to leverage an open source product as a starting point."