June 2, 2008

ProcessMaker uses open source inside and out

Author: Tina Gasperson

ProcessMaker is an open source workflow manager that works either on the client side or as a hosted application. Founder Brian Reale began developing ProcessMaker in 2002 after working with the South American Telecommunications Regulatory Institution to create a "paperless office." Once that system was deployed, Reale thought he could create an affordable standalone product that would make it easy for users to eliminate paperwork and create a more efficient workplace. Reale built the new product using open source software, and has licensed it under the GPLv3.

ProcessMaker, the company, uses open source software "for just about everything we do," Reale says. Most of the workstations run Ubuntu and OpenOffice.org, along with Knowledgetree, MediaWiki, Drupal, phpBB, Zimbra, and SugarCRM. "We tend to us open source as much as possible ... to streamline our operations." Reale says telephony server Asterisk is "our most mission-critical application running on open source. We run a PBX in our Bolivian office, and another one hosted in the United States for our Boston office. We have the two connected by an IAX trunk and all of our office extensions connect to each other either locally or across the VoIP IAX trunk. It works great."

Reale says using open source to run the company brings a feeling of security that comes from "knowing there is a community around the product we use. With open source, there will usually be someone somewhere who can carry on giving support, and this gives peace of mind, especially when we are trying cutting-edge software." On the flip side, creating open source software and extending it to the community can be a challenge. "We're pretty new on the open source scene. Most of our challenges have been around building a community and figuring out how to manage it. We want to foster real community, with developers who can own the project. One of the ways we addressed that issue was by offering a full-featured open source version of ProcessMaker.

"For the first few years of operation, we sold turnkey solutions and gave our clients the source code. We never believed that the code should be encrypted or hidden, and we always encouraged them to make their own modifications if they wanted to. But most didn't have the time or inclination to do it all in-house, so we would end up being hired to do most of the implementation work." When Reale discovered that most of his income was derived from these add-on services, he began to look seriously at the idea of open sourcing ProcessMaker. "We believed that if we could gain more input from other develoeprs on how to improve the code, and gain access to new distribution channels, then it would certainly make sense to give away the code."

Reale and his team began cleaning up the code before they invited others to take a look. "Open sourcing felt a little bit like houseguests going through your closet -- you want to be sure everything is in order. We also began attending some of the open source conferences in late 2005 and began speaking with other open source companies." Reale found several potential partnership deals, which gave him the confidence he needed to jump into open source with both feet, and ProcessMaker went fully open in February 2008.

The free Community version is identical to the Enterprise version, but without paid support, training, consulting, and hosting. "Initially there was internal debate around whether to offer additional management features in the Enterprise version," Reale says. "But we decided that it was important that the Community version be full-featured in order to foster our community and create the best experience for all users."

Reale says his existing clients were pleased with the change. "We took great care to explain to our existing clients that with the open source model, not only would they continue to receive software at a lower cost, but they would also benefit from the innovations of the ProcessMaker community."

Reale says the best part about going open source is "being involved with a project where everyone is passionate about what they're doing. Everyone at ProcessMaker loves to see how our project has grown. Every day it changes, with new ideas for the roadmap, new ways to mash up our software with another product. It's a very fast-paced arena, and it is refreshing and encouraging."

For entrepreneurs who may be thinking of producing open source software, Reale has some advice. "Start by using open source. Read as much as you can and educate yourself. This industry is growing and defining itself all the time, so you have to be on top of things. Look at the companies that have done well with the open source model and follow their lead. Put the mechanisms in place that your community will need and start participating in the communities of the software products you already use. You'll learn how to manage a community in part by being part of one."


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