October 13, 2005

SugarCRM announces developer contest

Author: Stephen Feller

Having watched and nurtured an open source community based around the Sugar customer relationship management (CRM) platform for the last 14 months, SugarCRM is hosting a developer contest to mark the 100th extension on the SugarForge.org development forum, and draw more attention to the already successful company.

SugarForge, which has a community of more than 2,300 developers and hosts 104 projects, grew out of the original open source offering of SugarCRM on SourceForge.net in May 2004.

According to Clint Oram, co-founder of SugarCRM and Webmaster for SugarForge, the site was originally created to provide a single location for developers to pool all their resources around Sugar.

"Part of the value of having an open source CRM application is the ability for other people around the world to ... build extensions on top of Sugar and make the product more than just what we here at SugarCRM at our home offices can think up ourselves," Oram said. "A community started developing rather quickly around us, and people started building their own projects, extending Sugar. So that's where the idea came from, the need to provide a destination for the growing SugarCRM developer community."

While Oram describes Sugar as simply a CRM application built on top of the LAMP stack, he said that at its core the software is an application framework to be built around and customized for each particular business.

Scott Weiner, chief technology officer at Blue River Associates and a SugarForge developer, said Sugar's architecture lends itself to easily integrating with other software, though it could still improve.

"The big deal with CRM is not the CRM itself. Its ability to integrate with other systems, that's what makes a CRM application powerful," Weiner said, adding that open source products tend to be easier to use and more effective than proprietary software because they often integrate with the systems businesses already have.

Oram offered a "conservative" estimate of 10,000 installations of Sugar Open Source worldwide, but said the company doesn't have an exact number of companies using the software because there are no required registration forms in exchange for the download. He said, however, that with 30,000 voluntary registrations and nearly 500,000 downloads of Sugar and its related products in the last 16 months, "it's pretty safe to say there's 10,000 live sites today."

Most of those companies are likely small, with fewer than 20 employees, which Oram said is what Sugar Open Source is ideal for; some of the features of CRM software that are targeted to larger businesses "kind of get in the way." For the larger businesses, there is Sugar Professional, the company's main source of revenue.

Oram said SugarCRM focuses on selling Sugar Professional, and support packages for it, rather than support services for the open source version, because the company doen't believe such things should be necessary "because the very nature of an application like this is that it has to be simple."

"We produce a business application, an application that sits in front of an end user," Oram said. "If it needs a lot of support, then it's not a very good application."

SugarForge takes off

It is developers, though, that inspired co-founders Oram, Chief Executive Officer John Roberts, and Chief Technology Officer Jacob Taylor to start SugarForge in March of this year. Toward the end of this summer Oram handed off most of his previous responsibilities at the company so he could run SugarForge full-time, tending to the community as well as developing and growing the tools on the site.

Since SugarForge has gone from simply being the place to download the latest version of Sugar Open Source, the community of developers has grown rapidly. In the month of September alone the number of developers doubled from about 950 to 2,000, and the number of projects on the site jumped from about 65 to 100.

"Before it was just kind of sitting out there," Oram said. "It was something where we kept the machine turned on and that's where we posted our SugarCRM builds, so it was getting a fair amount of attention. And once we put some real effort into making it more of a real useful resource, both for people just trying to figure out how to use Sugar and install it as well as actual developers, it's really taken off."

Like most of the developers in the Sugar community, Weiner develops extensions for the software in order to better serve his clients. His major contribution to SugarForge is Xoops, a content management system that he said is "the tip of the iceberg" as far as integration software for Sugar.

"In terms of stuff I want to contribute publicly, I wanted to make sure it had some sort of significant impact if I was going to put the time into it," Weiner said. "I think that that integration has enough value to the community at large that it's worth me putting time into it."

Oram said the contest was left open beyond simply business applications of Sugar because he'd like to see where developers can take the software when not limited by the needs of clients or the companies they work for.

"It's a very ... business-oriented, professional developer community," Oram said. "If you think about the software, it makes sense. This is software for tracking your business deals, customer support cases.... Somebody who's coding at home on a Friday night, they probably wouldn't play around with an open source business application like this."

Looking to give developers in the community "a little of the Sugar love," the company created the contest in hopes that the professionals would stay home on a Friday night working code. And of course, to attract a little bit more attention.

The company is offering awards for three categories. SugarCRM plans to give away $500 for the best theme template, $1,000 for the best business and productivity module, and $1,000 for the most innovative module. The entries must be installable using SugarCRM's new Module Loader, and must be received by October 31. Winners will be announced on November 14, and developers may enter as many modules or templates as they want.

Weiner, sounding like he's trying to put those extra hours in for the contest, said he and a few colleagues are considering a couple of projects they might add to the 24 already submitted. "I'm not sure we can pull it off because of the time perspective, but we have an idea," he said.

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