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Enterprises Add Open Source To the Mix

A wide range of open-source tools have become key ingredients in corporate IT development projects. By Mark Hall

By Mark Hall
June 10, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Like great character actors sharing screen time with a megastar, open-source tools seldom steal the limelight that shines on Linux. But those tools often get more applause from users who are putting them in key roles inside corporate IT operations. Jeff Carter, CIO at Omaha Steaks International Inc., says he first became interested in open-source software last year when the company decided to bring its Web site in-house and link its online shopping cart application to the corporate database on an IBM AS/400. After a careful evaluation, the 1,800-employee, privately held gourmet foods company opted for MySQL, a popular open-source relational database from MySQL AB in Uppsala, Sweden, for its shopping cart.
The fact that the product was free was nice, says Carter. "But free that doesn't work is of no value to me," he says. What does make open-source technology valuable to Carter and others is the access to the source code and the broad-based online community of software developers continually debugging and adding features to a slew of tools that are used in a variety of IT projects.
"I'm a huge advocate of open source because the developments to the product are unlimited because so many people are working on it," Carter says.
Access Is Everything
Limits are what Jim Caley wanted to avoid. The senior systems engineer at Graco Children's Products Inc. in Elverson, Pa., recalls that the company needed to move a materials billing application from a client/server environment to an intranet. But the company, a division of Freeport, Ill.-based Newell Rubbermaid Inc., ran into roadblocks because the commercial products it had in-house didn't do exactly what was necessary, and waiting for the vendors to customize them wasn't practical.
So Graco switched to a trio of open-source technologies for its application. The company has built a Web application server using Java, Linux and the Enhydra Web application server, formerly from Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Lutris Technologies Inc., says Caley.
A PostgreSQL database runs on the server for Graco's bill-of-materials project. He calls the open-source approach "a safety net," but "not necessarily because I have access to the source code personally, but because the community does." Nonetheless, Caley has occasionally dipped down into the code. For example, he once had "to go into [PostgreSQL] code and fix a bug in a [Java database connectivity] driver to suit my purposes." Because the bug was peculiar to his environment, a fix for a commercial product may have taken forever, but now, "we can have what we want" in a timely fashion, he says.
Access to code is

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