Harmony Platform

ISV Learns Open Source Lessons To Meet User Needs

manageStar, a business software firm in Walnut Creek, Calif. is among a growing number of commercial software firms looking to blend its commercial software with Open Source practices to better meet customer needs.

manageStar’s flagship software suite, Harmony, is comprised of modules that help businesses automate some key internal and B2B processes, including asset management, employee services, contract management, lease management and facilities management. Automating these types of practices in software can often require manageStar to customize the base modules, as one might expect.

To help contain costs and speed deployment of these customized solutions, manageStar engineers in 2001 hit on the concept of bring Open Source principals to their software — and their customer base. The ability to let customers “tweak” its core Harmony package is supported by the manageStar’s Equal Source Initiative, which execs say simply boils down to a simple idea — a balancing act between commercial and Open Source offerings that lets the customer use the right tools for the job.

In an interview with OET, Jason Henriksen, server technologies lead at manageStar, describes the balancing act at manageStar this way: “I’m responsible for code that is useful in a variety of software applications. However,” he added, “I am also responsible for the implementation of very client-specific solutions. Equal Source helps my team gain the advantages of Open Source for generic libraries, while maintaining tight control over the work that our clients would like to remain private.”

Harmony, at its core, is a commercial software platform, Henriksen said, but over the last two years the company has identified where customized enhancements can be made available as Open Source options from to among customers.

“Harmony has many capabilities that could be useful in a wide variety of software systems,” said Henriksen. “We identify these globally useful sub-systems and publish them as libraries. Our preferred method of doing this is to create a java jar file of the code, which our main platform then includes. The decoupling of code and library not only promotes good software design, but [also] makes it easy for us to publish the reusable sections of our code. “We generally use the BSD license. We like the Netscape license too since it also lets us build proprietary work on public sub-systems,” Henriksen told OET.

A good example of this is the Recurrence engine that Harmony uses to manage dates.”
manageStar’s efforts in helping its clients to manage dates provides a good example of the benefits of merging proprietary software with Open Source:

1. Many clients using the Harmony Platform wanted to perform actions at complex recurring times—“Any developer who has had to work with intricate date processing will attest that the Gregorian calendar is fiendishly tricky to get right,” said Henriksen—so manageStar tried to build some simple systems. But each time a system was built, it discovered that a client wanted more complex alterations to the existing software.

2. manageStar then opted for a full implementation of RRULE section of RFC 2445, which is “the final word on handling recurring dates.” As there was no java implementation of that RFC available for it to use, it built an implementation of the RFC.

3. Although the code was working and the client was satisfied, manageStar reasoned that all software must have some undiscovered defect. “We also knew that any other development shop trying [to] work with recurring dates would be having the same trouble we experienced. Publishing the code cost nearly nothing thanks to the great work being done by OSDN at http://sourceforge.net,” said Henriksen.

4. manageStar offered its code in exchange for users’ comments on problems and bugs encountered. “That trade has been very successful for us. We have received a variety of comments, a couple of bug fixes and some clever enhancements,” he added.

Equal Source Provides Customer Benefits, Options
manageStar execs presented their version of why a mix of Open Source and proprietary code makes sense for them and their customers at last year’s O’Reilly’s Open Source Conference (OSCON). Execs noted its decision to open-sourced parts of it own offerings (modules for calendaring, purchase orders, inventory management), as well as a decision to include code from other Open Source projects in its products, has paid off handsomely for customers.

Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., is a case in point. They are rolling out Harmony across their campus, particularly the Work Orders and Project Management components, which boasts some 2,600 employees

Save for the manageStar’s ESI program, which gives Creighton the cost-effective ability to tweak the Harmony applications Creighton would never have agreed to the comprehensive upgrade, campus execs told OET. “We don’t have it fully implemented at this point,” Fran Angeroth, Creighton’s director of contract management and design services told OET.

“We’re updating from an 11-year-old, DOS-based, four-user-only system and converting to manageStar, which is a multi-user, Internet-based system.”
Angeroth, who said manageStar is installing the software, provided a step-by-step look at the implementation process:

1. Once the university selected manageStar, the vendor began taking information from Creighton’s existing DOS-based system and transferring it to the appropriate fields in the new Internet-based system.
2. The university’s developers will ultimately have to design a patch to bridge manageStar’s solutions with Creighton’s banner financial software.
3. The university anticipates having the program up-and-running by September 2003.

Downloads: Inside manageStar’s Open Source Resources
manageStar has published several Open Source sample code resources, including libraries. Developers can access the following links to such resources: