I admit it – I played hookey from the last GTALUG meeting because I was pooped. I’ve been working very hard at work lately, and the commute has kind of been wearing on me as well. So, I was determined to go this month, to listen to a talk on an Open Source accounting app called LedgerSMB.
Essentially, LedgerSMB is a fork from an earlier Open Source accounting application called SQL-Ledger. As the story goes (at least from the side of LedgerSMB), some of the now-developers noticed some pretty nasty security flaws in an app that allows you to do accounting entries over the web. Needless to say, ANY security bug in such software would seem pretty critical, but apparently the lone developer of SQL-Ledger didn’t take kindly to the flaw being pointed out. After finding some other pretty odd problems within the software, they decided to fork and develop their own version of the software, where they could (hopefully) address these issues.
The software development team appears to be pretty committed to Open Source ideals and techniques, and I laud that. They are also demonstrating that there is a pretty workable business model for making money on Open Source – give away the software, even the documentation, but charge for support and various professional services. Their reasoning seems pretty logical to me – Software cannot be considered a normal commodity, because it is (theoretically) infinitely reproducible and distributable at exceptionally low cost. It also encourages contribution to the overall project by all those who are selling support or services around that software, because they have a vested interest in the overall improvement of the software – more people hear the software is good -> more people want to buy the software -> more people hire you to help them -> you make more money.
All that is great, but there’s also a lot of potential pitfalls, and the SQL-Ledger – LedgerSMB situation is a good example of things that can go wrong. As with any community-based projects, there will always be disagreements, in-fighting, politics, and in some cases, extremists. In worst-case scenarios, people can take a project way off course, or sow enough dissent to cause the development team to break apart. LedgerSMB does appear to be taking a good approach, by encouraging as many people as would like to contribute, and are even going as far as to offer to assist people in getting started with their contributions.
I can’t really speak to the technical merits or the use of the application, but I really think that they’re on the right track for both development and business. Only time will tell…