No coding required: Cross-platform ERP vendor taps open source community dialogue to continually deliver system enhancements

Open source ERP vendor xTuple wants you to be clear about what’s meant when talking about open source software—and be clear about the benefits. First: It’s not necessarily free.


It’s important to be clear about what’s meant when talking about open source software—and be clear about the benefits.

First: It’s not necessarily free. For xTuple —formerly known as OpenMFG, then operating under its flagship product name—“open source” originally meant the source code of the OpenMFG ERP solution was made available to its customers. OpenMFG was built with open source tools on an open source database—but it wasn’t free. Companies had to pay to license it. The benefit to xTuple came in getting users to customize the system, with all enhancements flowing back into the base product for the benefit of all.

Now xTuple ERP is widely considered the most highly capable, fully cross-platform open source ERP system available in the marketplace.

“The big thing for us was the accelerator effect of having an expanding community of developers adding new system functionality,” says Ned Lilly, CEO of the Norfolk, Va.-based company, which subsequently grew more fully into the traditional definition of open source when it changed its name to xTuple and diversified its offering to include a free version in August 2007.

Since then, more than 180,000 free copies—based on the core of OpenMFG—have been downloaded. For those users, one of the most obvious benefits is that it’s free.

“Cost is the easiest value proposition to see,” explains Frank Scavo, managing partner for Strativa , an Irvine, Calif.-based business and IT consulting firm. “But the second point is flexibility: You’re free to do much more to it than you are with traditional proprietary software.”

Whether one pays for their particular version of xTuple’s product offering or not, everyone gains from the functional contributors of the vendor’s ever-expanding developer base.

Case-in-point is Oklahoma City-based Richart Distributors, which makes oil-well pumps and equipment. Richart was struggling under an old MS-DOS system that its vendor was never doing to take to Windows.

“We did some research and found xTuple,” says Brenda Jameson, Richart project lead. “They walked us through the software and we were impressed [with the] user-friendliness, and its inventory system.”

Richart subsequently licensed OpenMFG, and also funded development of warehouse-to-warehouse transfer functionality to support its distribution operations.

John Napurano, president of Fort Lauderdale-based Reverso Pumps , was likewise impressed with the rich functionality he found in OpenMFG. Reverso—which makes oil and diesel fuel pumps—doesn’t have an IT department, and is quite happy to pay a license fee to obtain support from xTuple.

“We are focused on running the business,” says Napurano. “We don’t play with the software. We don’t do any enhancements. We keep it plain vanilla.

Napurano says the inventory and MRP functions were what pushed Reverso over the top to license OpenMFG.

“We didn’t find anything else on the market as powerful,” he says. ”The sales and pricing modules also are very good. Compared to the little Mac system we had been using, it was like stepping up from a VW Bug to a Ferrari. The software just gets better and better with every release.”

According to Xtuple CEO Ned Lilly, because the open source ERP vendor keeps a very active dialogue going with its community of users, partners, and developers, it can deliver features that meet precise customer specifications and then publicly vet them. Lilly says constant interaction with the open source community enables Xtuple to very quickly bring to market the features and tweaks that users themselves say they need most urgently.

xTuple has three versions of its software: the free, entry-level PostBooks; and the two for which users pay a license fee: the Standard Edition, which supports more inventory-centric organizations such as warehouse distribution and retail; and its flagship, OpenMFG, a robust, production-oriented system with support for discrete MTO/MTS, batch processing, and hybrid production. All come from the same core code and are based on the PostgreSQL open source database; and QT, an open source client development tool.

“Whether you’re a customer, partner, or solutions provider, everyone has access to the source code and can make good use of it,” says Lilly. “There is a real accelerator effect in development, having all this valuable operational experience plugged in to enhance it.”

And that’s exactly what enables xTuple to deliver three or four major new releases every year, Lilly concludes.

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