Profound Framework Moves to Open Source
April 9, 2013 Dan Burger
Application development tool vendor Profound Logic has taken its user interface framework open source citing benefits such as increased capability for users to control their own software, improved integration between the IBM i and other platforms, no-cost opportunities for companies and developers to test the application modernization waters, and a route to development that avoids vendor lock-in. It’s Profound’s latest step in providing IBM midrange shops with an RPG tool that is more open and transparent.
Customer feedback has always been important in software development. Software companies develop products that are believed to be a good fit for a broad customer base and those customers begin to ask for changes, additions, and short cuts. The software companies then work with their customers to incorporate at least some of their requests. Sometimes the suggestions make their way into the overall product so that all the customers can benefit. So, in a way, there has always been somewhat of an open source aspect to software development. However, customer access to the source code was seldom part of the deal.
“There’s maybe 1 percent of our customers who are capable and interested in getting into our code and making contributions,” Profound’s CEO Alex Roytman said in an interview with IT Jungle last week. “[Moving to open source] is kind of like adding another few bodies to the development team. It will hopefully allow us to put even more updates into the product than we have in the past.”
Roytman and his development team will continue to manage the source code for Profound UI (the open source version is designated 4.5) and allow changes that are judged as warranted and helpful to the user community. A standard review and approve process will be in place, he says.
Customer contributions are not necessarily the most important aspect of using open source code, according to Roytman. He believes developers will be attracted to the free option that allows time for pilot testing simple projects and “getting your feet wet” without going through a purchase approval process will help get more meaningful projects under way.
Developers can get a feel for a project before pitching it to decision makers without a financial investment on the front end–other than the time programmers spend in the sandbox. Some shops (send me an email if you work in one of them) have the mindset that, prior to considering any type of commercial software, every possible rock must be turned over to find something free. No authorizations for products with a price tag get signed until the free options have been examined. Even the time spent researching must be approved, and that includes any time devoted to playing with tools under consideration. (God bless the micromanagers.)
IBM i shops have a reputation for being do-it-yourselfers. To a large degree, they like calling their own shots, which means developing their own ways of doing things rather than buying off-the-shelf software and feeling like software companies are in control. They’ll make their own Kool-Aid and drink it, thank you very much. And when they need to debug code, they prefer having access to the source.
Roytman believes that open source is the best way to work with these customers.
Getting a free tool in the hands of a developer, by the way, bodes well for Profound or any other software vendor. Familiarity with free tools makes an easy bridge to methods and technologies favored by the vendor and incorporated into its commercial products. Free trial periods abound in the software business.
I’m going to venture a guess that Profound learned a lesson in how this works when IBM couldn’t decide how to handle RPG Open Access in the early going. Profound makes use of RPG OA and it counted on IBM to make it easily accessible to IBM i shops. What occurred was just the opposite, but eventually IBM got it right by making RPG OA part of the IBM i operating system. So anyone with i 7.1 has RPG OA “free” as part of that cost. Lots of IBM i 7.1 customers don’t know RPG OA is part of the OS, but that’s a side issue. The point is that it is a lesson learned: Don’t make access to a product difficult.
All of those options provide multi-platform capability.
Although open source is not what you would call commonplace in the IBM i community, it’s not without success stories. CGIDEV2 is one of the more popular open source service programs. (It can be downloaded here.) Another fairly well-known service program is Scott Klement’s HTTP API.
You’ll also find high-profile IBM i advocates like Steve Will and Jon Paris talking about the capabilities presented by open source. Will makes a point of emphasizing open source software in his famous “Why i?” presentations. And Paris–who provides support materials to “iAdvocates” who keep the IBM i active, relevant, and noticed–encourages the use of open source software to solve business problems for little or no money.
“IBM i is the bread and butter for us,” Roytman says. “Within the IBM i community there are more shops looking to integrate what they do on i with other servers and they want the user interface to be as seamless as possible. There’s a benefit to making the user interface open to other platforms. For one thing, it eliminates the need for multiple tools when working in multiple environments. Our framework, even before taking it to open source, supported multiple platforms. And there are other UI frameworks that support multi-platform as well. The differentiator is how well the framework integrates with the IBM i and traditional RPG applications.”
Profound is expecting its open source framework to get the attention of more IBM i shops who will take the time to get to know it and agree that its integration benefits, as well as its appeal to those wary of vendor control techniques, make it a solid choice.
Profound has scheduled a webinar Wednesday, April 17, that includes an open source Profound UI version 4.5 product demonstration. Registration for the online session can be completed here.