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Orchestra Contributing to Future of E-Commerce

Open source approaches problems in projects based upon effort

Open Source Journal

It is one thing to use open source software and evangelize its capabilities to a marketplace. It is quite another to actually attempt to contribute to that software.

I've read all over the internet that 1 in 100 contribute, or some implementation of The Drake Equation represents the number of active users contributing to an open source project. However, in trying to figure out what exactly the number is on any given project, you enter a quagmire just trying to figure out how many people actually use an open source product. Regardless, Orchestra is beginning to find out what it means to contribute to a major piece of open source software.

Our firm is highly committed to using Drupal as our web application platform. We love it, we use it, and we think you'll love it to if you try it out. To extend Drupal into the ecommerce space, we've begun working with Ubercart, a Drupal module, quite heavily.

We've now got about four clients actively using Ubercart, and we've had to dip into the realm of custom module development (yes, there are modules for modules). We've really begun to find some of the limits of Ubercart's abilities and some of the challenges associated with development in the open source world.

Open source approaches problems in projects based upon effort. If the effort is pretty great, often a contributor will say "well, they (meaning the core developers) will figure out how to do it in the next release", and slap something together that fixes the problem "for now". Or, if the functionality is relatively minor, often you'll see a really nicely put together module that does exactly what you want the way you want it to. This is great, because it means you have a lot of really nice modules out there to accomplish small tasks, and a few ok modules that show developers where the product needs to go that typically work, or will work with a little modification. Once development reaches a point where there are enough users and enough call for change, the community gets together and decides to build the requirements for a new release. Once these are fleshed out, the core developers pare it down to what they think they can handle and get crackin.

Ubercart is going through this design process right now. The core developers have heard a lot of the community's concerns regarding their project, and they're banding together to create "Ubercore". The goal of this is a more robust ecommerce platform both in terms of usability and development. Since Orchestra is highly invested in Ubercart as part of it's offering, we've decided to see how we can help.

This poses a giant challenge. First, while we love and support open source software, we've never actively contributed to a project beyond going out and telling more people they should use the stuff we like / recommend. We also have limited community clout, as we haven't made any real contributions yet (but we're getting close with a couple of modules). So, being the guy in charge of much of our product development at Orchestra, I started going to conferences and meeting people.

The people within a community, especially those that are contributors, really speak to the power of open source. First, we sent Chris Bloom to Drupal Camp Colorado. Then I went with him to Drupal Camp LA. We both went to Drupal Camp Portland. And finally, Brad and I went up to the Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit. We went to all of these places for one major purpose - meet people in the community and see if this is a platform we want to support and work with more actively.

The results were overwhelming. We met literally hundreds of cool Drupal people that work as independents or for a few dozen companies that all actively develop, support, implement, and evangelize Drupal. I had conversations geared toward the business side of how to market and develop Drupal to intense discussions of the future of Drupal development. We met so many awesome people that viewed us as supportive and helpful rather than competitive that we've decided to try out making a serious contribution to the community. Enter the Ubercore project.

One of the people I met at these conferences is Amye Scavarda. She's kind of a big thing in the Drupal community because she's a great PM and a fun person to work with. We got talking about how Orchestra uses Ubercart to help small businesses with their online offering, and how integration to Ubercart presents some challenges. In our talks, she mentioned the Ubercore initiative, and we had several talks about how we could contribute to that project. It's a perfect fit really, as the people at Orchestra know ERP systems and ecommerce (we've worked with a number of them), and we know what it takes to do integrations between the two (we've done some of those too). So, we've begun to contribute ideas to the Ubercore project, and we hope to take an active role in either the development or the support of this initiative.

The timing for this is perfect. We're reaching critical mass working with Drupal and Ubercart internally, and, we have an unprecedented level of access to the folks that make the design decisions for the product. The ability to have a voice in the design of this project, and ultimately the result of Ubercore, has awesome potential for Orchestra, our clients, and our future products. As we become more involved I'll post more about this process and what we're doing.

Check out what we're up to on the Ubercore Forum.

Read more about Orchestra at our website: http://www.orchestrateam.com

Check out this post on our website blog at: Orchestra Team Blog

More Stories By Brad Windecker

As the President and CEO of Orchestra Software, I lead a talented team of bright people with the unified mission of helping growing industries run better. Orchestra builds industry vertical ERP software that is highly specific to the needs of the industries we serve. This strategy has enabled Orchestra to double or triple in size and revenue every year.

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