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This article originally appeared at:

August 23, 1999, Issue: 749
Section: Intranets/Internet

Open Source For E-Business
Jason Levitt

A side benefit of the research for my article in this week's Application Development section on Web-site performance (see story, p. 67) is that I've learned how some electronic-commerce Web sites approached the difficult task of bringing their sites online. The IT folks who took on this task in the early years of 1995 to 1997 were faced with staggering do-it-yourself scenarios. Needless to say, a lot of open-source and free software was used. Early sites that were built big, such as Amazon.com, had to do it all by hand using the Common Gateway Interface or Web server API technologies and lots of custom support code. Vendors have only recently introduced robust application servers and load-balancing technologies to make life considerably easier for these developers.

Developers at some larger E-commerce sites still make use of open-source software even though they may have expensive commercial application servers and other commercial components. Open-source software is becoming much more popular in the back office of E-commerce sites. Perl, Apache, and GNU C/C++ development tools are heavily used among developers. In fact, the needs of E-commerce sites are becoming more codified, so application servers are starting to look more similar. Thus, the idea of open-source Web-development platforms is making more sense.

Among application servers, two packages, PHP and ZOPE, are starting to gain a following. Since custom coding is a necessity with application servers, there's a big win if you can have access to the source. Open-source software is particularly effective when sites need to interface to other technologies. Using the application servers on top of Linux means sites have access to device driver-level source as well as developer APIs and the low-level file-system code. On the downside, some developers prefer not to have to rely on the greater Internet development community for quick fixes. Still, considering that the top E-commerce packages today are all "consultantware," meaning you really need guidance from the vendor in order to develop and implement your solution properly, there can be substantial future savings by growing the knowledge in house.

The best application servers and E-commerce development suites today are all commercial products, but as Linux matures into a proven multiprocessor and high-availability operating system, it's only a matter of time before end-to-end E-commerce solutions start to appear on the platform.

-Jason Levitt can be reached at jlevitt@cmp.com

You can read his Internet Zone column on InformationWeek Online at www.informationweek.com/author/internet.htm

Copyright (c) 1999 CMP Media Inc.

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