Web site has different needs. Some are nothing more than
shovelware sites, dumping the contents of a print
publication onto the Web. At the other extreme are the sites
stuffed with original content that changes constantly. Most
are somewhere in between. All have unique problems.
To solve Web-site building and maintenance woes, there are a
host of companies like Vignette, OpenMarket,
Broadvision and NetObjects offering
high-priced (six- and seven-figure) systems. Or Web sites
can go the open-source route, using the code for Walt
Disney Company's Tea scripting language, for
But as attractive as the open-source model is conceptually,
the ongoing Mozilla project -- in which the
half-forgotten Netscape Web browser is being updated by a
dispersed group of unpaid programmers -- shows that
development can slow down if no one has any chance of making
any money. Similarly, the core Gnutella program
hasn't been updated in months. There are some marvelous
examples to the contrary -- namely Apache and
Perl -- but that's because their creators have found
ways to earn money off their work by running conferences,
writing books and consulting.
It's that model that open-source application server
Zope is trying to follow. An application what? At the
core of many of the large-scale content-management systems
is an application server, a program that helps developers
separate different parts of the Web site-building
process. In particular, it helps integrate the content
stored in a central database, and thus automate much of the
grunt work that programmers, producers and editors otherwise
undertake ''by hand.'' On top of the application server,
Zope programmers have written modules that provide
particular functionality: ''Squishdot,'' for example, is a
module that makes a Zope site look and work much like Slashdot.org.
Not only are there free programs built on top of Zope, but
there's a consulting business, too. Digital
Creations, which manages the development of the
open-source Zope (its chief technology officer, Jim Fulton,
is the man behind Zope), aims to make its money on
consulting and training. Commercial software applications
may come, but the focus will be on maintaining and
supporting the open-source Zope.
Although Zope's typical of early-generation open-source
programs -- beloved by programmers, its usability still in
question -- it has an opportunity to break through, thanks
in part to the failure of the high-priced packages to
perform as expected, according to Digital Creations CEO
Paul Everitt. ''People are spending millions of
dollars and finding out months later that there was a lot
more hype than reality in what the products delivered,'' he
says. ''These rollouts turn into enormously high-pressure
events that never go particularly well.''
And then...? ''The first tendency after you go through this
is to say forget working with this 'off the shelf' software
which turns out not to be really 'off the shelf,' '' he
says. Everitt calls such programs ''consultingware,''
software that lets you buy the consulting services of the
company that sold it to you. ''Our biggest competition isn't
another program so much as fighting the decision to do it
yourself,'' he says. ''With Zope, you get the benefits of a
buy decision as well as a build decision. You get some
control over what you do, but you don't have to start from
scratch. You have Zope as the foundation.''
If you think you've heard this before, that's because you
have. Everitt acknowledges that much of this model is
''exceedingly similar'' to the one at Allaire, which
has a language available for free and a host of software
products and services it sells to support that
language. ''There's one crucial difference, though,''
Everitt says. ''Allaire wants to make money on software. Our
goal is to be a services company.''
As ambitious as Everitt is, he insists that ''We're
benevolent dictators here. We want to find ways for lots of
people to make lots of money in interesting ways atop
Zope.'' There's also a refreshing humility in the company's
admission that Zope is not for all environments. The site
intended to explain Zope to ''newbies'' runs not on Zope,
but on a rival program Manila. A public acknowledgment that
one product doesn't solve all problems for all companies?
Now that's revolutionary.