Recently there has been quite a buzz on SDN concerning open source development. So what kind of impact, if any, will open source have on us, the SAP customers? Yes, it is very important to SAP to protect their intellectual property; however, we still have freedom within our own development environments to create custom applications for business-critical functionalities that are missing.
If I have learned anything from reading the forums on SDN, it is that a lot of these missing functionalities or holes are needed by many customers. Recently, we had the need to create a custom BSP application that would allow global master data updates via the web. The first thing we knew that would be very important to our users was some sort of value help type functionality on the input fields, similar to that of any select option within a regular selection screen transaction. We knew that this functionality did not come standard with BSP technology, so before we reinvented the wheel, we thought we would first check here on SDN to see if someone else had an easy way to accomplish this. The good news was that we found many different solutions by many different developers. The bad news was that we found many different solutions by many different developers. Yes, I know I just said the same thing but this is why. We found no simple solution that would work for us, but you could see all the work that each one of these developers had put into their own solutions. Now we did indeed have to start from scratch and add one more solution to the stockpile. Wouldn’t it be nice if we as developers worked together to come up with a common, open source solution that would be ever growing and evolving and could suit the needs of many? These holes are where I feel that the open source movement will flourish in the SAP world.
SDN provides an invaluable tool for open communication and information sharing among SAP developers across the world. This is a concept conducive to an open source way of thinking. As great as this is, we do not need to wait around for SAP to manage open source application development for us, just as we would not need to wait for Microsoft’s supervision to manage the development of an open source Windows application. The question is how and when we will take this opportunity to the next level to start leveraging open source applications within our community.
Code sharing is already widespread on SDN, but we are still living in a copy and paste world with little joint code efforts. Together with a colleague of mine, Dan McWeeney, we are working on the first version of an open source development called SAPlink. SAPlink is designed to allow custom developments to be easily packaged and distributed across systems and between customers. The alpha release, scheduled for late this year or early next year, is planned to work for BSP applications and classes. After the alpha release, we hope to see other fellow SDN developers get involved to improve the code and add other object types.
Below is an excerpt from Eric S. Raymond’s essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which is considered required reading in the open source community.
“I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like Emacs) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.
Linus Torvalds’s style of development – release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity – came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here – rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.
The fact that this bazaar style seemed to work, and work well, came as a distinct shock. As I learned my way around, I worked hard not just at individual projects, but also at trying to understand why the Linux world not only didn’t fly apart in confusion but seemed to go from strength to strength at a speed barely imaginable to cathedral-builders.”
According to Linus’ law, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” Not only is this true, but I believe that given enough hands, all holes are shallow as well. The goal is that SAPLink will not only make it easier for us to share and exchange code, but it will also launch the era of the “babbling bazaar” of developers working together on common applications within the enterprise cathedral known as SAP. Since the great SAP cathedral plans to I LOVE Open Source—Really!, we have the unique opportunity, unlike most other open source movements, for the “babbling bazaar” and the “bands of mages” to work together in perfect harmonious bliss.