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Martin LaMonica

Staff Writer, CNET

Expanding the imprint of open-source software, the Apache Software Foundation on Monday will launch an open-source project around business process management server.

The software, called Agila, is designed for writing Java applications that automate business workflows, such as a multistep process for handling business documents. The software, which will be developed under the auspices of the existing Jakarta project at Apache, will be made available free of charge under the Apache 2.0 open-source license.

Gluecode Software donated the initial code to Apache. Gluecode, a three-year-old company, sells support and consulting services around back-office Java software, including a Java-based portal and application server, based on Apache projects.

Agila is designed to be a simple business process management (BPM) product that can be easily embedded in other applications and run on a range of devices, including handheld computers, according to Gluecode executives. It can be used for applications with workflows that involve people as well as machine-to-machine interactions, they said.

The software, which includes a designer, server software and a monitoring tool, is not as sophisticated as some existing products. But the project will give open-source developers and customers an alternative to commercial “closed source” products from companies such as BEA Systems and Microsoft, said Winston Damarillo, CEO of Gluecode.

“The mind-set of paying for expensive products like BPM is over,” Damarillo said. “With BPM, databases and application servers, enterprise customers have a choice to do full open-source stack.”

Market share
Currently there are dozens of BPM providers, including specialized companies Ultimus, Metastorm and FileNet, as well as larger infrastructure software providers such as BEA, IBM and Microsoft.

Some analysts predict that as the market for BPM matures, some smaller firms may be squeezed out or acquired as the industry consolidates. The entrance of an open-source product could also have an impact, RedMonk analyst Stephen O’Grady said.

“It’s difficult to predict traction and uptake, but the open-source community is really adding functionality at an accelerating pace,” O’Grady said.

Other open-source infrastructure software, or middleware, products are growing in popularity, particularly with software programmers who helped spur adoption of the Linux operating system.

Open-source companies, such as database company MySQL and tools provider Zend Technologies, are targeting corporate customers and programmers.

Open-source Java server software company JBoss also intends to introduce its own business process management software, potentially through an acquisition.

Getting off the ground
To start the Agila project, Gluecode engineers revamped their existing business process automation product with simplified programming interfaces and rewrote it so the software can run on smaller devices, including handhelds that run the Java 2 Micro Edition software, Gluecode executives said. Gluecode will build its future commercial product on the Agila software.

The Agila project will begin as an “incubator” at Apache, during which time Apache will assess the amount of community involvement and check the code for intellectual-property concerns, said Geir Magnusson, a board member at Apache and Gluecode employee. If there is enough activity around the project, it could become a “top level,” or standalone, open-source project.

“BPM is such a large and important technology domain that I would expect after some amount of time the community will grow and that (Agila) BPM could be a top-level project itself at Apache,” Magnusson said. “But that remains to be seen.”