Sunday, May 27, 2007

Docs and Books for OFBiz (repost from 2005-03-07)

There are lots of books that could be written about OFBiz to address different needs and audiences. And these really are very different audiences... We have talked with a potential publisher about doing a book about getting an ecommerce or general retail business going with OFBiz, though from this discussion it sounds like what is desired is something about development using the OFBiz framework.

One of the problems is that OFBiz is not corporate backed or sponsored by any company that press and publishing people like to toss out to make them look better, and when we talk about volume in terms of the current community the conversation seems to move towards self publishing or doing a PDF or other online book, or considering it as an investment and hoping that if done with a concrete enough real world benefit people might pick it up just for that, in spite of there being so little demand for it in advance.

I guess the main issue is that even though OFBiz can be used effectively in pretty small businesses, and as it is more complete that is improving weekly, but a fair amount of knowledge and skill is still needed to really do something with the software. So, we might be able to sell 100 or if we were lucky 200 copies of a book over the first few months to a year if it were available now. The only way to increase that would be for a publisher to decide they like OFBiz and spend some money on marketing the book, part of which would be the printing and distribution costs and trying to get buyers from major book retailers to buy it.

So, you're probably thinking: come on! It's not that hard! Look at all of these little open source projects that are doing it! That may be true, but consider how many technical journal articles and such those "little" projects have published before they can even consider doing a book... Even though users and potential users of something like OFBiz love the idea of open source enterprise software, it still isn't very popular in the incumbent technical and enterprise software business worlds. In fact, there is a little bit of hostility to the whole notion and it's hard to be taken seriously since so many people doubt that what we are doing can be done.... As the project progresses and more live sites and case studies are available as proof this is changing, but it is being totally driven from the edge, or in other words the end-user companies. There isn't much interest yet from the current big software providers.

In that sense a more limited scope architectural tool that doesn't require potential users to give up so much of what they love and are personally invested in is a LOT easier to sell to the world, and to the likes of Sun and Apache and various other groups that are heavily into the theory of enterprise software and building out of the infrastructure. For most developers they don't want a complete solution, because even if they did they couldn't sell it internally or to the management of their company, unless they are in very particular and somewhat desperate circumstances.

So, the fact of the matter is that OFBiz is being driven from the business side of things. This is one reason we'd like to create a somewhat separate framework project that can grow on it's own merits without the implication that using the entire data model and applications is necessary...

In the mean time, OFBiz is growing and progressing fairly nicely being driven by business needs, and this is being served well by face to face training, assistance with custom development, and now for the lower end training videos and reference documents and end-user oriented documentation.

So, no, it isn't nearly as simple as a small scoped project like Spring or Struts or Hibernate. Though in a way the framework is simpler that those combined once you get a full multi-tiered web-capable stack in place... You can't compare learning the OFBiz framework to learning Spring or Struts or Hibernate or the Servlet API, it is really more comparable to using all of them together, or whatever tools of the day that you like the idea of using in your master plan.

That's the problem with OFBiz. We HAVE to have a master plan for the architecture because we have hundreds of thousands of lines of business artifacts that depend on it, and it has to be efficient. So in order to use OFBiz you kind of have to be willing to go with the tools in use, either that or throw out the existing business and application artifacts and start over on your own, perhaps with just the data model or parts of it or something...

So, will there ever be a book published about OFBiz from a major publisher that sells thousands or tens of thousands of copies? Yes, I really think there will be, but the project and the current community just aren't ready for it yet.