Tech 10: Hot Open Source Apps For 2013

10 Open Source Apps To Watch

These days the expression, "If there's a will, there's a way" has morphed into "If there's a need, there's an app"—or several, perhaps free, and probably even available as open source. Open source software continues to grow and spread its tentacles into virtually every corner of the world. Here are 10 open source apps and platforms that your business should be aware of.


Companies large and small have come to understand the value of social networking, but few have come to master it, and we'd venture that fewer still wish to cede control of their assets to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. That's where the Diaspora Project comes in. From the Greek meaning to migrate or move away, Diaspora has matured much since its founding in late 2010 and continues to attract communities yearning to be free of the shackles of restrictive user policies and shifting security holes. Even better than being open, Diaspora maintains ties with Facebook, Twitter and other social sites until those users are converted.


Not strictly an app, but rather an app platform, Hadoop has been making headlines for its ability to redefine the data center. Developed under the Apache umbrella, Hadoop is an open software framework that simplifies the creation of distributed big-data processing applications across computing clusters that can range from a few servers to thousands of systems in multiple geographical regions. In essence, Hadoop is an abstraction layer for running large-scale applications that's capable of detecting failures of the underlying hardware and working around them to keep the apps running.

JBoss Data Grid

A good candidate to run atop Hadoop might be JBoss Data Grid 6.1, Red Hat's in-memory database. In a major update released in April, the massively scalable database received significant new functionality for high availability and disaster recovery. Red Hat's database for large-scale enterprise applications now supports data-center replication across geographically dispersed clusters as well as the ability to perform rolling upgrades without interrupting service. A new nonblocking state transfer implements an all-new join-and-leave protocol for grid nodes that does not cause the system to pause, enabling databases to continue responding to requests while it adjusts for a missing or failed node.

Firefox OS

If competition in a free market is a way to keep innovation flowing, then Android is about to receive a good healthy dose. Almost two years in the making, Firefox OS version 1.0 was released in February and will be available in phones this year. Originally launched by Mozilla under the project name Boot to Gecko (or B2G), Firefox OS, like Android, is a Linux-based operating system that's designed to run in smartphones and tablets. Also like Android, Mozilla's mobile OS runs HTML5 applications and can operate the host device's ports and peripherals using JavaScript code.


For those who like Picasa but hate that it's not open source, Gallery might be for you. This web-based photo album organizer presents an intuitive interface for managing large numbers of digital images and "publishing" them to other websites large or small. Gallery features automatic image resizing, batch editing, watermarking and geotagging of photos, LDAP integration and authentication with OpenID.

Jelly Bean

With a Linux-based competitor or not, the Android dev community still has Apple to deal with and continues to innovate at breakneck pace. Team Alien in November posted its sweetest release yet in Android 4.2, with a bouncing new UI, the ability to beam from one device to another, a shiny new NFC stack, gesture typing and lock screen widgets, to name just a few. The newest space man also supports multiple users (keeping the data they each create neatly separated), actionable notifications and screen sharing through Miracast support, the nifty protocol that packages screen refreshes, sound and gestures over Wi-Fi.


For companies conducting even a small percentage of their business transactions online, e-commerce code is nothing to be trifled with. On that job is independent developer Sean Schofield with Spree, a fully baked, open source e-commerce system and development community built from the ground up to be easy to maintain and customizable as heck. Built with the developer-friendly Ruby on Rails, the turnkey solution even includes code for automated regression testing to help prevent bugs following feature enhancements and changes. Spree is completely free to use and includes all features for all users, regardless of company size. The community gets a cut of the transaction processing action and is also paid for support.

Cloud Sherpas

Python developers looking to minimize redundant coding when building apps for the Google App Engine will want to take note. Cloud solution provider Cloud Sherpas earlier this year released to open source a Python application framework for Google's App Engine it had originally created for its own internal use. Called Ferris, the framework automates much of the coding associated with targeting Google's web-based application platform. The framework saves time, the company says, by automating much of the redundant coding common to most Google App-Engine apps. "You define the model and attribute types, and all the parts from the data store to the UI are generated for you," said Tim Lockyear, senior solutions specialist at Cloud Sherpas.


In February, the Document Foundation, the development community surrounding one of the leading alternatives to Microsoft Office, released LibreOffice 4.0, calling it "the free office suite the community has been dreaming of for 12 years." Among its major new features are vastly improved compatibility with Microsoft Office, as well as an increased level of interoperability between LibreOffice and Redmond's Office products. Also new in the word processing component is the ability to add comments to sections of text, which now works exactly as it does in Word.


This may be one of the oldest open source projects you've never heard of. Fourteen years after it kicked off as a UI layer for the Zope content management system, Plone has a community of its own. This mature CMS is a heavy-duty substitute for Moveable Type and WordPress that delivers blogging, calendaring and concise dashboards. Version 4 reportedly doubles the speed and performance of its predecessor, sports an all-new UI theme that's modern-looking and easy to customize, and includes a graphical HTML editor for easier coding. With versions for all major platforms, Plone 4.0 now includes point-and-click installers for Mac OS X and Windows, as well as a universal installer for Linux and Unix.