OpenSales Embraces Wireless

Aiming to revolutionize e-commerce, OpenSales Inc. Wednesday launched its AllCommerce 1.0 platform, the first e-commerce software suite to fully support WAP-enabled devices like electronic organizers and cellular telephones.

It also launched the first module for its platform, the OpenSales Retailer 1.0 application, designed to customize online pricing, inventory and ordering information while also offering multiple language and currency support.

A template converter included with the software enables AllCommerce to serve pages in HTML, XML and WML all from one site. Both AllCommerce and Retailer support Linux, Unix, Sun Solaris and Windows NT server platforms.

OpenSales said AllCommerce 1.0 is designed to provide the core modules needed by any business operating online and provides all the functionality needed for content creation, inventory management, product ordering and statistical analysis. It provides currency support for the U.S., Canada, Holland, Germany, Australia and the U.K. It also includes barcode reading and support for accounting systems unique to individual businesses.

Retailer 1.0 provides features specific to online merchandising and includes modules for wish lists and gift registries. OpenSales said default store templates reduce the need for in-house HTML design talent. Also, the application features the ability to manage shipping redirection for inventory cancellations and returns, and a customer analysis tool that provides aggregate data of consumer visits to determine how best to place Web site merchandise.

The company plans to release other business-specific applications for AllCommerce as the year progresses.

OpenSales founder and Chief Technical Adviser Rob Ferber, formerly chief technical officer of eToys Inc. , said one thing that sets OpenSales apart is the stability of its architecture.

OpenSales’ software bypasses application servers entirely, relying on database servers and Web servers. Critical, dynamic information is kept on the database server while static elements of pages are pre-generated and stored on each frontline Web server. In this way, the Web servers only need to dip into the database for information that is likely to change often. Also, Web servers can be added or removed as needed without blocking access to information on the site.

“This gives us much greater scalability,” Ferber said. “Queries are very simple and fast.”

Also, OpenSales has taken a very different approach to organizing content.

Traditional software organizes content by category. To take Ferber’s example, a specific knife brand is in the knife category, which falls under the cutlery category, which in turn falls under the kitchenware category, etc. This type of organization creates a lot of clutter, which is what is making personalization such a hot topic these days, Ferber said.

Instead, OpenSales wanted something that could emulate “brick and mortar” displays, so the software uses objects which allow customers to relate complementary objects the same way physical stores do.

“Everything on the site is a freestanding object,” Ferber said. “It’s a more natural way of organizing a site.”

Aside from innovative approaches to content organization and maintaining server stability, OpenSales’ true revolutionary tendencies are revealed by the fact that it is open source, a niche that tradition holds is only viable for operating system companies.

But Bonnie Crater, president and chief executive officer of OpenSales and alumna of Oracle Corp. and Netscape, maintains that oldthink like that just doesn’t hold true.

“Most companies spend three to five times as much on service and support as they do with actually buying software,” she said, adding, “Consulting works.”

In other words, OpenSales makes its money on the support and services it off

ers: customization and development, installation and configuration, maintenance and support, integration services, project management, architecture and consultancy, pre-launch hosting services and customized security services.

Because it is open source and licenses its software to customers at no charge, OpenSales can deploy new versions and update its core code at lightning speeds. And because peer review is an integral part of the development process, Crater said programmers both inside and outside the company are only willing to submit their very best code.

“With its offerings, OpenSales has the potential to redefine how e-commerce applications are built and distributed,” said Bill Claybrook, research director at Aberdeen Group. “The open source model is compelling for e-commerce because features demanded by the marketplace can be quickly rolled into the project.

Venture capitalists seem to like the model as well. Earlier this month, idealab Capital Partners (ICP), idealab! and Sanchez Capital Partners poured $10 million in Series A financing into the company.

“We are very enthusiastic about the prospects for OpenSales as we believe that open source development will come to dominate most software categories,” Jim Armstrong, managing director at ICP and an OpenSales board member, said May 2. “The management team at OpenSales understands the open source process leads to better and faster software and is executing wonderfully upon an aggressive plan of defining the e-commerce space.”

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