One of the most exciting aspects of my job here at Rogue Wave Software (and my interest in open source software more generally) is seeing open source software packages in my day-to-day life, solving the world’s problems. Our clients include titans of industry in the realms of finance, defense, manufacturing, and web services, but the very same technologies that are being used by these vendors are being leveraged by tiny, barebones organizations as well. I have a particular interest in community bicycle organizations, and open source software is beginning to have a profound impact on the way that these organizations function.
A brief history of bike shops and technology
In past years, bicycle people have had an uneasy relationship with technology. Most sophisticated bike shops were using an inelegant stack of software to run their businesses
How my local bike shop embraces open source
During the weekends I work for a small non-profit bike organization called Community Cycles. It’s a local favorite among Boulder’s bike community and is always a flurry of activity. For the most part we’re not technologists (we’re bike nerds), but that doesn’t stop us from wielding some powerful technologies to run the business and educate people about bikes.
Many people that are in-the-know are surprised to find that we use Ubuntu for all of our registers and computer terminals. While more than one person has speculated that we use it because it’s free, in reality it provides many clear advantages over proprietary alternatives. Linux systems are stable and secure, and permissions are easily managed across the organization. We never have to deal with cumbersome commercial licensing, and we can rely on a local bike geek/system administrator to maintain and configure our systems. Most excitingly, and in the spirit of a community bike shop, when something breaks we can usually fix it ourselves. By virtue of the fact that we use Ubuntu to power our shop, we’ve all learned a little bit about Linux system administration. And that’s pretty cool.
It doesn’t stop there, though. We (unsurprisingly) use WordPress, an open source tool under the GPL license, to build and maintain our own website in-house, and we use LibreOffice (under Apache) for all of our word processing, flyer and form preparations, and spreadsheet needs.
Taking open source beyond the shop
While I’m certainly proud of our use of open source technologies at Community Cycles, some community bike shops, local bike nonprofits, and other social organizations have taken the additional step of creating their own open source projects. Here are a few novel examples:
Freehub, a Ruby-on-Rails application under the Apache License, is a shop sign-in and volunteer tracking tool born out of San Francisco’s Bike Kitchen. This application allows local bike education centers and workspaces to track organization members and volunteer skills and assets, and also provides an automated sign-in system for the front desk. The Freehub system has been adopted by several similar bike shops across the United States as well as two in London according to the information available on the publicly-accessible instance of this application.
OpenSourceBikeShare is a web and Android application under the GNU General Public License. The project is managed by Cyklokoalícia, a Slovakian bicycle advocacy organization based in Bratislava, but has been adopted for use at three locations across Slovakia.
The software component of OpenSourceBikeShare tracks users, processes rental requests, and tracks bicycle inventory across multiple station nodes in the bike share system. The system uses combination locks to prevent bike theft, and codes and requests are transmitted by mobile app or SMS. One of the goals of OpenSourceBikeShare is to reduce the investment in physical apparatus for bike share systems, and the project is aimed at small communities and institutions. The combination of clever software development and a well thought out physical implementation of the station network creates an elegantly simple system for users and administrators, and is well documented on their website.
While not specifically an outgrowth of a community bike organization, CiviCRM is used by many nonprofit bike organizations as a Customer Relationship Management tool. The project is licensed under the strongly copyleft GNU Affero General Public License and its producer, CiviCRM LLC, is itself a non-profit organization.
There are several local Meetup groups and frequent local CiviCON conferences both in the United States and internationally for those that wish to join the community. There is thorough documentation for “self-support” on the CiviCRM website, which also includes a directory of local professional consultants to install, configure and support the application in-person.
These projects, though arguably small in scale by industrial standards, use some of the same libraries and licenses as our enterprise clients. Our work with corporate clients to ensure that their own products are secure and compliant helps to maintain healthy open source communities and makes me very proud of what I do. That community bike shops and our partners are, in a sense, in collaboration by using and perhaps improving these libraries is pretty darn neat. This is the magic of the open source philosophy, and I wouldn’t want to work in any other realm.