Thursday, July 23, 2009

What do you mean by “Open System”?

SirsiDynix people at conferences and in calls have used that phrase a fair bit lately. Many of our customers nod with glazed eyes as we say it, assuming it must be a good thing and there must be someone who wants that. A few, though, like the child at the emperor’s underwear parade, have had the temerity to ask what it means, so I’ll venture an answer.

An open system is one that a provides standard and well-defined interfaces for customization and interoperability. The phrase was actually first used in the early days of Unix and was a precursor to the notion of “open source”. See, if etymologies make you smile.

Though we at SirsiDynix have no plans to move to open source, we’ve taken pains for many years to write open system software. I say pains, because it’s harder to maintain a system that accommodates everyone’s customizations. We believe it’s well worth the effort, though, because we value the ways that libraries are unique. Acting on that belief, we have several initiatives under way to expand our open interfaces and to make them easier to use. Some examples:

  • SirsiDynix® Symphony® has the most extensive ILS API in the industry. We’re working to make that API available through web services. People who want to want to write iPhone applications, browser plugins, or connections to reporting and accounting systems, will find the web services much easier to use.

  • For a long time, the Symphony OPAC has had page templates that let customers configure what’s displayed to patrons. For example, on a search results page or in the details page, they might want to plug in mash-up code for things like LibraryThing, Google Books, or ChiliFresh. In the 3.3.1 release (due out in Q4 of this year), we’ll be simplifying the structure of those page templates to provide ready-made plug in regions for mash-ups and content enrichment. We’ll also be providing a new administrative configuration UI, so you won’t have to edit code files at all for some of the most common customizations.

  • SirsiDynix® Enterprise 3.0 (due out in September) takes the ‘no-need-to-edit-code-files’ idea to a whole new level. Enterprise has an administrative UI that lets you configure just about everything we could imagine—page layouts, field selection in the search results pages, LDAP settings, federated search connectors, index scheduling, search limit configuration... You name it and I’ll bet it’s in there. More than that, Enterprise has been built from-the-ground-up on web services. All of the administrative and configuration functionality I’ve described above is done through web services. Early next year, we’ll be publishing a Software Development Kit to encourage our customers and partners to dream up their own uses on top of what we’ve built. We’re hopeful that many of their creations will be added to the shared code repository in our customer API forum. And oh, by the way, Enterprise searches can be performed using the OpenSearch protocol as well as with RSS/ATOM.

That’s what I, we, SirsiDynix calls open system. We think it’s pretty cool.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

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