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Open-source firm polishes interface with AJAX

Open-source applications company SugarCRM prepares an August release and plans to expand into new product areas.

SugarCRM plans to release an updated application suite next month, as the open-source business software company eyes new product areas.

The release, called Sugar 4.5, is one of the most substantial application updates since the company launched two years ago, according to CEO and co-founder John Roberts.

The application, due in mid-August, has a more interactive and customizable Web user interface, which company engineers made using AJAX techniques.

The term AJAX was coined last year to describe a combination of Web technologies, including JavaScript and XML. More and more developers are using these grouped tools to add interactivity to Web sites and to do away with the limitations of the first generation of browsers.

SugarCRM, one of the first companies to apply the open-source model to the applications business when it was founded in 2004, now has 800 customers of its commercial products. The company has raised about $26 million in venture funding, Roberts said.

SugarCRM also has developed a version of its applications suite to be optimized for Microsoft's Web server, database and development tools, and other products. The new SugarCRM suite will be released under one of Microsoft's Shared Source licenses.

Roberts indicated that over time, his company intends to expand beyond the customer relationship management applications. For example, Sugar 5.0, which the company expects to release in December, will include order-management functions, he said. Sugar 5.0 also will augment existing CRM applications, with features such as enhanced marketing automation.

"The application suite is getting broader. We already have extensions for HR management recruiting and project management," Roberts said.

He added that the company's method of publishing the source code to products under development has helped engineers respond to customer requests and come up with new ideas for features.

"The granularity of the feedback we get in our engineering--I've never seen it before," Roberts said. "It's humbling yet refreshing to develop software in this fashion, but it clearly generates a better product."