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SugarCRM 6 Gives a New View on Open Source CRM Software

By Sean Michael Kerner     Feedback

Latest version of open source CRM adds new features and a new look as the project celebrates a major milestone

After five years, Sugar's open source CRM platform remains alive and well, this week debuting a new version that touts a sharper look and new enhancements.

The new Sugar 6 release includes a revamped user interface and other tweaks that aim to make the system more efficient for users. To SugarCRM, the project's chief commercial backer, the new version marks the latest step in the evolution of both the company and its core CRM offering, though to the layman, the improvements might at first seem relatively minor.

"The focus in Sugar 6 is on the user experience," Clint Oram, vice president of products and co-founder of SugarCRM, told InternetNews.com.

Among the changes in the new version is a simplified design in which the side menu bar has been moved to the top. The new top menu includes frequently assessed items and menus, and is backed by AJAX, providing users with a drop-down interface.

All this, Oram said, reduces the number of clicks in Sugar 6 that users need to make as they work to get a look at their data. For example, in the previous Sugar 5.5 release that came out last year, doing a search was a multistep process. Now, "instead of taking users to a whole separate screen," Oram said, Sugar 6's Global Search feature offers an overlay with the search results.

"So you can be on the screen you're working on, do a search to see if there is other information and not be forced to navigate away," he said.

Oram added that search performance has also been optimized in Sugar 6 so that results are now displayed faster.

The new version of SugarCRM is the latest following a series of changes taking place over the last year at the project's chief backer. SugarCRM underwent a significant management change with Oram's co-founder John Roberts leaving the company. Roberts has since been replaced by new CEO Larry Augustin, who Oram said has brought the company a clear vision of how to scale.

Still, Oram noted that core strategic vision of SugarCRM hasn't changed and remains working well.

SugarCRM was one of the first companies to adopt an "open core model," in which the open source project forms the basis of commercial software, which also involves other functions being built on top. The open core approach is one that has become increasingly popular in recent years, according to the 451 Group.

"The open core is one of the foundations of our overall business model and we're very pleased with how it's working," Oram said.

As a result, in addition to actively promoting and working on an open source version of Sugar, known as Sugar Community Edition, the company also markets commercial editions of its CRM system -- Sugar Professional and Sugar Enterprise.

New Web technology speeds up CRM

That continued effort behind the open source edition of Sugar is the reason for the project's continued maturation. Among the tools that SugarCRM used to help enhance the latest version, Sugar 6, is the Yahoo YUI JavaScript library for AJAX functionality. Sugar 6 also expands on the REST Web Services layer that first debuted in Sugar 5.5.

"We're now taking full advantage of REST with the new AJAX layer," Oram said. "In terms of speed, it's quicker in general."

Oram added that SugarCRM is not looking at using Adobe Flex or other proprietary approaches to AJAX and rich user interfaces. Instead, the approach is about leveraging open standards.

"As the next evolution of our user interface technology we will be really focusing on HTML 5 -- that's where the dev team is doing all their prototyping," he said, referring to the next generation of HTML, which already has limited support on browsers from Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple and Google.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

This article was originally published on April 14, 2010
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