eSpace an Arab Pioneer in Open Source Contribution.
eSpace was founded in the year 2000 at the hands of eight fresh graduates from the Computer Science Department, Alexandria University, Egypt. They started the company with a mere investment of 200$, using initially a shared apartment. During its 9 years, eSpace has undergone a series of changes and today it is seen as a leader in Open Source software development, with several significant contributions.
During my last visit to Egypt, eSpace’s team invited me to visit their office. While visiting, I was impressed by the tech and the geeky work they had accomplished. (Disclosure: eSpace paid for my travel expenses from Cairo to Alexandria, and for my accommodation expenses.)
Open Source Contribution:
Ruby On Rails:
eSpace has developed “NeverBlock, a Ruby library that allows developers to write non-blocking, concurrent code in a transparent manner – meaning that you will keep coding in your traditional ways while, at the same time, benefiting from non-blocking IO operations. “This helps in developing scalable web apps, using fewer resources on the server” explains Hamdy A. Khalil, Products Manager at eSpace. NeverBlock was released in Q3 2008, and caught the attention of the ROR community (for example see: RubyInside igtiva and infoQ).
eSpace’s team added MySQL Database driver for NeverBlock, thus the second database driver for NeverBlockafter the PostgreSQL driver. “The only way to achieve concurrency in Rails 2.2 and Ruby 1.8 in MySQL is to use eSpace MySQL driver, so now we can do more than one connection to the data base.” added Hamdy. This achievement was also greeted by cheers from the Ruby community.
“Version Cache” is another achievement by eSpace; it is A Ruby on Rails (v2.1.0) plugin that provides additional caching features. It solves the problem of having to expire your cached stuff via the provided Rails methods and, instead, it relies on versions.
“Method Cache” is an additional eSpace contribution to ROR. It is a Rails (v2.1.0) plugin that tries to solve the problem of having to call a method repetitively.
Those achievements were rewarded by the Ruby community with an invitation for eSpace to speak during the 2008 RubyConf, which took place in Orlando, Florida, USA.
I do not know of any other ROR contributor in the Arab world, but eSpace sets the road map for Arab evelopers and software houses to follow the path and make open source software a strategy to accomplish their visoions.
As iPhone currently does not support Arabic, eSpace has done some work in Arabizing the iPhone with some libraries as an open source initiative. The other solution to using Arabic in iPhone is using iPhone Google Maps Component was also developed by eSpace as an Open Source component that you can add to your iPhone application to access all the basic features of Google Maps (similar to Android’s MapView); see it in action here.
Why Open Source?
Samer El Sahn, CEO of eSpace, says “first, (we) are trying to provide part of the equation, not just as technology users, but as a technology maker. The second aim is to prove our technical competence to the world. Thirdly, we want to promote an open source culture which helps the community grow, in which we will benefit and grow. Regretfully, we do not see any Arabic contribution.”
The company started as an outsourcing house from 2000 to 2002, using C, Java, Visual studio to develop apps for the Web, the Desktop and for Windows Mobile.
In 2002, the company started developing its own products; they developed PharmaSpace, an Arabic application for pharmacists. Later in 2003, they developed SalesBuzz, a mobile Sales Force Automation (SFA) targeting FMGs. Among the customer were Nestle, Cadbury, P&G. Between 2005 to 2006, eSpace sold SalesBuzz to Bitechonlogies and focused again on outsourcing. When Web 2.0 started to kick off, they used Java and J2EE, selling to American clients through a technology consulting firm in USA which brought sales to them.
Concerning the period from 2007 to 2008, El Sahn says “we started to explore different grounds; we had some cash from our outsourcing business, and (we) started realizing the vision of eSpace. We started testing the web and mobile market with 2 projects: weNear – a Mobile Location based Framework- and meOwns- a social sharing tool to what you own.”
The company started using ROR along with Java in 2006; SalesBuzz admin was in ROR. In 2008, eSpace totally shifted to ROR. But why ROR?
ElSahn El Sahn says “1- It is easy to develop apps using it. 2- (Less) design and development time is needed; something that takes 6 month (using other languages), takes 2-1 month on Ruby. 3- High adoption rate. 4- ROR is more powerful than PHP for the Web and is richer.”
A Technology Company:
ElSahan El Sahn says “we brand our self as a technology company; we consider the past 8 years (as having been a period to) build our technological experience. We aim to help others realize their ideas- mainly startups or anyone with ideas but without technical capabilities.”
The company has developed technologies in Data mining and Matchmaking; ElSahan El Sahn says “we are taking social networks to the next level”. These technologies can be used in meOwns, for example: at the first level it can be used in recommending things and people as friends based on interest. At the second level, it can be used to detect what people own what things and what items are similar, ex: iPhone, Apple and iTunes. The matching system detects relationship between dispersed pieces of information.
ElSahan El Sahn says “we are not affected by the current economic crisis; the reason (is that our rates are lower than other technology firms with the same level of technological experience in the Western Hemisphere.”
He added, “so we are benefiting from the current economic conditions because we are more cost effective.”