Australian software company Once:Technologies has released what it claims is the first browser-based Web 2.0 development platform as an open source project.

The environment, dubbed once:radix, is a rapid application development system for intranets and extranets which allows developers with "basic programming skills" to create enterprise-grade applications.

Once:Technologies CEO Rob Napier said the decision to release the software under an open source licence will allow SMEs to access Web 2.0 technology, which has only been available to large firms that could afford to employ specialist programmers.

Once:radix combines its own software with other open source projects, including PostgreSQL, JasperReports, Mozilla, and Apache.

PostgreSQL project core team member Josh Berkus believes once:radix is strategically important to the adoption of PostgreSQL by SMEs.

"Despite the successes of open source software in large businesses and governments, we have largely left small businesses and non-profits behind. In particular, open-source database communities have failed to replace MS Access and Filemaker," Berkus said. "Once:radix offers us a real opportunity to finally supplant these small business standbys, by offering better functionality and performance with the same ease of use in an open source, web-based package."

Originally a proprietary platform, applications based on once:radix have been shipped to end users in Australia, North America, and Europe.

One customer is Graystone Group Advertising, a Connecticut-based agency that places staff recruitment ads for the City of New York and faculty and staff ads for many US colleges, universities, and hospitals.

"Since 2003, our sales have grown dramatically with management systems developed by once:technologies. We are now investing in a new generation of software, based on once:radix," Graystone president George Bailey said.

O'Reilly Media's Nathan Torkington said it is great to see someone "finally stand up and tackle Filemaker and Microsoft Access with open source."

"I remember being told once that inside every company there's a Filemaker database holding it together, which nobody understands how to change and which the IT department can't touch," Torkington said. "Once:radix is built on the standard open source components that already power IT departments."

Once:Technologies' Napier said project has been in development for four years and "there is no better way to deliver sophisticated Web 2.0 business applications."

"We would like to make the technology available to a wider audience and believe open source is the best way to achieve that," Napier said. "We hope to attract people with a broad range of skills to continue development of this technology."