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Thursday 4th to Sunday 7th August
University of Wales, Swansea

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John Pinner - Clockwork Software Systems

A New Deal in Payroll Software using GNU/Linux and Python

At last year's UKUUG conference we were getting close to releasing PayThyme, our GPL'd UK payroll. Many people think we are mad to license such a commercial project as Free Software.

We launched PayThyme before Christmas 2004, and a year later we are gaining some success: over 100,000 people will have had their annual returns to the Inland Revenue made using PayThyme software this year. It seems a good time to take stock and examine how and why we developed it from both commercial and technical viewpoints.

Commercially PayThyme breaks new ground in almost every respect: it is the first UK native GNU/Linux payroll, and it has no built-in licence quota on numbers of users, numbers of employees and numbers of payrolls, all of which are restricted in most commercial payrolls. Furthermore, there is just one version of PayThyme, suitable for both the smallest and largest of payrolls, as opposed to existing software which is usually targetted in both capability and price at specific market levels. This allows your payroll to grow with your business. To further confuse conventional business software developers, PayThyme is licensed under the GPL and is available as a free download.

Technically, PayThyme is also unusual. It uses the Thyme development platform, which is itself Open Source and based on Python and the PyQt GUI platform. A novel set of data-aware widgets links GUI screens (originated in Qt Designer) with Thyme's database filing system, allowing rapid object-oriented application development. The product was developed by a small core team of three people working remotely using a central Subversion repository. The user interface is implemented entirely in Python.

PayThyme takes advantage of Python's rich set of extension modules, for example in implementing Internet Filing of end-of-year returns to the Inland Revenue via the UK Government Gateway.

This talk covers two areas, business and technical.

Business-wise, it will examine the reasons for developing PayThyme, the aspirations behind its business model, and the work involved in gaining commercial acceptability and Inland Revenue accreditation. The resolution of any conflict between the need to provide a fully-supported, credible, and income-generating product, and the desire to release it as genuine Open Source software, will be discussed.

Technically, the product itself will be demonstrated, and used as example software in showing the tools and methodologies used in developing GUI applications with Python, PyQt and Qt in the Thyme development environment. This will cover creating database table definitions (with information to speed GUI screen design), the automatic generation of GUI screen forms and maintenance programs from the table definitions, modifying the screens with Qt Designer, and enhancing the generated programs, with particular reference to using Thyme's data-aware custom widgets.


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