Friday, April 24, 2009

Alfresco UK Meetup

Yesterday I attended the Alfresco UK meetup at Sun's UK HQ in Camberley. There were several presentations from customers & partners, as well as from John Newton, CTO & John Powell, CEO of Alfresco.

The elephant in the room was Oracle of course. Both Newton & Powell addressed themselves to concerns about the consequences for Open Source of the proposed Oracle acquisition of Sun. Overnight Oracle would become one of the biggest players in the Open Source arena, even if only indirectly through its ownership of Java & MySQL. Newton was upbeat about the future of both under Oracle, not least because MySQL is fully open source - if we don't like what Oracle are doing, we can use the code to create another 'MySQL'. That said, the fact that were we talking about it illustrates the degree of uncertainty that Oracle's move has caused in the Open Source world.

This uncertainty has consquences. In uncertain times, companies need reassurance when making technology choices. Oracle need to make their position crystal clear with regard to both Java & MySQL - we need actions as well as words. This is a pressing need, because the global recession is actually an opportunity for Open Source solutions to illustrate that they enable companies/Govt departments to do more with less.

The best and most interesting presentation illustrated the last point above. A representative from Islington Council gave an overview of their experience of using Alfresco as a document management and intranet platform. Alfresco was originally thrown into the mix at the requirements analysis stage to act as a 'sanity check' against the three EDRM solutions that were already in use at Islington. In the end only Alfesco met all the requirements - Islington adopted Open Source almost by chance.

Only after adopting and using Alfresco did the opportunities that Alfresco offers for shared publishing, collaborative team working, project dashboards, community forums, etc become apparent. It was then that Islington decided to use Alfresco for their new intranet. Since then their adoption of Alfresco has repaid handsomely.

So, in consequence, perhaps Oracle's proposed acquisition of Sun (& Java & MySQL) won't have any real downsides for Open Source, but we need this confirming asap, lest more Islington scenarios are missed due to uncertainty in the Open Source landscape.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Dawn Fades as Sun goes down

Oracle, the database software vendor, has bought Sun Microsystems. Sun specialised in server hardware and software, but was also behind the Java programming language and various Java related tools and initiatives. Fairly recently Sun had also bought MySQL, the open source database.

So, what are the consequences for us of this acquisition? Well, most open source software uses MySQL as the primary database. Joomla!, Zen-Cart, Magento - to name just three - all use MySQL as the default database. You can add Drupal, and virtually every other open source project to this list.

The key question then is, will Oracle continue to support MySQL or will it allow it to wither as a direct competitor? Is MySQL actually considered to be a competitor by Oracle? The answer to this question will no doubt be a key influence on Oracle's eventual decision.

This decision has consequences for most of us, either directly or indirectly. If our business, website, etc, use open source software, then we may be faced in the future with having to change our database if MySQL goes down. The obvious open source candidate to replace MySQL is Postgress, considered superior by many. However, it is not clear how widespread is the hosting provision for Postgress - almost all hosting plans offer MySQL as a very affordable option, yet Postgress is still not offered by most hosting companies.

There is the real possibility that a fair proportion of open source software will have to be tweaked to use another database (Postgress) and that is again problematical if Postgress provision is limited.

Almost certainly Oracle's acquisition of Sun means we'll see, 'A change of scene, a change of style' with regards to the open source landscape. Whether we'll benefit from this is yet another question.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Joy of Joomla!

My Leicester Web Design agency has been using the Joomla! CMS (content management system) for at least three years. In that time Joomla! has gone from strength to strength. And so have the 3rd party extensions available. With this platform we've been able to satisfy just about all of our customer's requirements.

One criticism levelled at Joomla!, however, is its inability to accommodate deeply nested content structures. Joomla! organises content along these lines - Home > Section > Category >Pages - just three levels deep. Content Management Systems like Drupal, LiveLink WCM, etc, can handle unlimited nested content levels. The next major release of Joomla! (1.6) will address this 'deficiency'.

However, this 'limitation' of Joomla! is actually one of its strengths! The Holy Grail of web navigation is that no content is more than three clicks away. Joomla!, either by accident or design, reinforces this best practice.

My own starting point is that if your content is more than three levels deep, then you're probably replicating organisational structures rather than putting your customer's requirements first. Therefore, Joomla!'s content 'limitation' is actually a perfect reason to reconsider your information architecture to make your content more accessible and more easily navigable.

So, whatever the size of your organisation and its website, Joomla! is a real candidate to help you manage the website.