Forum OpenACS Q&A: my 2 cents -(from another newbie)
I writing this post with the intention it will contribute to the oacs community.
1) For the years I know oacs it was never usable by a non programmer.
oacs seems to target only large organization that can afford hiring very skilled programmer and with large budget.
Is this the goal? If you take postnuke (example) a non programmer can install and make it work quite easily. Then some (a lot) of people are hacking the code to no end. some concentrate on templating; other on expanding capabilities etc.
Wouldn't it be possible (and a priority) to design such a basic installation with basic functionalities? This would permit people like me to start USING oacs and then -with the time- learn how to hack some of it.
2) For about 2 years I'm asking myself how I could learn oacs and still haven't a clue to tell the truth. I have the feeling I should stop my work and go back to university for few years to be able to learn it. As a newbie it is quite intimidating to bother professional programmers with trivial question like how to manually feed sql to the database ...
wouldn't it be possible to create forum only for newbies so they will "dare" to participate and learn.
and if the answer to my point 1) is that the community has an interest attracting "end-user" then maybe a "end-user" forum will help this purpose too.
I hope this post bring something and await to read your reaction.
1) I'd doubt it if the intention was to make OpenACS unusable by non-developers. The new installation process makes it possible to install OpenACS in 15 minutes (including Postgres and AOLserver) and the move for .deb packages (hopefully ;)) as well as Knoppix CD should drive this further into the right direction. There is also effort going on to prepare OpenACS .vanity, a nice, prepackaged installation that allows you to experience the most often asked for features of OpenACS. So why did it not happen? Plain and simple reason: The people able to do this are swamped with work. So yes, I assume it will happen and I hope it will happen soon and in time to catch some of the new developers out there.
2) The easiest way to do it is to take the tutorial and try the problem sets. It might be worth to have a discussion forum for the Problem Sets, that would allow Newbies to exchange knowledge and ask questions relating to the PSets. Drawback. The PSets so far are only for developers, there is no PSet on how to *use* OpenACS out there. To make something like this happen is on my personal agenda, but that agenda is pretty long at the moment.
3) End user forum would be a very good idea. People are already asking a lot of question with this regard in the .LRN forum. But now comes the drawback. Most of the questions asked in this regard had to be dealt with using development. This is a drawback of the toolkit or a lack of imagination on part of the people answering. Though it is easy for the experienced people to just go and develop a solution, this is not possible for end-users. So, if we are to open up such a forum, we should encourage all people to refrain from giving solutions that involve coding. If there is not other way, then it is fair to state that though (and give pointers on how to do this). By scanning through that forum (once established) we'd have the chance to see what the minimum requirements for development training are for a person that wants to seriously customize their site..
As far as OpenAcs is concerned I firstly appreciate the fact that the code is open. I know this is trivial, but it doesn't stop me appreciate it. The fact that all seems to be script whether is sql, tcl, is also good. It allows me to see how stuff is put together and learn from it.
Yes, it is hard, I used to spend months just installing things but now I can do full system installation (operating system and all) in a matter of hours. And still I fell as if I am scratching the surface of what I need to learn. But that's the nature of things. I know that if I am to make a success of my web development skill I've got to master pretty much everything from scripting TCL and writting sql querries on the fly to backup solution, thin client set-up etc.
As far as posting on the forum is concerned, I also feel intimidated by the skill and depth of knowledge of some people here, but this only means that I have good models to follow which could only be good. While the indimation factor is real, I tend to just not bother too much about it. Yes it makes me think more before asking questions and sometimes I feel I am getting it wrong anyway, but at the end of the day what's the worse that can happen ? My post either gets ignored and some good-intended sould tells me to go and read stuff... which is also good.
I am, as well as you say to be, not a programmer. Education-wise I have finance background, albeit I was always attracted to the techie side of my profession.
While I would agree with you that running something like postnuke (ar most other LAMP-type solution) is easier, I would not go as far as to say that OACS has never been easy for a non-programmer. It has become (a lot) more difficult for a non-programmer in 4 and 5 incarnations, but 3.x was quite easy.
The general issue is that many of alternatives are wel-packaged things that one can either RPM or apt-get install, while it is generally not the case with at least 2 main componanets of OACS: AOL Server (in OACS-acceptable config) and the toolkit itself.
Yet even first time around, nearly 3 years ago, it has not taken me more than a day or two to get a 3.4 (I think) running under Vmware on Debian GNU/Linux (not even a recommended RedHat, mind you).
On your second comment -- I'd tend to sympathise with you more than on the first. I also feel that to wrap my mind around current toolkit I'd need to spend *a* *lot* more time on it than I can/have. I simply lack proper training/background to be efficient.
Lastly, on the newbie forum -- I amnot sure that it' such a goof ides. If anything, the forum you've posted into should be the noob one -- developers have a spearate OpenACS Development one.
I hope you can guys can post more. Please do not be intimidated.
To Any OCT (OpenACS Core Team):
I think getting newbies hopefully can be a real agenda. Maybe a forum perhaps. Or Q&A is clearly labeled to be user's forum and not just developer forum.
End users ususaly have relatively simple demands, that can be solved with default OACS tools, however, trying to find your way in the maze of options is a diffrent story. Thats not a hacker issue, but it's a creativity issue.
A simple example. Today I started building a businessplan module for a new project I am working on. Developers feel ëdit this Page 4.6" is not in a production state and needs a lot of enhancements. I agree to some extend, but, form my position, of haveing nothing, ETP works pretty well, if not perfect. The few errors I encounter are minor hick ups for now. In my experience this allwos me to do what I need, and I look forward to fancy enhancements. Working with the tool i might even discover a few things that could be added, but where never thought of, because nobody used the tool in a production environment.
The main problem of the toolkit is that for end users it's almost impossible to scale down, and decide what would be the most effective module to use for X task. That's not a development issue, but user experience. Developers usually have a diferent focus. In order for developers to come up with the ultiamte sollution, it often can pay of to enhance the quick and directy work arounds end user can come up with, because they havn't got any programming experience.
I am sure the way I use ETP right now, will motivate package maintainers to make some simple adjustments, and this will apply to all modules the more endusers are working with them. So end user is basicaly research I feel.
The point I am trying to make is that by changing the focus from development to end user, you solve one major prolmem of open source development I read recently. Most projects fail to deliver because there are no clients asking for specifics. Just like you have developers working on the kit, I feel we need to have playground of end users.
In my vision it should be a clean environement, with no reference to development issues discussed on OACS.org, other than a blog providing a daily update of important general developments, and reference to the apropiate sections of OACS.org.
This aproach will make it easier to find out what end users are looking for, and will ease barrier on posting on the main forum with the risk of being misunderstood. If you folks are ok, I will set up sub site on my server, provided get a write up on OACS.org.
I volunteer to act as editor for the time beeing.
a basic installation with everything under ETP and a frontpage including "chunks" from installed packages (latest news, random pictures, latest posts, rencommended book, ...) + 2 or 3 templates and we would have something enduser could use.
Add to that a forum to help the community fix thing not working and/or customizing.
And some simple howto articles so people interested to spend some time on oacs could start learning how to make small modification (still not meaning programation).
I'll get cracking and make a start tomorrow.
1. Permissions. The instance I am using was previously build for a network of PC service engineers, and we messed around with the permissions, and to be honoust got lost. i st here away to restore default permission settings?
2. Some descriptions may contain useless refernces to IWW and 3iii. They relate to the same inititive, now defunct. I need to find the easiest way to replace those references with : "Timedesk". Any thoughts how to sweep the installation and replace text? this is critical, as I am no longer authorized to use those names.
3. I am trying to concentrate on useful functionality, end users could be looking for. I added a number features in the playground, based on Oacs.3.2.5 to offer a general yet comprehnsive overview of options. In those cases I used /page module to incorporate the functionality in the index.
4. Next phase will be reference guides for:
- End user
I decided to use OACS, but have 2 choices. "Edit this page" or "Wimpy". Personaly I would prefer to use Edit this page, but the release I am using has a bug, which means I can only use the "new page" function.(so no option to use the sub topic) Who can help solving the bug? I understad developers use docbook, this is no option in a non techie environment. ( just mail mailto:email@example.com and i will give you admin authorisation).
5. I definately need to be able to use glossary in my further efforts. Unfortunatly my installation contains a bug. Any content entered in glossary is deleted within 24 hours. I reported this as a bug, but judging the reply it seems to be a local problem. Please can anybody help me solve this mess? A-Z categorisations is very effective in helping people understand the toolkit, and from what I have seen sofar Glossary is one of the most versatile modules of the system. I am realy disapointed that i can't use it.
To be continued...