Forum OpenACS Q&A: Re: Some Feedback From an OpenACS Newbie

Posted by Mat Kovach on
I few comments:

``OpenACS seems to have an active developer community.  That is nice.''

OpenACS has had a very active developer community.  People have choosen to use OpenACS (and contribute to it) because of the design and software used.  Your next statement was not a good idea.

``I do not like that OpenACS uses AOLServer and PostGRE -- I'd feel more comfortable if Apache+MySQL were an option or the only option.  That would give a broader range of hosting options and would instill less fear of security and compatibility problems.''

What do you base this decision that Apache/MySQL should be an options?  Have you looked at the design of the system.  Do you look (or ask) why design decisions where made?  You also fail to mention that OpenACS can be used with Oracle.  MySQL simply does not have the functionality to be used with OpenACS.  Apache is misssing serveral features available in AOLserver that are required for OpenACS.  If you don't like this fact, then why consider the software?

``I hate Tcl, based on past experience using it, and I wish that OpenACS didn't use Tcl.  Also, the role of Tcl in OpenACS is not clear from the top level descriptions -- one probably has to either use OpenACS or read in some magic place in order to understand how Tcl is used in OpenACS.  Maybe a link from the front page at to a very high level architectural diagram would help with this.  Maybe there already is such a link and I didn't see it.''

I don't like PHP, but that doesn't mean that packages that use PHP are bad.  The role of TCL is defined by AOLserver.  There is no magic to it.  AOLserver is an application (and some might say an extention) of TCL.  That is one of the features of TCL.  Using TCL, AOLserver was created and OpenACS was built using that server.  This link is made clear by pointing to

Also remember you are telling people active in the development community that web server and language there are using is bad.  If you feel this way don't use the software.

``The site organization is a bit confusing.  I still don't see where I can try out OpenACS as an admin/content author without setting up my own site. This was the first thing I looked for, after the forums.''

OpenACS is really a toolkit.  There is very little way to demo the site but for the user to setup a site themselves.  The installation docs are very good and most people that spend a few hours researching it can install it in about 1-2 the first time.  In general this is my experience with most of the other CMS packages out there.

``The front page is too busy for my taste.  Also, I get the impression that the front page has a lot of redundancy.  For example there's a section, "How do I work with OpenACS", and there is another section, "About OpenACS".  The two sections are very similar and therefore confuse people (or at least me) who are looking for things in those sections.  Maybe these two sections could be combined.  In general I think the front page should be about half its current size, or less.''

I find the website no busier than other sites.  While I can undetstand that just about ANYTHING can confuse people.  There are two different sections because while they might have simular information, there are two different topics.  About OpenACS is about the software, while Working with OpenACS is about using the software.

``It might be nice to have an explicit statement at the bottom of the front page of the web site, saying that the site is in fact built using OpenACS -- I wouldn't assume that people realize this.''

I would assume that.  You can also look in the documentation site and view the documentaion 'for this installation of OpenACS'.

``Some of the other pages, including the forums, are much less busy, and I like that.  The site's color scheme is not too garish and I like that too.''

The site is only as busy as the site developers makes it.  Personally if find some of the internal sites a little too sparce for my test but the community content is there.  Since I don't develop the site I don't consider this an issue.

``This site is really slow.  When I post something in the forums, sometimes I have to wait up to a minute in order for the post to be stored.  When I search for something, it takes forever for the search results to show up.  Simple navigation around within the site also seems sluggish, although not as slow as posting in the forums.  Are all OpenACS sites so slow?  I am fearful that if I use OpenACS, my site will be as slow as''

I find extermely slow, does that mean every site running is slow? No.  The site is slow because of server problems.

``My first, probably uninformed impression is that the cookie security is unnecessarily complicated.  This makes it hard for me to determine whether the scheme is good and makes me distrust the security.  (Those are my reactions, justified or not.)''

Then take the time to userstand it.  Ask question if you must.  Distrusting things simply because you don't understand it is not a productive way to ask people questions about it.  Using this theory my mother would distrust the brakes on here car because the theory behind anti-lock brakes is a bit complicated for her.

``I do not like that has the user name and password sent in clear text (I started another thread about this).  I wish that it used JavaScript client and server nonces.  I do like that there seems to be a standard OpenACS solution for the cleartext name/password problem: having login information sent over SSL.  This is much better than requiring the entire site to be done over SSL, and much better than doing nothing.''

I don't like sites that use javascript, because I generally run browers that don't support it or disable it.  Using SSL is a less intrusive option.

``When I searched from the forums, I expected the search to be done only over the forums, not over the whole site.''

Granted that is an issue but most of the current content on the site is the forums.  This helps to provide the best possible information to a users query.

``I think that many new users are gonna be confused about the relationship between OpenACS and dotLRN -- it'd be nice to have a few words clarifying this when dotLRN is introduced on the front page.  Also, I could have sworn that somewhere I saw something that said that "dotLRN" was preferred, but I see ".LRN" all over the place at  (.LRN/dotLRN seems to me to be a terrible name.)''

There is a history between .LRN and OpenACS that still hangs around on the content.  This should be cleared up.

``You might change "Contribution Instructions" on the front page to "How to Contribute" or something that sounds a bit less demanding.''

Grammatically I find Contribution Instructions more pleasing.  Once again that is personal choice.

``I hate that when someone registers at, their email address is visible to the world and there is no way to change this.  I don't think it's anyone's business what my email address is.  If someone registers at, they have to worry about spam, and also about loss of anonymity.  Users could be allowed to contact each other without knowing each other's email address, by letting users send email from the site without knowing the destination address of the email.  Users could exchange email addresses later if they wanted.''

Where is the email address visable to the world?  The email address is visable to the community (a registered user).  This is part of a community site.  Your comments are based on speculation.  I know server people that setup openacs only email address and have not received spam from openacs harvesting.
But you failed to understand what OpenACS is about.  If you wish to change the rules on the site you are free to do so.  You have the code you can change it.  If you don't like the way YOU see the site don't sign up or use an invalid email address.  Just like any other site on the 'net.

``It'd be nice if the forums had a WYSIWYG editor.  I also miss an explicit "preview" option when posting.''

WYSWIYG editors are very browser specific.  I've never found one that works on lynx.

Preview options is a matter of choice.  You could always code that into OpenACS if you want it.

Your feedback is apperciated but I don't think you approached it correctly.  You commented that you don't like basically everything that makes OpenACS run.  You then make comments that are really related to your personal taste.  OpenACS may not be your cup of tea.  There are serveral Open Source CMS projects out there that might be better suited for you.  That is the beauty of Open Source, you have the choice.

Your comments seem more like a Linux users describing why they don't like FreeBSD.  Maybe you wording or writing style didn't come through but I fail to see where the community can benefit from your feed back.

Perhaps you might want to choose your comments differently and/or explain yourself better?