Forum OpenACS Q&A: Re: Will Dr. OpenACS survive? Or why I stopped worrying and learned to love the .LRN consortium?
I am undertaking a project to develop a portfolio application for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sydney. I have considered looking at using Sakai/OSP for my project (and integrate it to our dotTeach program using web services), but after evaluating it for the last couple of weeks I am now in favour of developing an openacs/dotlrn solution.
I thought I might post my experiences with Sakai/OSP, as this thread is kind of heading in that direction.
Sakai has two forums for developers and users respectively. I have participated in the forums, and have found that there is very little activity. Questions are rarely answered, and there is no presence of core sakai developers. These two forums are accessible by the public. However, there are more forums that are only available to $EPP members. I am not a $EPP member as I don't have $10,000USD for such an expense.
So what does $10000 per year buy you in Sakai? More forums, which core developers *probably* participate in. Documentation that explains the sakai framework. Access to tools developed by $EPP members. So much for an "Open Knowledge Initiative".
I have to say that the OSP community is far more helpful than Sakai. However I don't know if this will change due to its integration with the Sakai framework. They may adopt Sakai's policies. In fact they are already considering a site redesign.
The OpenACS community is well established. There is a high volume of activity within forums. Questions get answered. Information is not restricted to members that have money.
There is a democracy within the openacs community. The steering committee are elected from openacs members by openacs members. This is not obvious in Sakai's community. They have a board, but they are made up of senior management from institutions that are $EPP members.
Development progress is heavily dependent on the $EPP members. If the funding dries up, then what will happen to Sakai? Sakai's community has not been tested for "survivability". At least OpenACS has... OpenForce once contributed a lot to the community. They no longer exist, but the community has strived and even flourished. I've noticed that some big names in OpenACS have kind of dropped off the radar recently, but who cares when others can step up and fulfil those roles as community leaders and knowledge experts... questions get answered.
If you can't contribute money to their cause, then they don't want to know you. That was my experience with the Sakai community. I spent some time porting the Sakai datamodel to Postgresql, cos I didn't want to use mysql. It wasn't hard, and I thought others in Sakai's community might find this work of some value. Well I am disappointed to say that I have not heard back from the community about wanting to support postgresql.
Lets face it, there is a bit of a learning curve that people new to OpenACS have to face to develop something useful. However new developers can get assistance from other openacs developers in the forums... questions get answered. This is not so with sakai. If you don't believe me then go to http://collab.sakaiproject.org/portal create an account and browse the forums. You'll find a lot of postings, but no responses. The chat site isn't much better, and can be summed up with this extract:
" (Feb 22, 2005 10:15 pm) : hello??
(Feb 25, 2005 10:47 am) : Clay! HElp!
(Feb 25, 2005 10:47 am) : have a quetion!
(Feb 25, 2005 10:47 am) : Help John / clay ! I have a question!
(Feb 25, 2005 10:48 am) : I am mailing to the mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org list (I think!) but I dont get any feedback. I dont know whats happening "
By the way that was not me *begging* for help. :)
I've tried sending email to mailto:email@example.com as well, but my emails get bounced. I know that the core developers participate in that mailing list, but a non-$EPP member cannot get access to that knowledge base.
Now what do you have to learn in OpenACS to develop something useful? Well there is TCL, Postgresql/SQL and the OpenACS framework.
In Sakai, there is Java, Hibernate, Mysql/sql, Struts, JSF, Spring, Velocity, CHEF framework, and the Sakai framework. There is a hell of a lot more to learn to develop something useful in Sakai.
The learning curve to me is far greater with Sakai, than OpenACS. Moreso because there is so much to learn with Sakai, and very little documentation or community assistence to reduce this learning curve.
Sakai haven't really implemented any IMS or SCORM specifications. They are working towards making their Tool Portability Profile (TPP) an IMS specification. I don't see what is so great about this, cos OpenACS packages do this quite simply. A package that I develop in OpenACS can be installed and mounted at any institution that uses OpenACS. This is what they are trying to achieve with TPP. Mind you there is no documentation on TPP made available to non-$EPP members, so developing applications that plug into Sakai requires a lot of reverse engineering and source code sifting. Also OpenACS has LORS, so OpenACS is one up in the specifications stake.
Sakai: Chat, email archive, discussion (basic forum), resources, web content (aka gate keeper in openacs).
OpenACS: Too many to list.
Now I have to say that I consider myself as a Java developer. All work that I have been paid for have been Java solutions, with very few paid openacs based jobs. So I was quite excited about using Sakai... because it is Java based. In fact that is what I think Sakai is all about... "excitement".
We've all heard that Sakai is a "$6.8 million software development project", and that there are high expectations for great things to come. So what? I've seen million dollar projects crumble and they have all been well documented (google "software runaways"), why would Sakai be any different?
Lets talk about OpenACS... what value in dollar terms can you place on the OpenACS project? I'm fairly certain that if you add up all the contracts that have used openacs as a solution (and contributed to openacs), then you'll find that OpenACS would also be a multi-million dollar project. Moreso when you factor in intangible assets like OpenACS's open knowledge base and the diversity of experience of members of the community.
So my evaluation has lead me to develop my portfolio application in OpenACS. Hopefully there is a need for a portfolio application in OpenACS and dotLRN. I'm sure there is, as there has been talk about it in back channels.
Feel free to post your experiences with Sakai. But in my opinion, unless you are a $EPP member, I would put Sakai on the backburner until they release something amazing.
You are right and wrong, but mostly right. Sakai has not yet commited to a full open source development philosophy (hence they have redefined the term 'community source' for their own purposes) and the project is midway. The intended new architecture is only now getting seriious attention after a period of merging features from the 4 schools into a CHEF-plus environment.
I agree fully that OpenACS can compete well. My remarks were intended to convey the areas in which I felt OpenACS/dotLRN could improve with reference to a concrete example.
I'll bow out with a reminder that many Universities do research (and other things) as well as teach and that a solution for all of the communities on a University will always be attractive. OpenACS/dotLRN has that potential, but I don't hear it discussed much in the forums.