March 2009

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One feature I didn’t see when testing beta Elgg 1.5 is the admin’s ability to set default widgets in both user profiles and dashboards. These tools, included in the Elgg 1.5 “full” package. Elgg adopters have asked for this feature since the initial release and there have been plugins that provided such functionality, but had to be configured by code.

The new functionality gives admins the ability to place default widgets in one of three columns in a format nearly identical to that the users see when they configure their widgets.

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This feature allows administrators to provide new visitors with configured profiles and dashboards  rather than the blank pages that many thought were confusing and unfriendly to new users.

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My search for a decent online word processor has led me to another potential solution: OpenGoo. OpenGoo is an open source web office suite that also has some characteristics off a project manager. Version 1.3 has just been released. It includes the following tools:

  • Word Processor
  • Presentation
  • Task Lists
  • E-mail client
  • Calendars
  • Web Links
  • Contacts

A spreadsheet is reportedly in the works. OpenGoo is installed on an Apache server and requires PHP5 and MySQL 4.1 +. It also requires InnoDB support. 

I had a great deal of difficulty getting OpenGoo up and running. First, I had to figure out how to enable InnoDB. If it is not enabled, you will need to edit etc/my.cnf deleting the line “skip-innodb,” then restart MySQL. If you are using a hosted account, your provider may not be willing to enable it for you. My second problem was that somehow OpenGoo does not play nice with the default Mod Security ruleset. I finally modified the Command Injection portion of the ruleset so that it no longer triggers my firewall.

Once all that was in place, installing OpenGoo was straightforward. You’ll need to create a database, upload the files, and browse to the opengoo/install directory. You will be prompted to fill in database information and create an admin account. Then, you are brought to a log in page. Once you log in, you are delivered to the Overview page:

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Since this is part of a search for an online word processor, that is what I looked at first.

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OpenGoo uses the FCKeditor that is commonly used as a text editor for the backend of many web based programs. The editor produces works with html files. It cannot open MS Word or Open Office files. It does work fairly well with word processors that can read and save html files. I was able to open and edit downloaded text files from OpenGoo with Word 04, the latest OpenOffice, TextEdit, and old versions of Pages (not versions 08 and 09) all on the Macintosh platform. In turn I was also able to create documents on my computer, save them as html, upload and work with them in OpenGoo.

I had better luck working with text across the various word processors than I had with eyeOS. I’m not sure that this was because it truly handles these files better, or because the documentation made it clearer what OpenGoo could or couldn’t work with. At least OpenGoo creates text filtes with a standard .html extension rather than .eyeos.

Like eyeOS, OpenGoo has a built in Presentation Editor called Slimey. Slimey is incredibly bare bones at Version 0.1. You cannot work with PowerPoint, Keynote, or Open Office files with it. I’m not sure how much further Slimey is going as it has almost been a year since it has been updated.

OpenGoo has a serviceable email client built in. Currently it only works with POP3 mail, but there are plans to develop the ability to work with IMAP and SSL giving it great flexibility. Once SSL capabilities are it may support Gmail.

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Open Goo as a number of features that one might find in project management software. It has a calendar component that allows individual users to confirm whether or not they can attend an event. There is a task manager that allows individuals to create and assign tasks, prioritize, track their progress, tag, attach objects, and track time spent on the task.

The administrative interface provides group and user management along with access control.

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It also allows you to enable and disable the various components, create workspaces, and more.

The installation requirements might make it impossible for many to set up. OpenGoo is clearly oriented toward the business environment. Some quick edits to the language files could change “companies” to classes or groups. There are a lot of features such as billing, that have no use in the school environment. It has good file upload and download tools that are a bit more obvious than those of eyeOS. While eyeOS is more attractive, OpenGoo generally has a more functional interface. While the word processor is a bit easier to use with regular word processors, it is still probably too difficult for student use. Access, group, and user control appears, at a quick glance, suitable for the K12 school environment. I think OpenGoo bears watching. I also plan on setting up accounts for my sons aged 10 and 13 to see how they respond to it.

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I continue to look for an online word processor that we could host from a server and dug up a few new items. One was eyeOS, a server based open source linux desktop with some bare bones applications. They describe it as a Cloud Computing Operating System.

eyeOS has no database so it only requires a server running php5. Get the package, unpack it on your computer and upload to the server. Alternatively, you can use SVN via ssh to transfer the files to the server. Next, browse to the eyeos/install and you get a very simple one step installer.

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Enter the password for root twice and enter a name for the site. You are also prompted to to allow or disallow public registration. The name and registration access can be changed easily after installing. Browse to your installation and log in.

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We have a desktop with a variety of tools:

  • Word Processor (of greatest interest).
  • Spreadsheet
  • Presentation Player
  • Calendar
  • Internal Messaging
  • A few games
  • Image Viewer
  • Browser
  • RSS Reader
  • FTP Client
  • Calculator

Other applications can also be added from the administrative interface.

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The Word Processor is the application of greatest interest.

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eyeOS sports a reasonably featured TinyMCE word processor with basic formatting that is certainly adequate for most purposes. The real test comes with transferring work to and from other word processors on local computers. eyeOS claims to support  OpenOffice and Word document formats, but to realize this, OpenOffice must be installed on the server and it must be properly configured. Many on shared hosting do not have this option. When I started to look at the scant documentation, my eyes glazed over and I decided that it was more than I cared to handle without blocking out a significant chunk of time for the trial and error that this would require.

With the basic set up, there are still some options. First of all, one could use the clipboard to move text to and from eyeOS.  Here are the results I got making a simple bulleted list In four Mac word processors: MS Word 2004, Pages 09, TextEdit (rtf mode), and the latest Open Office.

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None retained font characteristics. As you can see, the results are inconsistent. Using the clipboard to move test from eyeOS to local word processors does not retain text characteristics. It also converted the bullets to asterisks and converted the tabs into three spaces.

Attempts to upload and open a variety of word processing files and formats was fruitless. Files downloaded from eyeDocs are in html format. Word processors capable of working with html documents such as Open Office  can work with these downloads.

Another important feature is that the file may be stored and accessed on the server through eyeOS. There are options to both upload and download files through the file manager interface. There is even an ftp client that comes with the default installation.

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eyeOS also sports a simple RSS Reader with categories.

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In addition there are Administrative controls. This allows you to create groups and manage users in a rudimentary form. Members of groups have a common repository in which they can share files.

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eyeOS is an attractive functional package that I believe has potential for use in the K12 arena in the future. While I could make the word processor work across formats in make shift ways, it is too complex and finicky to use with students. Perhaps with better documentation I will be able to configure Open Office on my server to give it greater flexibility in working with various file formats. I’ll be checking with eyeOS regularly to see if there has been progress that will make it viable for school use.

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Elgg 1.5 has been released by Curverider. Over the past few days, Elgg’s revisions to their Subversion repository had slowed as they put the finishing touches on the new release. 

Elgg 1.5 is available as a package or from the subversion repository. This development means that I will return to my comparisons of Elgg and BuddyPress. It also signals developers, including myself, to update Elgg themes and plugins.

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Curverider released a second release candidate for Elgg 1.5 today. It can be downloaded as a tarball from their site, or you can get it from the subversion library. Release Candidate 2 brings about 40 new revisions to Elgg code since the release of the first Release Candidate last week.

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