Tag Archives: Open Source

(Not) All Quite on the Western Front

It’s been over two years since I last wrote here but that’s not because I’ve not been busy. In fact, I’ve never been busier! Professionally a lot has changed since July 2019. The most important change was my decision to close Fresh Web Services and start work as Community Manager at Alfresco.

Alfresco is an open source document management system, with a free Community Edition and a paid Enterprise edition. I started working there at the back end of 2019, tasked with rejuvenating their community. It was difficult but also great fun, and I found myself working with some exceptionally bright people during some incredibly turbulent times – what with the pandemic and then the purchase of Alfresco by the much larger Hyland Software.

After almost two years as Alfresco Community Manager, I left to become Head of Community at Snowplow Analytics. This again has been an exciting challenge, as I look to build out a team and strategy to grow our community and to consolidate our open source offering. Once again I’m surrounded by brilliant people and a really supportive leadership team.

So, as we approach the end of 2021, I’m looking forward to the challenges of the coming year and hoping that 2022 is better for all of us.

Season’s Greetings to you all.

Govt Considers Open Source – again

The Guardian recently reported that Bill McCluggage of the Cabinet Office met with ICT suppliers and that he,

emphasised that the government wishes to see the industry offer more solutions based on open source, and listed a number of approaches that it expects it to follow. These include: evaluating open source solutions in all future proposals; including open standards and interoperability as key components in IT systems; and moving towards the use of open source as normal practice.

Will this make a real difference to the SME market? Well, my Leicester web design company is currently working with two district councils implementing a joint intranet using Joomla! They already use Drupal to power their website & plumped for Joomla! for the intranet to save even more money. We’ve also implemented Joomla! websites for a number of Probation Trusts.

So, some local government and public bodies are certainly willing to go down the open source route. But there are compromises that taking this road sometimes entail. Few Open Source content management systems will offer the same level of functionality that the high end enterprise level systems often offer. They can be added, like workflow in Joomla! or snapshots & rollback in Drupal, but these rarely come out of the box.

I recently read a tender document from another district council for a new CMS. Looking at the “Highly Desirable” list of functionality, it had the appearance of a requirements document that was written several years ago, when money was relatively plentiful. It is certainly not a “austerity” shopping list. As it stands, I don’t know of a single Open Source CMS that could meet these requirements “out of the box”. So, this district council will either have to buy a commercial package or pay for someone to heavily customise Plone, Drupal, Joomla or ….. (add your favourite Open Source CMS here). This could even make Open Source as expensive as a proprietary solution to deliver.

Perhaps a better way round now would be to employ someone to investigate what an Open Source CMS can deliver, and then negotiate the requirements in the light of what is available. As part of this process, the people responsible should also employ the red marker pen more judiciously. For example, instead of insisting that the CMS pre-checks content for accessibility before publication, they should ensure that editors are trained to write accessible content (one of the “Highly Desirable” functions referenced above). Technology is always a poor substitute for personal responsibility.

So, Open Source can be a viable option for local and central government, but they need to cut their clothe accordingly. Only then will the SME market stand a chance of delivering cost effective solutions. Otherwise I fear that it will be the big consulting firms who will deliver Open Source to government, with a price tag that benefits only themselves.

Magento – multi currency display

Magento has multi currency capability built in. When it is configured and enabled, your customers will see a currency drop, like in the image below:

Magento multi-currency drop down
Magento multi-currency drop down

Where the currency drop down is displayed is determined by your template.

However, you won’t see the currency select control if you haven’t actually imported your currency exchange rates. You import your currency exchange rates within the Magento administration ui, under System/Manage Currency Rates. There you can use the “Webservicex” webservice, see below:

Magento - manage currency rates
Magento – manage currency rates

Only after these rates have been imported and saved will your customers be able to see the select currency control.

So, if you’ve setup multi-currency within your shop but the currency drop down is not visible on the front end, first make sure that you have actually imported and saved your currency rates.

MatrixRate Premium csv file

Magento – no shipping quote message

This is a common problem that gets raised in the Magento forums. You’re testing your checkout & when you select your shipping or delivery country, Magento responds with the message something like, “No shipping quotes are available for this country…”

This happened to me the other day. So, I checked that the country is question was one of those ‘allowed’ shipping countries, in both the default and store config. Still no joy. So, I then checked that this country was also enabled in the ‘Table Rates’ shipping method, & that this shipping method was enabled – all good but still no joy.

It was then that I twigged that my ‘Table Rates’ csv file was empty! Only after I’d exported my Table Rates csv file did I realise that I had not set up any actual values for the ‘Table Rates’ – doh! Adding these values & then uploading the csv fixed the ‘issue’.

You should also note that if  you ship using “weight vs destination” & the weight of an order is lighter than your minimum shipping weight, then you’ll also get the same ‘error’ message.

Ebay + Joomla = trend?

Ebay has announced that it has elected to use the open source Joomla! CMS (content management system) to launch a community portal as part of eBay’s internal analytics platform.

The press release continues, “Known as “community analytics,” the initiative will be accessible by eBay’s 16,400 employees, and will incorporate social aspects of active collaboration, including content creation, sharing and open discussion. Joomla CMS supports eBay’s expansion of community-oriented knowledge sharing and information discovery.”

This announcement of a large corporation electing to use Joomla! follows closely on that of Tesco’s news that it too is using Joomla! to power an employee training application. Tesco hopes that its Academy Online Joomla! application will eventually serve some 400,000 employees worldwide.

Why are two large, multi-national companies selecting Joomla! to power these staff applications? Well, reduced cost is obviously a key factor – cost of development, cost of ownership, opportunity costs, etc, are all reduced when using a widely used and tested open source platform.

Another factor is the number of “off the shelf” extensions available to the Joomla! platform. These again reduce costs and also demonstrate the potential of the platform.

A final factor may be that business is finally ‘getting’ open source. And as one big name after another chooses the platform, it makes it easier for others to do the same.

However, has the public sector ‘got’ open source yet? Sometime ago my suggestion that a county council should use Joomla! to power its intranet was laughed off by their intranet project manager, with the response that Joomla! was fine for ‘mom & pop’ websites but not for something as ‘mission critical’ as the council’s intranet. It seems Tesco & Ebay know something this individual didn’t.

Recently though, we have been involved in exploratory discussions with a British public sector organisation to provide shared services for regional staff using Joomla! as the platform. Still early days but the promise to improve on their existing situation while reducing costs has certainly got their interest. So, it may just be that circumstances are forcing open source onto the public sector agenda.

Saving Money – Public Sector Procurement

George Osbourne has sounded the clarion call to slash public sector spending. In those ‘non ring fenced’ departments, savings of up to 25% are being demanded. Having worked within the public sector (local government) I know there are savings there to be made. I also know how real savings could be achieved – by radically reforming a public sector procurement process that increases costs for no benefit at all.

I have had the frustrating experience of tendering for public sector contracts, where the whole process seems to drive up costs, a sort of unintended consequence of a ‘compliance’ culture, where individuals appear more concerned to cover their backs than to make a decision. The result is that procurement officers place almost impossible barriers to entry to smaller and possibly cheaper suppliers, with demands that only larger and more expensive companies can comply with. For the procurement professionals, the result is that whatever the outcome, they escape blame because they appointed the best/most expensive supplier and its really not their fault if such a reputable company fails to deliver.

Let me give you a recent example. A police authority in central England publish a PQQ for a content management system (cms). They are not a large organisation and their requirements are rather simple and run of the mill. A small, local company might prove to be an ideal supplier. However, the PQQ states that prospective suppliers must have delivered 5 ‘large scale’ cms implementations within the last three years.

‘Large scale’ must imply contracts of at least £100,000 plus, yet their own requirement is not ‘large scale’ – Joomla!, Drupal or Alfresco, at a push, would suffice. Few small companies will have that sort of portfolio, otherwise they will have ceased to be a small company. Straight away these procurement professionals have ensured that this project is going to cost far more than it should.

Prospective suppliers must also have public liability insurance to the value of £10 million! I mean, how much damage could a bodged cms implementation do? This cms is not going anywhere near sensitive information, so why such an exorbitant insurance demand? Once again, the procurement process is upping the costs, for no real benefit at all (except for the procurement professionals, who now have a large scale public sector procurement on their CV).

Cynical? Possibly, possibly not.

How much?!

How much does free cost?

When discussing intranets and website proposals with clients, Microsoft’s Sharepoint 2007 (or 2010) is often cited by the client as an option. Afterall, the argument goes, they already have a licence since they bought xyz business servers some time ago. Well, yes and no. To use your Sharepoint 2010 as an intranet, you require the Client Access Licenses (CALs), which are only included in the Enterprise Agreement from Microsoft.

Often then, clients are surprised to hear that they don’t, in fact, usually have a licence to deploy Sharepoint as an internal website, let alone as a public facing website. The next question is then, ‘How much are the additional licences’?

Well, that’s a difficult question to answer, not least because the answer is dependent on a number of factors, in part upon the client’s relationship with their Microsoft reseller. Licence costs are notoriously opaque. This is not an unusual situation – ask an Oracle customer! However,  recent postings have gone some way to letting us bench mark potential costs of using Sharepoint 2010 to power a public facing website.

For a standard licence, the upfront cost is between €5,000-9,500 per server, with a 25% annual Service Assurance (SA) if you want to be able to upgrade, etc. So, for a 3 server farm, on an internal facing website (say intranet), for 1,000 users (for which you need CALs), the upfront, one-off cost would be around £66,000.

For an enterprise licence, the costs are somewhere between €20,000-32,000 per server, plus the 25% annual SA, plus the licence of the FAST search server licence (c. £14, 000). If you do want to deploy more than one server (and you do), then the costs rise accordingly. Bakker suggests that a 3 server farm, for a single public facing domain, would cost in the region of £68,000 (I’m not sure what the costs would be if you wanted to run multiple domains off your Sharepoint 2010 installation).

Suddenly, free has become very expensive! This is of course before you even begin to factor in the other costs (design, development, support, training, etc). The costs can be dramatically reduced using an Open Source solution – the software is usually licence free and the servers tend to be cheaper to purchase and service, and using cloud services can help to reduce costs further.