Open Source Software: A Serious Option At Last?

January 24, 2010

Open SourceI am increasingly impressed by what open source (OS) software communities are offering. Not just in terms of the sheer range of applications, but by their quality too. That’s an observation vindicated by the recent award of DoD 5015.02 Records Management Certification¬† to Alfresco, according it the kudos of being the first open source product to demonstrate compliance with the strict DoD 5015.02 STD specification for records management. That’s a significant achievement even Microsoft can’t match.

If you visit the Mecca of OS developers, Sourceforge, you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of little niche applications of the sort often found on computing magazine cover-CDs, which will be of great use to some, but of no interest to most. But bear with them. Like any jumble sale or bric-a-brac market, you have to plough through the dross to find the jewels. One particular jewel I am playing with at the moment is VirtueMart.

VirtueMart is an OS online e-commerce application, allowing anyone to set up an online sales presence at an incredible level of detail and functionality. It runs under the OS Joomla! CMS, which in itself is a jewel. Although one has to give an equal plug to Mambo, the original OS CMS project from which Joomla! forked some five years ago. Both VirtueMart and Mambo utilise the LAMP development and deployment environment – Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP – although I’m using the Windows variant WAMP.

Why is this relevant to those interested in KO? Well, because I can’t think of any more complex real-world application requiring solid KO expertise than an e-commerce site. VirtueMart has to support and integrate:

  • vendor indentity and brand
  • product classes, categories, instances and descriptions
  • manufacturer information
  • site visitors
  • existing customers
  • product reviews by customers
  • multiple payment methods
  • discount & coupon schemes
  • ordering & order status reporting
  • multiple tax regimes
  • shipping methods & rates

All of these entities (if that’s the right term) have numerous attributes which need to be configurable, depending on what you’re selling. The VirtueMart developers, all of whom have given of their time and expertise freely, have done a really impressive job. Might they have done even better, I wonder, if KO professionals had been prepared to donate their expertise?

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In the course of sifting through Sourceforge, I discovered a number of applications relevant to KO. I shall be featuring these over the next few weeks in our KOOLTools section, as and when I have the time to test them. Bookmark it.

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Tags! and categories

September 29, 2007

Here is the ‘State of the Art’ at WordPress. Better late than never. It means that a whole world of millions of bloggers is about to discover the opportunities and dangers of first categorising and then classifying information. There should be lot of work for this community to do, starting with being exemplars. (Jan)

Not long after WordPress.com began we started calling categories “tags” in some places, most notably our global tags system.

However while our interface made it easy to add categories on the fly, many people were vocal in telling us that categories and tags were not the same thing, and eventually we figured out they were right. (Forgive us, we can be slow sometimes.)

What’s the difference between categories and tags, you ask?

As best as I can explain it, categories are things you create ahead of time and only have a few of. Imagine them like sections of your site. The signs on aisles of grocery stores. Tags are one-off keywords attached to a post. You may add a tag to a post that you’ll never use ever again. Categories are meant to be permanent, tags are ephemeral.

Of course that’s just the accepted usage, you don’t have to change a thing and are welcome to continue using categories as you have since you started your blog.

Before WordPress.com just supported categories, even though we called them tags sometimes, but some people used them as tags, including ourselves.

We’ve added real tagging now.

The new tags interface

Now, at long last, there are separate interfaces for categories and tags so you can use either or both as you see fit based on your personal tagging philosophy. Categories are where they’ve always been to the right of the text box, and you can add tags below the post as a comma-separated list.

This is just the first step, we have some pretty exciting tag-related things coming in the future, so stay tuned.