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Goodbye phpGroupWare

I am writing this post with a strong sense of sadness. At the same time I feel that I have no other option. I am walking away from phpGroupWare.

Before I walk out the door, lets go for a trip down memory lane. Insert tacky music wavy lines down the screen and bad hair styles from here on in.

I think the first time I heard Linux mentioned was in 1996/97. In 1999 I had my first experience with Linux, through an anarchist friend, I was very curious, but didn't have much of an opportunity to play with it.

In 2000, over a few months I started to play with Linux and GNOME dual booting my machine. I could never really make it do what I wanted, but I persisted. The first version of Linux I bought was Macmillan Linux 6.5 - I still have it in a cupboard somewhere. I then moved on to Red Hat 6.2.

In 2001 Julie's work was sick of waiting for their shared calendar solution. I was contracted to install it. They had an NT4 box running Lotus Notes, which no one wanted to touch - including me. I found phpGW by searching (probably "yahooing") for "open source groupwise". I would later discover I had embarked on an epic journey. I knew of open source, but I didn't know a lot about it. PHP seemed pretty cool, as did phpGroupWare. I recommned they get a new server - a good one, dual PIII-800s, RAID-1 and Linux, it cost over $3000. I learnt a lot on that box including basic Linux sysadmin, compiling stuff from source and what happens when you forget to update lilo. Today that server lies idle in a cupboard in my office.

Very quickly I became involved in the phpGroupWare commununity. By 2002 I considered myself active and later that year I was promoted to release manager. By 2003 I had landed my first overseas gig indirectly through phpGroupware. By now I felt very strongly that I was a free software developer. 2004 saw the EGroupware.Org fork, or as I still like to refer to it, the EGO fork. This did considerable damage to the project and sucked a lot of life out of it.

Since then the project has done some cool things, but struggled to get a release of trunk for over 5 years. There are some really smart people around the project, but none of us seem focused to shipping a product, and I think we all have different ideas of what that product should be. I have met many awesome people over the years, include the Paris conference in 2006.

It is now late 2009, I have 2 kids and a growing business. PHP 5.3 is out and we are still trying to port to PHP5. There are many solid application frameworks around - my personal favourites are Zend and Drupal. Both of these projects have large developer bases, active communities, clear development processes and documentation, phpGroupWare fails on each count.

The project has exposed me to so many great people and ideas. These things will stay with me for the rest of my life.

If anyone is to take over phpGroupWare, my first suggestion would be to start over. Clearly define a purpose for the project, define a target market, build a product which fits that purpose and appeals to that market. Such an approach will involve a significant investment of resrources. I just can't commit any resources to the project at this time. If things change I may come back one day, but now things feel too far gone.

As much as I hate to say this, I think phpGroupWare is a dead project. I feel that it is time for me to move on. I will make myself available to assist with any handover or shut down of the project.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to making phpGroupWare such a great project over the years. It was fun while it lasted.

Brotherhood Books Launches - Giving Books a Second Chance

In late 2008 I worked on building an online second hand bookstore for the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Today Brotherhood Books was launched by comedian and writer Corinne Grant, at the Sacred Heart Primary School in Fitzroy. I'm hanging out for Corinne to publish her short story about the snot eating witch.

Brotherhood Books is a really exciting project, it allows people who can't access bricks and mortar second hand book stores to access quality second hand books at good prices. All of the profits from the service flow directly back to Brotherhood programs and services. Before this project I thought the Brotherhood ran a few big Opys and gave out some food vouchers. They do a lot more than that.

I have been to the East Brunswick warehouse a few times to meet with the workers to discuss how the platform is working and what can be done to improve it. Most of the Brotherhood Books workers are volunteers, who are trying to get some experience so they can enter or return to the workforce. They all seem to really love their books.

The identity, webdesign and initial marketing material was done by imageffect.com.au. The platform is built using Zend Framework, where possible we used off the shelf libraries, but there is a large amount of original work. The cataloguing functionality is pretty slick, almost all of the books are catalogued by volunteers scanning a barcode, entering a condition and adjusting the system recommended price and it is done. Yahoo's YUI Toolkit provides most of the AJAX yummy-ness for the volunteers, while most of the data is pulled from Bowker's web services.

Brotherhood Books has over 30,000 items for sale, and growing every day. So far over 45 tonnes of books have been saved from going to landfill!

If you have some spare books to donate to the Brotherhood, they have many ways of accepting donations.

At the launch today there was some media present, and someone from the BSL was interviewed by Red Symonds on 774 ABC Melbourne.

Many of computer books are dated, but they still make for fun reading, These days I have several titles from the Brotherhood on my bookshelf - including a mid 90s guide to cracking.

Go check it out and buy a book so you can claim you were there at the start.

Yes I am doing the hard sell on it, but I have been waiting since the soft launch earlier this year to be able to promote it widely.

Missing Software Freedom Conference Kosova

Today I should be in Prishtina Kosovo running Drupal workshops at the first Software Freedom Conference Kosova. Unfortunately due to work and family commitments I had to decline the invitation. I hope to make it there next year.

I will also be missing out on DrupalCon Paris next week too.

Sometimes it sucks to be in Australia, especially when Europe is so far away and so many cool things happening there too.

Back Blogging Again

Bless me internet for I haven't blogged, it has been 274 days since my last post.

I have wanted to blog, but I kept on finding excuses to avoid it - need to upgrade the software, need to finish x, y and z, need to focus on projects a, b and c etc. One of the main reasons is that I have been too lazy to put the effort in. I find it takes time to think of what to blog and then to bash it out, refine it and post it. When I have had the time to put that effort into my blog, I haven't had the inclination.

While things have been quiet here, I have microblogging using the open source laconica platform through identi.ca, which also posts to StixCampNewstead.

More recently I have been working with a client in France who has some serious collaboration requirements. At last count they have almost 2100 instances of drupal running. This has involved a lot of work, and some travel. I will blog about this project soon - it is pretty awesome (even if I say so myself).

We have built a small drupal powered site for a local assest management consulting business. They are very happy with the results. Now their customers just log in to download the software. Everything was off the shelf drupal - except for the theme and a 60 line custom permissions module.

We have built the Newstead community website using drupal. It still needs some polish before final launch. The community has been heavily involved in the development of the site. So far over 30 locals have been trained in maintaining their page/s on the site. There is no "webmaster", each local business and community group will maintain their own content

A couple of months ago I/we joined the drupal association. One day the buttons will be added to the site.

Where to next?

I plan to blog more about projects I am involved in. I also plan to switch this site to drupal 7 as close as possible to the release date - it looks like others will be switching too. Next week I will be commencing the build of the Newstead community wireless network.

Watch this space, lots happening - including more frequent updates from here on in.

Updated IMCE plugin for Drupal YUI Editor

My IMCE plugin for YUI Editor has been included in drupal CVS and the 6.x-2.33 release. Now I can claim to have code included in an official drupal release, ok it is a small plugin for a contrib module, we all have to start somewhere.

The version included in Drupal only supports YUI 2.5.x as the API has changed in 2.6. I have a new version which supports 2.6.x, but it has a layout bug, so I won't be submitting it until this bug is fixed. If you can tolerate the visual bug or want to help fix it, grab the lastest version of the IMCE plugin for Drupal's YUI Editor. Use the same installation instructions as last time.

Feedback welcome.

Open Letter to Senator Stephen Conroy on the state internet access in Australia

Hello Senator,

I have recently relocated my IT business from outer metropolitan Melbourne to country Victoria. The state of the internet in this country is a joke.

A professional associate of mine in Paris has access to 100Mbps down and 10Mbps up unlimited fibre. This costs him 45EUR p/m which includes line rental for a POTS equivalent phone service and basic cable TV. Setup is throw in if you take it for 1 or 2 years - he couldn't remember the term of the commitment.

I have a contractor in Hong Kong who has access to a network many times faster than people living in similar conditions in Melbourne.

In Tecoma I had access to business grade Naked ADSL2+ for $85 per month with 25G of data and a fixed IP address. Not included in the download quota was access to streaming radio, Linux and other Free/Open Source software (and some not so free), and some ABC content. If I exceeded my quota I would be shaped. The setup fee was $129. With this service I could use a high quality VoIP service for cheap calls overseas, where some of my clients and contractors are located.

Now I am living in country Victoria I am unable to even get ADSL1 - despite being informed by Telstra on 2 occasions that it was possible - "it won't be a problem just call us once you move in".

I am now stuck with a very sub optimal solution.

I am using currently using 2 HSDPA modems on the Optus network with directional antennas. During the week at best I can get 1.5Mbps/150kbps from each link. Each service has a 6G usage quota for $50p/m each, with excess usage charges of $153.60 per Gb (or 0.15c per Mb). All traffic is counted (both up and down).

The Optus network is stretched and even worse on weekends and evenings. The service is also unsuitable for VoIP, so I have to pay more for my calls too. Optus doesn't offer fixed IP addresses or an accurate tool for measuring usage. In every way their service is inferior to ADSL.

The equipment I used to set this up properly cost me close to $1000. I also spent several days setting it all up and paid for professional assistance with the project. As the service is not eligible for the Broadband Guarantee scheme I have to wear these costs as part of running a business in a rural area.

Satellite is completely unsuitable for my business due to the latency, slow speeds and a requirement of a minimum 2 year commitment. The claim that satellite offers a "metro-comparable level" of service is laughable - 1024/256kbps with 5G of data for over $100 per month and a $3000 setup fee is extortion.

My only other option is Telstra's Next G service which requires a 3 year commitment and costs considerably more than the similar service from Optus.

I am located near Newstead, less than 2 hours drive from the centre of Melbourne, not 200kms west of Uluru. I expect that I should be able to get reliable phone and internet services at reasonable prices with a choice of carriers. Based on my (somewhat limited) knowledge of the area less than half the connections from the exchange here can access ADSL. The current situation here is reliable, value for money or available - pick 2.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that many businesses in rural areas are constrained by the lack of quality data services in their area. The lack of proper broadband services in rural areas must cost businesses millions of dollars every year. Local economies also suffer as people are unable to establish businesses which rely on reliable and affordable internet access and so the jobs and investment goes to the larger regional centres or metropolitan areas.

Based on overseas trends the National Broadband Network will be out dated before it is finished. Even with 98% coverage some 400,000 people in Australia will not have access to reliable high speed internet services.

Instead of wasting money on an filtering system which most people don't want, will slow down access and has the potential to cause major head aches for system administrators (not to mention making us an international laughing stock), you should consider investing in the future of rural and regional economies by giving us access to high quality, high speed internet services. My views of the filter scheme are best summed up by a comic.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing about how you plan to fix the state of internet access for tech businesses based in rural and regional Australia.

Yours Faithfully,

Dave Hall

Managing Director

SKWASHD SERVICES PTY LTD

YUI Editor + IMCE for Drupal 6

Update: This has now been included in the 6.x-2.33 release of Drupal's YUI Editor module and I have added support for YUI 2.6.

Earlier today I finished off another Drupal based site. The client was pretty happy with it. Once they launch I will probably post a link.

The client came back to me and asked how they could insert images using the RTE. Based on some positive reviews I used the YUI Editor module this time around, instead of FCKEditor or tinyMCE for the rich text editor. The YUI Editor module doesn't support file browsing. I tried to see if someone had already hacked something together for this, if they had I couldn't find it.

In the past I have used the IMCE module for image browsing and uploading in FCKEditor or tinyMCE. Adding IMCE support to the YUI Editor module seemed like the fastest solution.

So here it is - the IMCE based image browser plugin for YUI Editor on Drupal 6.

Here is a quick howto. Install the YUI Editor and IMCE modules into your Drupal 6 install. Save the plugin tarball into your modules directory above the YUI Editor module and extract it. You should now have 2 extra files yui_editor/plugins called img_browser.inc and img_browser.js

Feel free to leave comments about how well this works for you. Enjoy!

We've Gone Green

Well Green Gully to be exact. Last month we relocated from Tecoma.

Where is Green Gully you ask? It is near Newstead - a little town down the road from Castlemaine, which is near Bendigo. If you want to come and visit from Melbourne it is about 1.5 hours drive from the Airport or 2 hours from the CBD.

I now work in a mudbrick house, with bottled gas, tank water and mains feed Green Power. The plan is to eventually convert the garage into an office, but this will take some work. For now just the servers live in the garage. The office still isn't fully setup, but it is getting there - all the important stuff is working.

Connectivity has been a challenge. I now have a pair of Optus e169 HSDPA modems giving me internet access- most of the time. I plan to blog about my setup when I get some time. I hope to start blogging more about bush tech - time permitting.

I will still be travelling for work, be it Newstead, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Ballarat, Melbourne, nationally or internationally. If you have a project you wish to discuss with me, just contact me.

Howto get a Public IP on Vodafone's 3G Network in Australia

Vodafone in Australia offers a pretty good mobile data plan - 5Gb for $39.95 per month. They have recently upped the price to $49.95 p/m.

Unlike 3, vodafone doesn't offer a public IP addresses to their "mobile broadband" customers. Vodafone pitch this as a business product. I don't agree with it, but I can see how you could justify only offering a NAT'd IP address when using your handset to access the internet or maybe even as a tethered modem. Such logic can't be sustained when offering a HSDPA modem as a "mobile broadband" service. If it is mobile "broadband" then it should be similar to a fixed line broadband service.

After discovering VF only offer a handful of gateways for their data customers, I tried finding out about getting a dynamic public IP address.

To cut a long story short, after 4 calls to data support, and about the same to corporate support, I was at a dead end. Consumer data support told me that I needed to talk to Corporate data support, who wouldn't talk to me as I wasn't a corporate customer.

Eventually I gave up and called the TIO, who, as always were great. I then called the Vodafone complaints team who struggled with all the details of broadband, public IPs, gateway IPs, various service acronyms and the terms which I had agreed to.

After a few more phone calls and waits I was finally awarded my dynamic static IP address. They add something to your account to give you access to the full access APN which gives you a public IP and no port restrictions. For the record the APN is "internet", instead of the normal "vfinternet.au", but this won't work unless VF enable it for you. I some how think Vodafone award access as a prize for persistence.

I did a quick check on the vf.au site again tonight and it seems the small print is the same, so if you sign up for the service I think you have good ground for getting a public dynamic IP like I did. It will just take jumping through a few hoops.

Update: The title should have read public not static IP.

We're Growing and Hiring

Dave Hall Consulting has been growing strongly. We currently have a couple of contractors working on various projects. We are about to commence a significant new project and so need more hands on deck.

We are not looking for website developers. If you are a web application developer with at least 2 years commercial PHP experience looking for contract work, email your resume to jobs@davehall.com.au. Make sure you include links to code you have worked on.

You should have FOSS development experience, although some of the work will be proprietary client systems, they will be built on top of FOSS stacks. We are based in Melbourne, but the current team is distributed, so telecommuting is fine. Experience with cross platform JS and CSS is essential. Knowledge of Zend Framework, PHPUnit and YUI are preferred. We value elegant quality solutions, as should you. A good grasp of written and spoken English is a must. Pay, hours and term of contract are all negotiable.

Update: The job has gone. We have one new contractor starting today and another will be starting work on small projects soon.