Bryan Ruby


Thoughts, Words, and Deeds

Creating E-government the right way

Computerworld and the National Policy Research Council (NPRC) recently completed a study ranking the Websites of state, county, and local governments on usability and other criteria. In the study, Michigan's site earned top marks.

According to the article, the "the e-government report card is based on an extensive examination of 11,227 official government Web sites." Sites were judged on 25 criteria, including "whether people could use them to pay taxes, bid for contracts, find government jobs and complain to local officials about concerns such as potholes." Also included in the article was a report card summarizing other top e-government performers among city, state, and local sites.

What separated the winners from the losers?

Getting eAccelerator 0.9.5 to run correctly

Over the weekend, I upgraded the server that hosts CMS Report with the latest stable releases of MySQL and eAccelerator. The upgrade from MySQL 4.1 to 5.0 was easy compared to the upgrade I made a year ago from MySQL 3.23 to 4.1. This time around I also have use of CPanel which meant I could make the database upgrade with at least one eye closed. My journey with upgrading from eAccelerator 0.9.4 to 0.9.5 however took a lot longer.

I've been using eAccelerator 0.9.4 since it was released early in 2006. I've gotten into some trouble in the past by those smarter than me when I tried to explain exactly what eAccelerator does and does not do. To play it safe this time around, I'll give you the summary of what eAccelerator does straight from eAccelerator.net:

SitePoint: I Have Never Met a Boxed CMS I Like

Wyatt Barnett in his Sitepoint article, "I've Never Met a Boxed CMS I Like" makes some very valid points about content management systems straight out of the box. Take note that he isn't just talking about commercial products but also open source systems. His first complaint about "boxed" CMS:

The first issue is that the very nature of a CMS is not easily boxable, without creating an application that tries to do everything for everyone and fails at doing most things particularly well. The tasks required for content management are generic, but every organization has a far different focus when it comes to how that content should be managed and how it thinks about that content. I have lost days of meetings trying to help subject matter experts understand that an article, according to this system, is really a page. Trying to make a generic application to handle this for all comers is a very, very tricky prospect.

Sadly, his post doesn't really offer a solution. I assume building your own CMS is the only alternative to the boxed version. But I have to ask, who really has the time? I think there are some obvious reasons you see so many capable software developers are using open source software such as Wordpress, TYPO3, e107, Alfresco, and Drupal for their Web presence.

Fishing with osCommerce

Dakota Angler

I'm finally down to just the finishing touches on that osCommerce project I mentioned about last month. The site is Dakota Angler, a fishing bait and tackle store, that finally is ready to sell their goods online.

What made the project challenging was that it already had a presence on the Web providing fishing reports, images of big catches by the customers, and an active forum. Having to integrate a new shopping cart around the old site in a way the client was comfortable took some effort. He wanted the online store, but he didn't want to change the existing site so much that he lost his current users or made it difficult for his employees to learn "everything new". There are some practical business decisions as to why you don't want to fancy up a "bait store" too much for the customers.

Just as challenging to work with was the choice of software for the online store, osCommerce. As I've mentioned before, I'm just a little surprised with how much work was required in hacking the core. In osCommerce, I found that the "boxes" and much of the other non-product content are stored in "flat files" and not the database.

Perhaps I have been spoiled by more modern content management systems out there where almost all content is stored in the database. In the CMS that I use today, if I want to add a "box" on my page, it just takes a simple couple clicks with the mouse in the in the administrative menu and the job is done. With osCommerce, you have to hack a couple files to get the job done. While modifying the files in osCommerce is not difficult for anyone with programming experience, it can be very difficult for the "average" client.

Perhaps IE7 is an improvement

I know giving Microsoft a hard time is everyone's best pastime sport, but perhaps IE7 is an improvement over IE6. While there have been some complaints about IE7 "breaking" sites...the uproar is a lot quieter than I expected. I had anticipated a little bit more from the general public. Also, it is also nice to note that IE7 isn't included in many of the "critical"updates that the rest of the IE suite are.

From the IEBlog:

This is a “Critical” update that applies to all supported IE configurations from IE5.01 to IE6 for XPSP2 and IE6 for Server 2003 Service Pack 1 except IE7 where the associated vulnerabilities do not affect this newer platform. As always, IE security updates are cumulative and contain all previously released updates for each version of IE. Read More...

By the way, the "uproar" from the enterprise may be quiet for a different reason. Many larger organizations have blocked IE7 from installing on their network until then get a better handle on what IE7 doesn't do that IE6 did do. At least that's what I did for my office...