Wednesday Mar 25 '09 re: Dries Buytaert on the Future of Open Source

(This post is in reply to one that Dries Buytaert wrote on OStatic.com)

I agree with Dries that Open Source CMS' are putting more power into the hands of people who may not know or want to learn code, and that as their learning curves get less steep we will see more people jumping into creating and growing their websites themselves; depending on the type of website they want to have.

We've of course seen the *huge* acceptance of wordpress for simple content publishing (read: 'blogging') amongst all sorts of people ranging from tech pros to near-luddites.  As people use more websites that have richer feature sets everyday they'll no doubt want to see the functionality of those sites in their own; for a while yet, though it may not require custom coding, I think the role of 'web master' or 'web developer' or whatever-you-want-to-call-them will be around for quite some time.

That role will continue to exist but may change to focus on conceptualizing the end result and making it happen with the right combination (and configuration) of 3rd party modules/extensions; whether through just hand-holding/teaching people wanting to develop their own sites or actually putting the pieces together themselves.

I'm really excited for Mark Boulton's redesign of Drupal 7; right now a major hindrance to non-technical people using Drupal is its stratified admin interface, which often leads to developers custom-creating UX per-project to suit each client's administrative needs.

To help people jump-start their web projects we've taken a hard look at another Open Source CMS called Joomla for example, and come up with a packaged solution called Seedling (http://www.plantseedling.com).

Seedling's distribution of Joomla is cool because it comes pre-configured and loaded with a suite of extensions and easily changeable theme; so people can develop their web projects a lot quicker and with more power under the hood.  Plus, it comes with optional email/ticket support - so new adopters of Joomla can get help when they need it.

Until core installs of Open Source CMS' are a lot more user friendly I think solutions like Seedling will really help bridge the gap for those folks who want to learn via DIY and/or can't afford the services of web developers.

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Monday Mar 23 '09JUMA online store now open

We just recently flipped the switch on a new online shop for our friends at JUMA - one of the premier Canadian fashion houses.

JUMA now sells pieces from their current and past collections for men and women through a storefront completely integrated with their Joomla-powered website (which we designed and developed for them back in 2007).

See it in action (and go buy some great clothes) at:

http://www.juma.ca

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Wednesday Mar 18 '09Seedling presents commercially-supported Joomla packages

At the end of last week, our Seedling initiative announced that we'd be focusing on providing support for Joomla through our distributions of it.

What this means is that now anyone can download Seedling's distribution of Joomla for just$49 and optionally choose to add 1 year of email/web ticket support for just $25/month.

Read more about this in the Seedling Blog.

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Friday Mar 13 '09Drupal peops @ drinks in Toronto

Okay okay, I've totally ignored this blog for ages - sorry y'all, been mad busy @ Design Guru lately with our launch of Seedling, an open source distro/support initiative. Our initial release is a package of joomla and you can read about it @ http://www.plantseedling.com

Anyhoo, until I get a second to drop word on some cool Drupal stuff I've been playing with (expect a few catch-up posts next week), peep these shots from drinks in Toronto tonight; walkah got a few of us together for pints cause Rob from Acquia was in town.

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Tuesday Feb 17 '09Announcing the release of Seedling

I'm pleased to announce the availability of our newest in-house project from Design Guru.  Its a distribution package of Joomla we're simply calling 'Seedling.'

Our aim with Seedling's distribution of Joomla is to make it much easier to get started using this great content management system.

We've been using Joomla for around 5 years now.  Ultimately, in that time its gotten so difficult for people to pick through the over-4000 3rd party extensions available that the Joomla learning curve has gotten too steep for a lot of people.  In my opinion, that's not cool - Joomla is a great piece of software, and I really want to see more people feel comfortable using it as soon as they start - not after months of pulling their hair out.

The distro is commercial GPL and we're keeping the price really low - its just $249 CAD per copy.  Non-profits + educational institutions get %15 off and all customers receive an automatic %20 discount if they're installing Seedling Joomla for 5 or more sites. 

You can find out a lot more about Seedling over @ http://www.plantseedling.com and through this walk-through video I put together last week.

* A press release of the announcement is attached in PDF form below the clip.

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Wednesday Jan 21 '09Upgrading our Why Joomla? blog

The World Wide Web is about 20 years old this year and since its inception has become increasingly complex on the whole, yet easier to interact with per interface/site - especially if you are a content producer/publisher.  Gone are the days of the 1990s when a website consisted of hand-coded HTML housed in many many seperate pages; more than ever before we are iiberated from needing to know how a system works in order to use it.

However, there do come times when the system needs attention; last week I began thinking about how best to approach a major software upgrade on our Why Joomla blog.  The [old] site was running an archaic and now redundant version of Joomla and, given that its purpose is to discuss best practice when using Joomla software,it needed a major overhaul.  Of course, anxiety buids when first-considering such an overhaul - you see, probably for the past 2 years I hadn't thought at all about the system which allowed me to post to whyjoomla.com and I was now faced with completely replacing it.

The scale of this upgrade was large because recently Joomla has been re-written from the ground-up; its core-team of developers have greatly improved the software's architecture and I was actually excited to take a stab at the upgrade, just so that once done, my workflow as a contributor to the site would be that much easier and more empowered.

As it turns out, my anxieties were somewhat un-warranted; through the process of discovering my best approach to the upgrade I learnt a lot quickly about my options and that it would take a lot less time that I expected. All-in-all, the migration from Joomla 1.0x to the new and improved 1.5 platform took just 2 hours!!  Though, I did speed things up by implementing a new packaged form of Joomla we're releasing soon under the 'Seedling' banner [check back here for more info soon!] - which gave me all the 3rd party tools such as commenting, pre-installed along with our lovely, very simple, new theme.

Increasingly, experiences like this one are suggesting to me that it is becoming easier to understand web systems/software and that on the whole, more end users will be able to get a higher level of functionalty/use from this.  I'll be reflecting on these notions over the next few weeks as we ramp up to releasing Seedling...

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Wednesday Jan 7 '09Cory Doctorow releases Little Brother

See video

Fellow Canadian, Boingboing co-founder and contributing Wired Magazine author Cory Doctorow has released a new book called Little Brother - like other science-fiction works of his, its been released both from TOR publishing as well as under Creative Commons license online.  Yup; you can download the book for free in formats like PDF - to bung onto your media player and read on the tube.

I've grabbed a copy online and am excited to read it soon, though it will actually be the first ebook I attempt to read on-screen and to be frank, I'm a little daunted by the prospect - may just end up buying a hard copy if I can find one in the shops [but, I *love* the choice to read it for free of course!]

The book was written in 2007 and is about a San Fransico based character who gets caught up in battling the Department of Homeland Security... Here's a clip with more info:

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Thursday Nov 27 '08The evolution of new web services companies

In the constantly evolving web services industry its hard so take a step back and switch focus from keeping abreast of technological advancements [in order to offer clients supercool new gizmos and feed an insatiable gear-whore craving to learn] in order to regain objective perspective on where your firm is going and what options you have to excercise experience and knowledge to create something other than for clients.

Though not obsessivly a fan like many web professionals, for about 8 years I have been keenly watching the evolution of 37signals - a Chicago based firm now known internationally for their suite of web tools including Basecamp [a simple project management software that has become an almost-utility in the industry].

If you ask the majority of their customers, 37signals is simply a company run by passionate individuals [founder Jason Fried has given numerous Steve Jobsian talks at tons of conferences, campuses etc...] who want to make working easier using the web.  However, the company hasn't always been a software company - and their understanding of making applications that work well is rooted in experience streamlining web-design process.

Having just jumped onto archive.org's wayback machine to see whether there's a trace of how 37signals has evolved, I was pleasantly surprised to see extensive archival of their [static] site circa early 00's.  In fact, if I'm reading the URL correctly, even as recent as 3 years ago, the firm's main offering was not software but design and redesign services.  in 2005 their rate sheet saw 3 services priced between $7,500 and $15,000 to not create dynamic sites employing databases and scripting languages, but basic html/xhtml pages empliying clean, simple user interfaces.

If you visit 37signals.com today you'll see their McDonalds-claim of over 1,000,000 people subscribed to their software services [they dont sell software but provide it as a monthly subscription service] and its neat to see this hallmark of their success - both in terms of making more money [assumedly ;) ], and being now in a position to apply the years of experience/knowledge they gained from working almost exclusively [re]designing web interfaces.

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Sunday Oct 26 '08YUI Editor - a simple and easy WYSIWYG

Quite frankly, implementing WYSIWYG editors (and choosing the right one) for Drupal websites has been a pain in the ass the past few years.  For a while I bounced between FCK and TinyMCE - both integrated in the right fields fine and played well with IMCE for image uploads, but I remember finding their markup dirty (lotsa br tags etc..) and clients getting quite confused with line breaks in the editor not being truly mirrored on live content.  Of course, some of this is due to configuring Input Formats properly, but then there's also general interface and aesthetic issues with those mentioned editors.

Recently I've begun implementing HTMLbox on a bunch of sites - its simple, seems to markup html pretty well, and affords site users the basic buttons for simple formatting and link embeds [look out for a more in-depth review soon].  However, one downfall with it is a reliance on IMCE for facilitating embedded image uploads.  For anyone who's ever used IMCE, you'll know how confusing it can be for anyone unfamiliar with inline editing - though it integrates with the editor, its interface is still seperate and requires a lot of styling effort to pretty it up etc...

So, though HTMLbox is pretty nice, I've really been looking for an editor which installs light and easy *and* offers the ability to upload images inline - whilst editing a piece of content.  Added bonuses are future scalability and options for extending editor functionality to include things like seamless Flickr image and Youtube video embeds.

Guess what?
  I found all that in YUI Editor - a module for Drupal which lets you use the Yahoo User Interface Editor within your own site.  I highly recommend installing it and playing around; you'll be using it in no time and find that all the basic functions are there... though as Nick Lewis recently blogged, there are downsides with this Drupal implementation limiting the extensibility of the editor. 

Personally, I love the embedded image handling with YUI Editor but hate how it offers a very basic, Wordpress-esque, feature set - ultimately, there is no imagecache-style on-the-fly image sizing/thumbnailing, rotation etc...  However, as you'll be using the YUI module in order for the Editor to work, your sites can now benefit from other Yahoo User Interface widgets like their Calendar and html button override.


(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)

Wednesday Oct 22 '08Machines may speak english but they aren't human

A few days back I was trying to book a flight on Porter Airlines - a small airline which flies out of the only downtown airport here in Toronto.  After hearing rave reviews of their excellent in-person service, I was absolutely shocked at how badly their poorly built website reflected such reviews.

After spending nearly an hour trying to submit site registration and payment processing forms across two browsers (Firefox and Safari on a Mac) to no avail, I threw up my hands in dispair and attempted to simply book over the phone or at least let the supposedly good fellows @ Porter know their website is broken and won't communicate this to me in a simple message I can understand; instead forcing me to figure out nuances of its irregular behaviour through not blatantly appearing disfunctional...  Well, they don't operate as late as I was awake trying to solve this issue (11PM-ish) and only have a contact form without a field for attachments - so the screenshots I tried to send them to help them diagnose their web problems couldn't be sent!!!  Read more »

(Written by Qasim - Principal/Founder @ Design Guru)
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