Browse Author by RichardHeigl

BlueSpice Featurelist 2016 online

Yesterday we published a new feature list. It was necessary to record the latest extensions. But we used the opportunity to mention a lot of important features that BlueSpice with MediaWiki as basis technology automatically includes: for example security features, many reporting functions and mobile device support.

These features have been neglected in the past, despite the fact that they show that MediaWiki is the leading system for collaborative knowledge systems for good reasons. Hallo Welt! assumed that these features are well known. Now we wanted to show that BlueSpice already includes in its standard what others advertise as an extra.

There are now 152 features grouped in 17 topics. We could have extended the list considerably, but we focused on the most important features in order to make decision-makers’ work easier.

This year Hallo Welt! will continue to expand  the extension pool of distributions and take important steps towards the integration of extensions. Of this steps our pro customers will benefit in the first place.

Moreover BlueSpice offers unique opportunities in order to develop its own products and customized solutions. These opportunities we will explain in more detail elsewhere, when it comes, for example, to the subject of technology partnerships.

Maybe another note: The feature list is not the same as the official extension list (software catalogue). The extension list shows which extensions are included in the distributions and are supported by us. The official extension list can still be found here.

Now I hope you enjoy studying BlueSpice features 2016. Comments and questions are of course always welcome.

BlueSpice in 2016

The last few months BlueSpice MediaWiki has had a great time. We see an increasing number of downloads. BlueSpice becomes more and more visible. And as a result of that, we win many new customers and are involved in incredibly interesting projects.

This makes it possible, and necessary, to push the BlueSpice project forward this year again. We have many ideas and tasks. I cannot share all the details yet, but for a start, here are some general announcements.

Firstly, we will publish two releases this year:

  • A maintenance and security release end of April and
  • A feature release end of this summer.

For BlueSpice free and pro the maintenance release 2.23.3 will support MediaWiki 1.27.0 (the next MediaWiki LTS version). For this release we have reviewed the interface security and we perfected some features (Bookmaker, PermissionManager e.a.). And we‘re going to add some more MediaWiki extensions to the distribution. Be surprised.

Some key improvements of the later feature release are already known. BlueSpice pro will support WebDAV in the third quarter of this year, which means one can edit attached files without the need to upload them separately. They will be stored directly in the wiki file system.

Furthermore we’re going to improve the usability: users will be able to find important special pages like the review page much easier. And we will smoothen the user interface and features, so that BlueSpice will become the perfect tool for all quality assurance processes.

Handling extensions will become more comfortable with an extension store. This is a large project, but we will take the first steps towards realization.

Overdue are some important tasks to nurture the BlueSpice community. A community hub is on the way. In addition, the helpdesk and documentation will be getting more attention.

Finally the partner program is to be enhanced.

A lot to do. But with your feedback and help BlueSpice MediaWiki will make a huge step forward in 2016.

A new model for BlueSpice

BlueSpice Website

We set ourselves a couple of goals for 2015 and 2016 at our strategy meeting at the start of January. The most important ones relate to the MediaWiki distribution BlueSpice. We are making this successful product truly open source, offering new prospects for customers and partners.

100% subscription, one product, no more modules.

We have been developing the BlueSpice service model further and further over the last five years. In the future, BlueSpice will be made available in an integrated distribution. This means that the additional modules that require payment will be collected together in a single edition. Customers will thus be able to use all the modules from the outset. And, above all, you will gain tremendously from new developments as all our latest innovations will be contained in this distribution. This means that those new developments will always be available for subscribing customers whenever they want. This will save you the trouble of having to purchase them separately. Furthermore, as there will no longer be costs for each module, getting started with a professional solution will be significantly better value.

In parallel, there will still be the popular distribution BlueSpice free, which is downloaded 20,000 times a year, and used in over 130 countries and more than 20 languages. The free distribution contains the same scope of services as before, and remains the ideal first step in collaborative knowledge management.

Supporting growth and propagation

Why are we doing this? Firstly, because now we can. The major Linux distributions Red Hat and Suse have always been the examples we have followed: The best open source models for customers and developers are made in the Linux environment. However, moving away from project business and without outside capital, we are only now able to take this step.
Another reason is that we want to build the best open source wiki with new partners. This is only possible with extensive openness, technically and economically. The module system has been good for us and our customers. However, it is now blocking us from developing MediaWiki further into the most popular Wiki software for businesses. A module system will become too complex and opaque for customers and developers as we grow further. Also, we do not want to lose our way in administration, but rather to concentrate on development, integration and quality assurance.

Radically open source

For this reason too, we are radically opening the development to external developers. They can, from this year, contribute to all BlueSpice extensions, including those which had been previously unavailable. In this way, we open up the project for other developers, accelerate the programming and improve quality assurance.
Last but not least, BlueSpice should become more compatible with SemanticMediaWiki (SMW) so that customers and partners need no longer decide whether to choose SMW or BlueSpice. Using both is already a possibility. But, by the end of the year both worlds should interlock better.

It will be a busy and interesting year. The new version will already be ready for examination and ordering at Cebit. We have already set out the stages which will follow this. We will be moving towards an ecosystem, which is a familiar concept from other open source projects.

We look forward to all your support and cooperation.

MediaWiki – Software moving towards the future (Part 3 of 3): Communication, Wikidata, Translation

Communication and notification – the end of the classical discussion pages

Another MediaWiki construction site is delivering good news: The MediaWiki Communication System. This concerns the discussion pages. These will soon disappear, in the form we know them now. More precisely: The discussions pages will fundamentally change and merge with the notification system.

The reconstruction of the MediaWiki communications system will take place through two new extensions:

  • Echo allows the individual following of changes, gives an overview of the whole system and is a framework for a variety of communication services. Echo is already in Wikipedia as a new notification system.
  • Flow makes discussion easier. One can more easily follow discussion processes; answers are shown via Echo. And much more. The aim of these developments is to build up a modern discussion and collaboration system for all Wikimedia projects. An interactive prototype is already online.
The Flow prototype
The Flow prototype

Continue Reading

MediaWiki – Software moving towards the future (Part 2 of 3): Visual Editor and simultaneous editing of texts

Visual Editor – Wikicode is supplanted

Anyone who has written or improved Wikipedia articles in the last few years, already knows about the Visual Editor, which has now reached a certain maturity. (See the post by Nathalie Köpff on this subject). Creating such an editor is a big project. Unlike other web applications, an editor for Wikipedia must not only work with different languages (for example right to left languages), but also be able to process the multitude of wiki functions, the template system, the magic words and many more things besides. So for this, the wiki text parser Parsoid needed to get a totally new technological basis. As Wikipedia develops further through web standards (browsers, protocols, languages), the task will remain a complex one for a long time. However, it is also a rewarding project which has significance for the whole web community – as, for example, no commercial provider would develop an editor for over 100 languages and make it available for free.

The version of the "VisualEditor" currently (September 2014) on mediawiki.org.
The version of the “VisualEditor” currently (September 2014) on mediawiki.org.

 

Nevertheless, the project is still controversial in the Wikimedia community to this day. This is partly because the introduction of the editor has lead to significant complications. The editor was simply not ready to use when it was implemented for the first time.
The scepticism in the community towards the editor, however, also has to do with the fact that its increasing use allows for a wide reaching dropping of Wikitext. What, for some, is a good opportunity is, for others, a loss of design potential. As up to now, it was possible to build many small tools with the standard resources (for example templates or overview lists). Even simple formatting is significantly more efficient for experienced wiki text users.

However, over time, Wiki code, which should make editing easier, has almost had the opposite effect. Editing a wiki article needs a certain amount of experience and skill. This is, however, not sensible, as many hand-made functions can be done more elegantly with corresponding extensions.
A great deal of identity and a bit of wiki philosophy is attached to the transition to the visual editor. For some wiki authors, it may be a restriction, but for the wiki world outside Wikipedia, it is a great leap forward. The standard ways of using wikis have changed; most wikis work in much less complex ways than Wikipedia, which has always been a special case with its own particular demands. For this reason, a native visual editor is a long overdue step for many MediaWiki users. It is necessary so that wikis can be used to build up new free knowledge hubs on the web.

Simultaneous editing of texts

A further, very ambitious project was introduced at Wikimania 2014. The aim is to enable the simultaneous editing of texts, that one already knows from Google Docs. This has been considered for a long time. However, the necessary resources for the project were not there. Now, the Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Erik Möller, has announced that the first prototype should already be available in a year. This is very exciting news.

Two points are not being discussed at the moment, but could become important in the future.

  • Speech2Text: Texts in wikis should be increasingly possible to dictate. “Speech2Text” is developing into a standard as the speech recognition software has made great strides in the last few years. We will see that speech-control can be performed in Google search.
  • Draft function: On top of this, a real draft function is needed for MediaWiki. Every trust and NGO with local groups needs to be able to develop texts for projects, for example. Up to now, they have been diverted to Google Docs or Etherpad. But these two applications are totally inappropriate for the public collection of knowledge for a number of reasons.
    For this reason there should finally be the chance in MediaWikis to edit a first drafts with just a small circle of authors before the text is released generally.

Overall, we at Hallo Welt! see this development as very positive as MediaWiki will become more user friendly. Using it will be more intuitive and working with the editor more stable. Our enterprise distribution will take these developments on, customise them and make sure they are continually developed.

MediaWiki – Software moving towards the future (Part 1 of 3): Skinning, Mobile, Dialogues

There is a lot happening for MediaWiki at the moment. Further development of the software has been getting recognisably bolder for more than a year. It is getting exciting! In 2015 we will see many changes which up to now have been being worked on in the background. In just a few years, the system will no longer be comparable with today’s MediaWiki. Both the technical architecture and the user guidance is being rethought and tailored to the new expectations of the users. We want to quickly introduce you to the newest development projects.

The new impulses in MediaWiki development come primarily from the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the operator of Wikipedia and its sister projects. The foundation sees its core task for the future as software development and is looking to build up its personnel in this area a great deal. The new executive director of the foundation, Lila Tretikov, announced in October 2014 that the majority of investment will flow into product development and software development. Within this, priority will go to building up mobile functionality (for more on this see the entry by James Temple). Continue Reading

BlueSpice, MediaWiki and the outlook for libre knowledge

BlueSpice for MediaWiki is a commercial project. The plan to develop an enterprise distribution for MediaWiki was driven by the aim of making a profit and creating jobs.

Nevertheless, it is time to say a few words about other aspects of the BlueSpice project. For BlueSpice is also a project that should push along the development of MediaWiki and the construction of free knowledge platforms on the Web.

I will consider three aspects here.

1. Wikis are society’s future repositories of knowledge and BlueSpice should make a contribution

An open society needs a place to gather knowledge, to organise it and to map it. In the future we will find society’s memory on the Web. Political Wikis show how important this memory is. Lobbypedia and its English predecessor powerbase from spinwatch are two good examples. NGOs collect information there about lobbyists, politicians and organisations making networks and strategies transparent and making the information available for research. Think Tank Network Research is a similar research project. I could go on and on with this list.

It is not just in politics that we need a central platform on the net where we can collect free knowledge centred on particular themes, but also areas like leisure, culture, sport, business and health. Regional and city wikis have already become the trailblazers here.

And there will be wikis which save content from other websites so that it can be further developed and worked upon.

There is no system better suited to such tasks as MediaWiki software. And MediaWiki has a special role because the software is available under a free licence and, being an integral part of the Wikimedia projects Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and Wiktionary, has the best outlook for development.

So that the operators of wikis can carry out their work with significantly less technical personnel and budget than Wikipedia, they need MediaWikis which can be expanded with inexpensive software packages fitting their needs.

So BlueSpice publishes its free version, not only for marketing purposes, but also so the software can make life easier for those involved in such projects.

2. MediaWiki is becoming a software framework and BlueSpice is a step on that road

More and more projects are starting using MediaWiki as a basis and putting further pieces of software on top. With MediaWiki, you can operate an online encyclopaedia. However, if you does not want to do that, you will need another user interface but you can continue to use the basic structure. This means that the basic system stays the same, MediaWiki, delivering authentication, rights management and categorisation. On top of this comes, for example, BlueSpice, making the system into a company wiki.

A couple of further examples:

  • Translatewiki extends MediaWiki into a collaborative translation management system.
  • There is an initiative in Germany, which builds on MediaWiki to safeguard the basic provisions for media. For this, MediaWiki needs a additional layer which can provide and manage films.
  • At Hallo Welt! we are doing something similar, working with the project LinkTank, a collaborative link directory, and with Musikwiki, a place for collecting musical score. In one project one edits music scores and on the other collects links related to a theme.
  • Wikimedia Commons also only needed to further develop the user interface to make a really attractive platform for a picture library beyond Wikipedia.

MediaWiki has a very special role in open source applications. The software is completely unrivalled as a framework for “collecting open knowledge”. WordPress would be comparable as a basis for communication and social networking solutions.

Thus, we see BlueSpice as one of many steps in the development of MediaWiki into a general framework for free knowledge. This process tests out new possibilities and builds up knowledge which can be useful for other projects.

3. MediaWiki needs an ecosystem and BlueSpice is a contribution to this

The most successful and innovative open source software projects have developed a vibrant ecosystem that putting together both non-profit and for-profit agents, each driving the development in different ways. A large circle of developers is created. The software can assert itself over propitiatory systems and even force them back.

MediaWiki has a very underdeveloped ecosystem compared to other software projects. This means that commercial development in the whole project can be put to good use. Many projects need, for example, a user management system in the backend. In this form, this is not necessary or possible for Wikipedia. All others, however, need exactly this extension. Now these were firstly developed for companies and are now available as free software. I could add many further examples from the development of BlueSpice.

We need, therefore, better general conditions and more energy for a MediaWiki ecosystem. It is true that the Wikimedia Foundation has recently invested more money and energy in software development. However, this will not be enough on its own. Even for sister-projects like Wikimedia Commons, the capabilities necessary are often not there. For this reason, the focus is on third party developers and one wants to support the development of a MediaWiki ecosystem.

This is a step in the right direction. The new initiatives from the Wikimedia Foundation, to develop MediaWiki further and to create a new economic setting is bringing new energy to the whole project. This will open up new vistas to free knowledge projects.

Here, BlueSpice is just one cog in the machine. But it can and will be the basis for completely new types of project.

The decision, in the end, will be made by the users and the community.

BlueSpice 2: The new version coming up later this year!

We started with BlueSpice three years ago in October 2010. Since then, we have gradually expanded and improved the software. In the fall of 2013, we are taking the plunge and publishing a completely revised version.

The new version of BlueSpice builds on the experience we have amassed working with public company wikis and user requests and suggestions. But opening up BlueSpice for developers and vendors is also an important step. We took this into account in the planning stage by inviting our users to participate in a feature poll.  The architectural changes below the surface also have this aim.

The schedule: In October 2013, both the beta and the stable versions will be launched. The good news is that most of the changes have already been done. We don´t want to let the release become a never ending story and so we decided on for a timebox approach. It´s better to have one feature less than to jeopardize the release date. Nevertheless, there is a lot of work which has to be done! Continue Reading

Roadmap: Ideas for the New Version!

A little over two years ago we published the first BlueSpice version. Since that time the software was enhanced enormously. BlueSpice is used in more than 100 countries and the downloads still rise.

No reason for us to pause. This year we will take the software to a higher level. BlueSpice will better cooperate with MediaWiki and will support more languages.

But what else should be done? Which features are missing, how can we optimize the existent ones? Should we focus on improvements the usability or do we need better team management tools?

Join the discussion!

Until July 14th, 2013 we collect and discuss proposals of community members like you at the BlueSpice Feature Poll. The most important and highest rated ideas will likely be included in the next version.

We need your help. Share your ideas with us!

PDF Export for MediaWiki

There are lots of possibilities for exporting MediaWiki articles as PDF documents.
Some further developments I want to outline here:

Wiki as the central source of knowledge

There are many good reasons for supplying a Wiki with a PDF export facility:

  • Extracts, logs, check lists or short descriptions may be needed on paper or may need to be sent via e-mail.
  • Whole topics or areas of knowledge may need to be made into brochures or books so they can be available, for example, on the website for users, service providers and partners, or offline for field staff.
  • Intermediary versions of handbooks might need to be kept, for example, to supplement contracts and invitations to tender or as documents giving a basis for auditing.

Using a wiki as a central medium here has the obvious advantage that rather than having innumerable PDF documents flying around, the texts can be developed in the wiki and kept up to date. The PDF export function will then give out the most up to date version.

How to create my first PDF export

If you want to add a PDF export facility to a wiki, first work out whether you just want the readers to be able to export individual articles as PDFs or if you want to give them the opportunity to put together a selection of articles in a “book”. The second option is a more technologically complex.

Furthermore, decide whether the firm’s CI should be used and how far you want to go with providing the user templates. Will the PDFs always have the same layout? Do they have, for example, the same coversheet? As soon as this is decided you can get started.

MediaWiki has no PDF export facility in the standard software. However, you can find a whole set of PDF extensions at MediaWiki.org with individual installation instructions: Continue Reading