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Agile prototyping: “MediaWiki is like a white sheet of paper for data”

The Wikipedia software MediaWiki is a well known solution for collaborative knowledge platforms. It is less popular, but not less ideal, for the development of prototypes and new platforms.

At this year’s Semantic-MediaWiki-Konferenz (SMWCon) in Frankfurt, our Hallo Welt! Technical Manager Markus Glaser talked about this connection between MediaWiki and prototyping. Here are the slides of his presentation.

Markus Glaser started his presentation explaining different forms of prototyping. His introduction was followed by showing MediaWikis richness of functionalities. By combining and expanding these functionalities, you can develop new and very specific applications. MediaWiki already provides a large toolkit, which allows quick adjustments without having to program completely new functions.

The semantic MediaWiki extension packages, which can be used to capture and query metadata, are certainly worth mentioning. Those are very useful, if for example data models are being modeled or user interfaces and operating elements still have to be positioned. Of course BlueSpice for MediaWiki supplies a wide range of options. Responsive skins like Chameleon are the basis for stylish surfaces. And with Lua you have a script language, with which the construction of a page can be designed very dynamically.

That means MediaWiki is an ideal base to build agile new knowledge platforms. The flexibility of MediaWiki means a great advantage in time. You don‘t have to be a programmer to build these prototypes, because a lot of these things can already be done with the  integrated tools of MediaWiki. Like this you get a working system at an early stage, with which you can gather important experiences.

Nevertheless users should be aware that, despite the variety of integrated tools, developing a new knowledge platform is always complex and cost-intensive: planning, meetings and adjustments take time. After the development of an alpha or beta version, individual functionalities have to be professionalized and programmed independently.

You might say that the development of a stable productive system takes as much time as the development of the beta version for the first test users. However, the time and the risks of development are significantly reduced with the prototyping based on MediaWiki.

Many new features: The BlueSpice Demo has been completely updated

To all the curious people, who like trying new things: the BlueSpice Demo has been completely updated.

With regard to the needs of our customers we updated the BlueSpice Demo and improved its shape. We really got going and improved the Demo version significantly. It was subject to a substantial revision.

The new BlueSpice Demo is online.
The new BlueSpice Demo is online.

Practical applications

Due to lots of new contents and a developed structure, we put the focus on the most important applications of the software: Knowledge and Quality Management. With the new navigation these topics are found immediately and new users can see the usefulness and the practical effects of the BlueSpice software from the beginning on.

If you don’t want to miss illustrative flow charts or process maps within your Wiki, try the new Demo version. It shows perfectly what the BlueSpice pro software for MediaWiki is able to do.

Using Semantics

New features and a lot of additional semantic information provide the user a variety of options for different queries. There is for example a query, which gives you a list of documents for Quality Management. These documents can be used to accelerate processes, improve workflow and guarantee a high quality of work.

A variety of queries can simplify your work, for example for Quality Management.
A variety of queries can simplify your work, for example for Quality Management.

New BlueSpice function Flowchart Maker

The new BlueSpice Demo offers plenty of functions. Expand your articles by using graphics and videos, insert complex mathematical formula and add interactive elements like checklists or drop-down menus. From now on, you can also create and edit complex flow charts.

With the new Flowchart Maker, you have various possibilities of displaying processes or something similar. You might want to try this application with our example of the relocation of an IT employee.

The new flowchart maker offers various possibilities of displaying processes.
The new flowchart maker offers various possibilities of displaying processes.

Try it and see for yourself!

The new version of the BlueSpice Demo can be found here.

We are looking forward to your feedback.

End of the world? Let’s go running!

Once again, our BlueSpice developers proved that not even the apocalypse can stop them from reaching their goal: ignoring the continuous downpour on wednesday, an elect group of our team went on the annual REWAG-Firmenlauf. Together with over 1600 other enthusiasts, they braved the rain for 6,8 kilometres, and reached the finish line – soaking wet, but happy 🙂

 

firmenlauf_01 firmenlauf_02 firmenlauf_03

BlueSpice free 2.23.3 – stable released

Finally: on Tuesday, 31st May 2016, we released the stable version of BlueSpice 2.23.3. We managed to keep our deadline 🙂

Download it here at Sourceforge.

Although it is only a “minor and maintenance” release, we include some pretty helpful features, both in BlueSpice free and BlueSpice pro.

Here are some notable new features of BlueSpice free 2.23.3:

  • Compatibility: BlueSpice can now be used with MediaWiki 1.27.
  • BlueSpice API: There is now a standardized API for many BlueSpice actions.
  • ContextMenu: The extension is now enabled by default.
  • Dashboards: There is a wiki page portlet, which allows you to use any wiki page as a dashboard item. Create your own portlets!
  • ExtendedSearch: Introduces facet operators, which indicate whether multiple selections in a facet should be combined using AND or OR logic. It is now also possible to open articles in the autocomplete list in new windows or tabs.
  • Flexiskin: It is now possible to disable the background image.
  • GroupManager: Raised group name character limit from 16 to 255.
  • InsertMagic: Tag descriptions are now much more descriptive.
  • PermissionManager: Add hint flyout for every right.
  • Upload: XML and SVG files can now be uploaded by default.
  • UserMerge: Added extension to Distribution. Allows you to merge various users into one.
  • UserSidebar: There is now a “global actions” navigation tab for every user.
  • VisualEditor: Set default style for table to contenttable. This makes much nicer tables…

We also added some great new MediaWiki extensions to BlueSpice pro, e.g.

  • TagCloud: Use TagClouds to display e.g. categories
  • ExportTables: Export your wiki tables to Excel
  • Drawio: Include diagrams in BlueSpice
  • Duplicator: Duplicate articles easily
  • Math: Use mathematical forms

… and many more!

You can read the detailed release notes in our BlueSpice Helpdesk.

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.

Security release 2.23.1.1, and how to report vulnerabilities

Yesterday, we published the security release BlueSpice 2.23.1.1. Community user Frederic Mohr had reported a severe cross-site-scripting vulnerability with the Shoutbox, where arbitrary JavaScript code could be inserted in the box and would be executed on each page load. The fix he provided contains a minor change in the input handling. The new release fixes this vulnerability. There’s also a patch available for BlueSpice 2.23.1. The monthly release also contains the patch. Downloads and patches can be found at Sourceforge.

We highly recommend to update or patch your existing BlueSpice installations.

I want to thank Frederic for his support! And I’d like to take this chance to sketch out how we handle vulnerability reports. Usually, bugs are reported in our public forum. However, reporting a security related issue also means publishing the vulnerability right away, without giving us the chance to patch the software. Because of this, I ask you to report security issues directly to me by email: glaser@hallowelt.com. If possible, please encrypt the actual description of the vulnerability with GPG. My public key can be found on the MIT keyserver. We will then contact you, verify the vulnerability and provide a patch. After the patch is released, we will request a CVE number to have this properly documented. Of course, credits for finding the vulnerability go to the person that reported it.

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Relaunch of the BlueSpice website

Have you already seen our new website? No?! We hope you will like it as much as we do 😉
We have not only updated the content, but also redesigned the page and – last but not least – changed the domain to bluespice.com.
We tried to focus on frequent asked questions about BlueSpice to represent them in the website structure, e.g.:

  • What is BlueSpice pro and why should I subscribe? What costs and features do I have to expect?
  • What is the difference between BlueSpice free and BlueSpice pro?
  • What are common use cases and what features are important?
  • I want to start a company wiki and it seems like I need some help with installation, migration, structuring – does BlueSpice offer those services?
  • BlueSpice pro is awesome, but I need a special functionality and a few changes for the skin. Is it possible to customize BlueSpice?
  • I really like this MediaWiki distribution how can I join the BlueSpice community?
  • Which companies are already using BlueSpice – do you have some references?
  • I want to cooperate with BlueSpice as a partner – is it possible?

Have fun discovering the BlueSpice website: https://bluespice.com/

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A Wiki for the Amazon Web Services – Launch BlueSpice in the Amazon Cloud now

AWS-Cloud-mit-BlueSpice200pxAmazon Web Services also offers the wiki engine BlueSpice now. Our American partner Orbitera provides BlueSpice in the free version in the Amazon Cloud. This means that you start your wiki with just a few clicks in the AWS Marketplace.

BlueSpice in the Marketplace of the Amazon Web Services

1. Call up the BlueSpice page in the Marketplace and – if you don´t have one already – create an account

2. Enter your contact information (please also read the customer agreement, which is linked there)

3. Choose between “OneClick-Launch” and “Manual Launch” and the appropriate entries (instance, server area etc.). Then accept the terms and conditions and start the system with the Launch button

3AWS-OneClickLaunch

4. You will receive a confirmation in the system and and a confirmation mail with further information. To login to the wiki, use „WikiSysop“ as user and your „Instance ID“ as password

5. There you go (user and admin manuel for BlueSpice can be found in our BlueSpice Helpdesk)

BlueSpice is – as usual – not restricted in the number of users and you get the full range of functionality of  the free version.

The advantage of the Amazon Cloud

The costs are low, because it will be charged per hour, e.g. the full usage with the smallest instance and the server location in Frankfurt/Germany costs only 18,25 Dollar per month. All about the instances and which one fits best for your demands can be read here. With AWS you are free to choose the server location – nine are currently available worldwide, two of them in the EU and one of those in Frankfurt / Germany. The pricing for the AWS usage depends inter alia on the server location.

If you don´t know BlueSpice, you can also test it in a 30 days free trial. You don´t have to pay for BlueSpice in this period of time, but the costs for the AWS usage will be charged anyway (from 9,36 $ for 30 days). Furthermore, AWS offers a free tier. Please pay attention to the offer terms.

By the way, we recommend BlueSpice in the Amazon Cloud especially for start-ups and small businesses. Those will not be bothered with administrational tasks and the system is scalable for the possibly growing requirements. Moreover, the Amazon Web Services offer a special start-up program you can take a look at.

If you need support for booking please contact the Amazon Web Services or Orbitera.

Background information about the Amazon Web Services

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.

Meta page of an image
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MediaWiki Images – What you need to know about uploading and inserting images

Images and screenshots are an essential part of the content. The visualization of content supports the understanding and the motivation to spend time on the text. But how can I upload pictures in MediaWiki and how do I insert it in an article? I will show you three ways how to display the pictures in your article – one in an original MediaWiki and two in BlueSpice. Also I will give you some background information on images in MediaWiki.

1. Uploading and inserting pictures in MediaWiki

If you are using a “normal” MediaWiki, you need to do two steps on two different places in the wiki. First, you have to upload the image with a tool on a special page and then it must be inserted in the article(s).

Upload:

There is a so-called special page, which enables you to upload an image. This special page can be found at “Special:Upload”. There is also a link in the listed tools, which are mostly located in the navigation. Open this page and you will see the uploading tool from MediaWiki.

Special page to upload files
Special page to upload files

Browse your files and choose the image you want to upload. Click “Upload file” to save the picture in your wiki. Keep the file name in mind – you will need it to find the right file when inserting it in an article. A good advice is, to name the file with a descriptive file name, which means that the file names describes what is seen on the picture. A file with the title “DIC2009.jpg” can hardly be found later and other users won´t know what kind of picture this is.

Inserting images articles:

This is the tricky part. Call up the article you want to insert the picture in. Switch to the edit mode and place your cursor at the position where the picture should be shown. Insert the following code there:

[[File:Name_of_the_image.jpg]]

This is the first step – the image has been inserted in the article and is displayed there. Now you can choose between several parameters to configure the image, e.g. the size of the picture, alignment, if it should be shown as a thumb and so on. Decide what parameters you want and add it in the code, separated with straight lines (a so-called “Pipes”) after the name of the image. This is, for example, the code for a thumb with the size 200px, which is placed on the left side of the text:

Alignment left, right, center, none Defines, where in the text the image is placed (text flow)
Decoration thumb, frame Thumb and frame
Size 200px Set the size of the image in pixel (the picture will be scaled automatically)
Linking link=https://www.target_page.de Set a link (if no link is set, a click on the image automatically opens the meta page of the image)
Caption text Insert a description The caption will only be displayed, when the image is configured as a thumb, otherwise the description will be shown by mouseover

 

Example of MediaWiki syntax for images
Example of MediaWiki syntax for images

For further details about how to represent images in other ways take a look at the Wikipedia picture tutorial.

2. Upload and insert images with a dialogue

BlueSpice is a free Open Source MediaWiki distribution. It is installed on top of a MediaWiki. The content stays the same, but BlueSpice is well-designed, user-friendly and brings along some useful additional features. In the gratis version BlueSpice free, inter alia the InsertImage dialogue. With this little helper, you don´t need to cope with the wiki syntax anymore. You can insert a picture very comfortable and it also enables you to upload an image directly in the article you are editing and without changing to the upload page of MediaWiki.

Dialogue for inserting, uploading and scaling images in BlueSpice
Dialogue for inserting, uploading and scaling images in BlueSpice

This is how it works:

Switch to the editing mode of the article you want to insert the image at. Click on the symbol for the InsertImage dialogue. An extra window opens up and provides an upload button. Click on it to browse your files and to choose an image file for uploading. You can also add a description or a category for the image. Confirm your choice with “OK” and the file will be automatically uploaded to your wiki. After this, you can also do further adjustment of the wiki in this dialogue, e.g. set size, alignment and linkings. Confirm with “OK” again and the image is integrated in your article.

3. Upload and insert images with drag & drop or copy & paste

This functionality also requires BlueSpice and in addition to this, the fee required package BlueSpice [paste image]. You can get it in the BlueSpice Shop or in the subscription BlueSpice pro.

Drag and drop images into a wiki page
Drag and drop images into a wiki page

Open the article you want to insert the image at in the editing mode. If you want to include a picture from the clipboard, place the cursor at the position where it should be shown and press Ctrl+v. Or choose an image file in your explorer, hold it with pressed left mouse button and move it to the appropriate position in your article. The InsertImage dialogue opens, like described in chapter 2. Define your settings for the picture and confirm with “OK”. The image will be uploaded and inserted in the article.

 

Meta page and administration of images in MediaWiki and BlueSpice

Images are usually uploaded and stored in the “file” namespace. Users often detect an uploaded image as a normal content article in this namespace. Click on an image in any article and (if there is no other linking) you will be redirected to this meta page of the image.

Meta page of an image
Meta page of an image

Here you will find information on resolution and size, as well as links to the articles the image is used at. By the way, images and files are also versioned, so on the meta page you will find the versioning for this image. If you click on “Upload a new version of this file” you can upload a new file with the same file name and overwrite the old image with the new one. The image will be updated automatically in every article it is used at. Of course you can also do a roll-back.

In MediaWiki there are also special pages that create special lists related to images. Just call up one of the following special pages by inserting them in the URL behind the slash e.g. “mywiki.com/index.php/Special:Upload”

  • Spezial:Upload – Call up the upload tool
  • Special:MostLinkedFiles – List of files that are used very often
  • Special:ListFiles – This special page shows all uploaded files of the wiki. Search for certain files here.
  • Special:NewFiles – This special page shows the last uploaded files
  • Special:UncategorizedFiles – Shows files without an assigned category

To find out more on the technical administration please have a look at mediawiki.org.