OpenOffice, the free opensource office suite, released OpenOffice 3.0 Beta yesterday. This latest release now runs on Mac OS X without requiring X11 to be running as well. And there are versions for Windows and Linux obviously.
There are a host of new features like ODF Support, Office 2007/8 import/export and support for up to 1024 columns on the spreadsheet app to name but a few.
With the killer combination of Google Docs (Google’s great hosted office app), OpenOffice and OOo2GD (an app to synch between OpenOffice and Google Docs), the justification for spending any amount of money on Office software has just disappeared!
I was chair of the it@cork Conference organising committee last year. The committee is made up of volunteers who are all busy with their day-to-day jobs so getting times to meet which suit everyone is always challenging.
To help with the organisation I rolled out a private wiki where we posted meeting minutes, kept track of action items, posted to-do lists and updates on (potential) speaker status’. The wiki was a hosted PBWiki and it was a great success.
It was then decided to rollout a wiki to facilitate the organisation and running of all it@cork committees and subcommittees. The wiki software needed to be able to:
handle multiple wikis (one per committee/subcommittee)
handle user and group permissions
give stats around wiki usage and
be cheap or free (it@cork is a not-for-profit)!
I searched around and discovered that Atlassian’s Confluence enterprise wiki product has a free community license specifically for not-for-profits. PBWiki, and SocialText didn’t have any mention of a free Enterprise class offering on their sites so I didn’t really pursue them.
Boy was that a mistake! The setup of the Confluence wiki was far from straightforward. It took two of us the best part of a day to simply install it. Remember that as I was doing this for it@cork, this was not billable time. I was installing it on my own server and because Confluence requires TomCat as its webserver it had to run on a separate port to Apache. This meant several people couldn’t view it in their organisations.
Worse though was that once it was successfully installed, it was a disaster. Uptake and use of the wiki was minimal because the UI was appalling. A couple of quick examples:
– a simple task which requires many steps, adding (or removing) users to/from groups goes like this:
Go to Administration
Scroll to bottom of page and click on Manage Users (why not dynamically have the most used menus at the top or failing that use general stats to move most used features to the top, or have two (or more) columns of options so no scrolling is required)
Click Show All Users (why? why aren’t they all listed by default?)
Click on the user
Click on Edit Groups
Select Groups and click Join (or Leave) – there is no feedback to tell an admin that this action has been saved
Editing groups doesn’t appear to be possible at all i.e if I want to remove 7 people from a group containing 25 people, I have to go into each user profile (using all the steps above) and remove them individually. It should be possible to do it in one simple step from within a Group Admin page.
Other problems with Confluence included the fact that there are almost no stats around use of the wiki available and there is a bug in the users and groups which meant that the permissions applied to the groups were not percolating down to the members of those groups. A pretty serious bug I’m sure you will agree.
I Twittered recently that I was looking to get off Confluence and onto another Enterprise wiki platform and within minutes Ross Mayfield, Chairman of SocialText had contacted me (despite being on vacation!) offering me a SocialText wiki for it@cork. Yes please I said (poor guy, I nearly bit his hand off!).
The backend of SocialText is far cleaner, simpler and more intuitive than Confluence.
However, for completeness sake I also contacted PBWiki and when they heard this was for it@cork, they immediately offered business edition wikis at no cost. This was spectacular news as it@cork were already familiar and happy with PBWiki.
The PBWiki backend is the cleanest and simplest of the three (it is also the only one which fits vertically on a 1024×768 screen).
Not only that but when you compare the edit screens of both SocialText and PBWiki, PBWiki definitely comes out ahead in usability.
So we have a winner – PBWiki.
What surprised me in this is that when I Twittered looking for an alternative to Confluence, not one person suggested PBWiki. I have no idea why this is. PBWiki has both Enterprise class functionality and a UI which is completely non-intimidatory. I predict no issues with uptake by users this time round.
By the way, I did also try out DekiWiki and Twiki but I ruled them out quite early on.
UPDATE: Zoli Erdos posted a response to this post where he highlighted a couple of points I didn’t make clearly enough here:
1. I compared a non-hosted version of Confluence to hosted apps like PBWiki and SocialText. However, hosted Confluence is NOT available under the community license. As this was for a not-for-profit a community license was all we could go for. PBWiki and SocialText had no such restrictions.
2. I tried out DekiWiki but the lack of an ability to create Groups ruled it out quickly.