Linux Ubuntu – a Whole New World

As part of my ongoing self education of the internet and computers in general, I have just installed the open source operating system, Linux, onto my old Athlon 1Ghz pc. I chose Ubuntu (version 7.04) as I was advised that it is a very “newbie” friendly distribution. It was a breeze to install, there were no hardware issues, even though the pc is about 6 years old, and comes with the Firefox web browser ready installed, so the internet is available immediately.

The plan is, with the help of an IT friend, to learn how to set up a home web server. I know that I need to install Apache, MySQL and PHP (i.e. the rest of L.A.M.P. – L being Linux) but know little else. I will blog my progress here, and hopefully this will eventually provide a simple step by step guide to how to set up a Linux web server at home.

If all goes according to plan, I will be able to save on the month hosting fees that I currently pay. What with the arrival of my baby son, I need to save wherever I can, so hopefully the old pc with help me save another 10 quid (GBP) a month.

As I am totally new to computing, I need to find an open source control panel for the LAMP installation, plus any other GUI that will mean that I spend as little time as possible typing into a terminal box! There is probably a plethora of other things I need to learn, so I will keep you updated as I go.

Yahoo has moved to further strengthen its service to advertisers by buying web marketing business BlueLithium for $300m

“Set up in 2004, BlueLithium provides technology enabling websites to better match adverts with users’ interests. The purchase is the latest in a series of deals by Yahoo as it seeks to regain ground on market leader Google in the web search sector. In June, boss Terry Semel quit after concerns about the firm’s direction.

Yahoo’s profits have fallen in each of the past six quarters, prompting new boss Jerry Yang to start work on a “strategic plan” to improve the firm’s performance. He has sought to make Yahoo’s web search functions more attractive to advertisers, recently buying online advertising exchange Right Media for $700m. Mr Yang said the addition of BlueLithium, whose clients include General Motors, to the Yahoo stable would help Yahoo advertisers to maximise their online expenditure.

“BlueLithium’s products, technology and team will be an integral part of our drive to build the industry’s leading advertising network,” he said.

BlueLithium, which specialises in analysing data on web usage, employs 145 staff at 10 locations in the US. All the leading web search providers have been strengthening their advertising functions in recent months. Microsoft bought aQuantive for $6bn last month while Google’s $3.1bn acquisition of DoubleClick is awaiting clearance by US regulators.”

Source: BBC Business News

US backing for two-tier internet

“The US Justice Department has said that internet service providers should be allowed to charge for priority traffic. The agency said it was opposed to “network neutrality”, the idea that all data on the net is treated equally. The comments put the agency at odds with companies such as Microsoft and Google, who have called for legislation to guarantee equal access to the net. The agency submitted its comments to the Federal Communications Commission, which is investigating net access.

Several US internet service providers (ISPs), including AT&T and Verizon, have previously said that they want to charge some users more money for certain content. This has particularly become an issue with the rise of TV and film download services. A similar debate is ongoing in the UK.”

There has been talk for some time about dividing the internet into commercial and non-commercial. However, with the increase in social networking sites and advertising, the thin line between the two is pretty much broken. It is likely that when the ISP’s say that they would like to “charge some users more money for certain content”, that content is probably of adult nature. Pornography on the internet has been a growing phenomenon over the last decade, and has proved to be a very lucrative business for many people. It seems that some ISP’s want to be able to find a way to tax this content.

“The Justice Department said imposing net neutrality regulations could hinder development of the internet and prevent ISPs from upgrading networks. The agency said it could also shift the “entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers”…… “Regulators should be careful not to impose regulations that could limit consumer choice and investment in broadband facilities,” said Thomas Barnett, the department’s antitrust chief. The agency’s stance is contrary to much of the internet community that believes in an open model for the internet. Net neutrality advocates argue that a two-tier internet would allow broadband providers to become gatekeepers to the web’s content. Providers that can pay will be able to get a commercial advantage over those that cannot, they say. In particular, there is a fear that institutions like universities and charities would suffer. Last year, Sir Tim Berners-Lee the inventor of the web rallied against the idea of a two-tier internet.”What’s very important from my point of view is that there is one web,” he said. “Anyone that tries to chop it into two will find that their piece looks very boring.”

This last point really hits the nail on the head. The “standard” internet could become a very dry and lifeless creature. What drives the internet today is exciting new innovative content, and any regulations put in place to control content could hinder the natural evolution of the internet.

The Drupal Content Management System

I have recently been playing around with Drupal, which is a free open source content management system. At first glance Drupal looks rather complicated, as there are many standard modules, even more optional modules that are developed by other users, plus a vast array of configuration settings, all of which make Drupal very customisable, but also complex.

However, one of the great things about Drupal is that fact that once the files are uploaded to your server, it is very simple to get a basic website up and running. Drupal offers several content styles within its standard package, such as blogs, forums, stories, pages and books, plus the ability to import RSS syndicated feeds, to create new content automatically from other websites.

Community and Collaborative Websites

What makes Drupal special is that it is really geared for community and collaborative web sites. By default there are three user levels – Admin (by default the first account created is the admin account), Authorised (i.e. anyone that signs up / registers for the site) and anonymous (anyone viewing the site with no account). For each of these user levels access rules can be granted, for specific categories of content, and for specific parts/modules of the website. For instance, it is possible to allow anonymous readers to leave comments on blog entries, or join in discussion forums, either with or without moderator approval. Alternatively, anonymous users can be blocked from viewing content on the site. The same rules can be applied to authorised users too. As an example, a common way to set up user permissions for the comments module would be as follows:

Access comments – Authorised and Anonymous (i.e. all can read comments)
Administer comments – no permission (i.e. only admin can administer comments)
Post comments – Authorised and Anonymous (i.e. all can post comments)
Post comments without approval – Authorised only (i.e. anonymous can post comments, but they require admin approval first).

This allows for a robust and spam free website to be built. If users abuse the website by posting irrelevant comments or advertise their own websites through the comments modules, then these users can easily be deleted, and their IP addresses can be blocked. In addition to this, there are modules that can be added to the basic Drupal package that allow users to report abusers and spammers to the moderators and admin. This all helps to keep a tidy ship.

Drupal as a multi-user blog

There are many other features within Drupal. One of the best is the ease at which a multi-user blog site can be set up. Drupal could be used just for blogging, i.e. all the other modules, such as forums, stories, books and pages, can be switched off for everyone except the admin. This way, people can sign up and create their own blog and comment on other people’s blogs only. This is a much easier way to install a community blogging platform than the Word Press Multi-User package (WPMU) that requires amongst other things wildcard DNS.

Drupal Modules

There are literally hundreds of extra modules for Drupal, ranging from mailing modules, advertising, administration modules, content development etc. For example one excellent module that is not part of the standard package is the Backup module, which allows admin to quickly backup the database and files from the Admin menu. This means that you always have peace of mind that your installation is safe, so long as you remember to back up the database everyday (which of course should be part of any webmasters daily routine). Other modules worth mentioning are the Pathauto module, which automatically creates SEO friendly URLs (i.e. it replaces the dreaded “node33″ with a meaningful URL based on the title of the page. There is also Taxonomy Access Control which gives greater user permission configuration. For example, you can simply create a category called admin, which can only be read by Admin / moderators, so that site developers can have open discussion on their own forums without the general public being able to view.

Drupal Templates

Drupal is also a built and run on MySQL databases and php files / templates. This means that templates can be considered “skins” for the site, in that to change the appearance of a site, and new template is written, bought or downloaded for free, and then once uploaded to the server, users can easily change the template. One handy feature is that you can set a default template for admin, so if a new template is loaded, and there are serious errors which prevent access to the site, then all you have to do is log in as admin, which will revert back to the default template, and then you can disable or delete the dodgy template that you had just attempted to install or build. This is a far suporior solution to that provided by Pligg for example, whereby if you do so little as mis-type the template name when choosing a new one, you are greeted with a blank page, and no way to navigate back and change the template. For those that are not familiar with the database set up and files, the only solution is to upload all files again, which is far from ideal.

Drupal page layout is pretty basic on the standard templates, in that there is a header section which contains the site logo, and top menu, then a central content area, plus two sidebars. The content of the side bars is controlled in the “Blocks” module, and new blocks can be added easily, and any code can be added that you would put into any standard static webpage, such as javascript, html and simple lists, or text.

Drupal Site Search

Drupal comes with a site search feature, which allows you to add a search box to your site (held within a sidebar block) which allows users to search for site content. Whenever a CRON job is run in Drupal, the search database is updated. With standard Drupal set up, CRON jobs are run manually by the admin, but this can be automated to run as part of a daily CRON job update.

Site Analytics

Drupal also comes complete with log access, which allows administrators to easily view the log files for site access, such as Recent log entries, Recent hits, ‘access denied’ errors, page not found’ errors, Top referrers, Top search phrases, Top pages, and Top visitors.

Conclusion

At first glance Drupal may seem a little daunting for a website owner, but it ease of configuration plus the speed at which it can be set up and managed does make Drupal a good choice for both small and larger companies when choosing a Content Management System. It takes time to get to grips with the software, and to understand the various administration settings, but once set up it is very easy to maintain the site. Another advantage of using Drupal is that you can start building the content of the site, and at the same time employ a web designer to create a Drupal Theme for your company, and once the theme is ready, you simply upload and activate it, without any interruption to the actual site, i.e. no downtime is required. So, if you are looking to build and develop a dynamic web community, then Drupal should be on your list of candidates.

Drupal.org is the official website of Drupal, an open source content management platform.


Best value in web hosting: Jumpline.com and 1and1.co.uk

Update / Disclosure: I wrote this review in 2007 when I was a customer of both of these services. I have since moved all hosting to another provider which has provided superior services and support since. There are many factors to consider when picking a web host, and cost is probably one of the lowest on your list. I now use a reseller package from a UK based web-host. They provide excellent support and the server is much quicker than the virtual dedicated server that I was using a few years ago.

When I first started writing blogs and building small websites, my hosting requirements were minimal, which is why I opted to host with 1and1, using their Business shared web hosting package, which allowed me to host three websites for just under GBP10 per month.

The 1and1 package was ideal for me as I was starting out. The control panel is very user friendly, there are various web tools, traffic analysers, the ability to set up blogs on the server, such as WordPress, plus many other added features such as a photo archive, form mail, guest books, etc.

However, one day I decided I wanted a fourth website to host, and as it would have cost me around another GBP5 for an extra site, I decided to search for a better solution. I decided that I should think more long term, and look for a company that would allow me to easily host many sites. My friends and family were showing more interest in the internet and website/blogs, so I thought that this would be an opportunity to help them out by finding a web host large enough to accommodate my sites plus any that my family may want to host, thus saving us all some money.

I need a web host that will allow multiple domains to be hosted with no extra cost. What I eventually found was Jumpline.com, where I am hosted now. With Jumpline, for USD15 a month (about GBP7.50) you can host 20 websites, and set up 10 FTP accounts, which means you can set up family with FTP access to their directory too, so their blogs and websites have separate logons, and they cannot access the operating files on the directory.

However, it turned out that Jumpline provided much more than just extra websites. In addition to the 20 websites, and Jumpline also give far more control to the customer as they provide VDS web hosting, rather than the standard shared web hosting, so that I can, if I need, restart the Apache servers, back up all files, set up any MySQL databases, install any programs that I like etc.

Most popular Jumpline product is the J2-VDS, which includes:

  • 2,000 MB Disk Space
  • Host 20 Domains/Virtual Hosts
  • 30,000 MB Bandwidth Transfer
  • 10 FTP Accounts
  • 150 POP Email Accounts
  • 200,000 Files
  • Dedicated IP Address

The 1and1 Business package includes:

  • 4 GB web space
  • 1000 POP3 accounts
  • 40 GB monthly traffic
  • 10 Virus Scans included
  • 1&1 Chat
  • 2 MySQL databases
  • £400 of Software Free

The main advantage of the Jumpline web hosting over 1and1 is the VDS web hosting.

With VDS web hosting you get:

  • Your own Web Server
  • Administrative Privileges (chroot)
  • Independent File Structure
  • Ability to Install Applications
  • Your own Mail Server
  • Your own Database Server
  • Multi-Layered Security
  • Ability to Host Multiple Web Sites

Jumpline also provide excellent support for web development, with the following built in to the package:

  • ChiliSoft (ASP) – 4.0.2
  • Perl – 5.8.5
  • FrontPage 2002 Extensions
  • PHP – 5.1.4
  • Graphics Magick – 1.1.7
  • Python – 2.4.3
  • Mod_perl – 1.9.9

Jumpline also offer some excellent collaboration tools to maximise your web page “stickiness”:

  • Auto Responders
  • Majordomo – 1.95
  • Gallery – 2.1
  • Neomail (WebMail) – 1.27
  • Guestbook – 1.1.3
  • PhpBB – 2.0.21
  • Jumpline.com Address Book
  • Php Formmail – 2
  • Jumpline.com myCalendar
  • PhpMyNewsletter – 0.8
  • Jumpline.com WebMail
  • WordPress – 2.0.2

Additional bandwidth with Jumpline is only an extra USD5.oo per month for 1000Mb.

1and1 do offer a good software package with their hosting, which includes:

  • NetObjects Fusion 8
  • PhotoImpact 11 SE
  • Hello Engines! 4.0
  • Ranking Toolbox 4.0
  • WISE FTP 3.0
  • Gif Animator 5
  • 1&1 Internet Tuner

However, this package done not provide much that cannot be downloaded for free, or at least for which an open source solution is available. It is really for beginners, and there is not really a great amount of support from 1and1 with using the packages.

The key differences between VDS hosting and shared hosting are:

With VDS hosting, you get:

Full Administrative Control
The ability to install your own applications
An isolated secure environment
Dedicated Web Server
Dedicated Mail Server
Dedicated Database Server
Dedicated FTP Server

With shared hosting, you get:

  • Limited Control
  • Shared Applications
  • Shared Environment
  • Shared Web Server
  • Shared Mail Server
  • Shared Database Server
  • Shared FTP Server

Both 1and1 and Jumpline are good economical packages, but I think that Jumpline has the edge over 1and1 mostly because of the ability to host 20 websites, and to be able to install application and have complete control over the web server.

Chosing between an open source CMS and a home grown one

There are so many open source CMS (content management systems) around these day, that a web designer no longer needs to build their own. However, building your own will have some advantages. Open source CMS’s include the likes of Joomla/Mambo, Drupal, Smarty and Pligg to name but a few. WordPress now also have a WPMU (word press multi user) so you can set up many blogs easily under one domain – but I was informed yesterday that Drupal can do all this OK.

Using an existing content management system will give you one very big advantage: it will have a lot more features. However there are a couple of extremely important things that you need to ensure you get right up front:

Does the system expose the features that you require without exposing too much? CMSs vary widely in their intended applications. For example there are systems designed for completely open access (such as wikis), systems designed to be read-only except by admin users, systems that mandate particular structures, systems that allow you to structure things however you like, systems that provide user management, systems that don’t, systems that give each user private content areas, systems that don’t, etc… It is essential that you choose the right system up front. If not you will get stuck in the situation where all your content is stuck in a format specific to one particular CMS that doesn’t do what you need. Then you will have an extremely difficult task (perhaps impossible) of getting the content out into a form that you can use in whatever system you have decided is better. Choosing the right system means spending a lot of time doing the following:

  • Looking through feature comparisons of the various CMSs finding the ones that seem to fit your requirements.
  • Creating a shortlist candidate systems.
  • Installing each one and building a demo site with it, understanding it, how to use it, what its limitations are, etc
  • Choosing the winner.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to spend a lot of time doing this. If you don’t, I guarantee that you will be screwed at a later date.

Make sure the CMS you choose is open-source. This provides you with a safety net in case the project stops development.

Make you are capable of understanding the system. There will come a time when you need to look at the workings of the code to figure out how to do something or recover something or whatever. If it is written in some complex and obscure language that you don’t have a hope in hell of understanding, you will be screwed. If it is written in something simple (such as PHP), you will have much more chance of sorting the problem out.

So those are the things to be careful of when using an existing CMS. The other option is to use a home-grown system. If done right, this has some advantages:

It will do exactly what you want /need it to do and no more. i.e. it will be a perfect fit to your requirements without any additional complexity.

As the system gradually grows, you can make an effort to understand each part of it. You will know how the system works and will be capable of tweaking it, or poking it to adapt to changing requirements or sudden crisis. This will also be much better for you as a burgeoning web-site developer.

The format of the content will be in a format that is known to you and managed by you. If you need to get at it, it is there exactly as you expect it to be.

The system can provide extra functionality beyond that of a simple CMS. For example, you could get it so that whenever you create a new website, it creates a link to that website on all you other websites, submits stuff to Google or whatever, does any other funky things that you would otherwise have to manually do.

However, saying all that, some CMS such as Drupal are so flexible these days that there is very little that cannot be done with them.

If you wish to learn more about open source CMS then OpensourceCMS is a great resource, with information reviews and demonstration of many CMS applications.

Article by Dick Stanley, software architect.

Women are Ireland’s top e-shoppers

The Register reports today that research by the Dublin City University has shown that women now dominate online shopping in Ireland. For some time now the Internet has primarily been a male dominated world, with websites designed by men, for men. The most popular sites are often technical in nature, sports pages, gaming and gambling sites – all of which are the play things of men all over the world.

In recent years more emphasis has been made toward improving the market for female surfers and net shoppers. This seems to have paid off well in Ireland at least. Women now are more likely to do their weekly household shopping online, plus shopping for clothes and lingerie, make-up, jewelery, perfumes as well as the usual books, Cd’s and DVDs, and airline tickets.

There is definite evidence that the market for female shoppers is growing, and male web designers need to consider what a woman wants when building a sites style and content.

However, the most important aspects of web design remain efficiency, fulfilment and system availability. Dr Connolly of the Dublin City University said “consumers wanted a service that was easy to access, delivered goods quickly and didn’t crash”.

The Internet is still a growing and evolving market, with new populations, countries and cultures coming online to shop all the time.

Carphone Warehouse buying AOL UK

BBC NEWS | Business | Carphone Warehouse buying AOL UK: “Carphone Warehouse has won the auction to buy the UK’s third-largest internet provider, AOL UK.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said Carphone Warehouse, owner of the TalkTalk broadband and phone offering, was paying GBP370m for the operation.

AOL UK has 2.1 million customers across the country – 600,000 on dial-up and 1.5 million with broadband connections.

Carphone Warehouse, which runs the UK’s largest chain of mobile phone stores, first moved into broadband in April.

News of the deal saw its shares rise 5% in morning trading in London.

“The acquisition is transformational for our broadband business” – Carphone Warehouse boss Charles Dunstone

It will be keeping the AOL name and the US firm’s policy of charging customers.

Carphone Warehouse is funding the acquisition through an extension of its existing debt facilities, and will keep AOL UK’s management and infrastructure.

AOL UK is being sold by its American parent company Time Warner.

Under the deal, the main part of AOL will continue to manage advertising sales on AOL UK and also now on TalkTalk, through a revenue-sharing agreement.

‘New revenues’

Carphone Warehouse chief executive Charles Dunstone said the deal was ‘transformational for our broadband business’.

We have accelerated our customer service recruitment plans and incurred additional wholesale broadband costs
Charles Dunstone

TalkTalk’s costs rise

‘The joint development of AOL’s already successful audience platform will bring us new advertising and content revenues in a proven and low risk manner,’ he added.

News of the deal came after Carphone Warehouse said strong demand for its existing TalkTalk broadband offer meant it was costing �20m more than originally expected.

The firm has had problems dealing with what it said was ‘unprecedented’ consumer reaction to the service.

The UK’s largest residential internet provider is currently NTL, which has 2.9 million home customers, followed by BT on 2.2 million.

Carphone Warehouse is now in third place. “

Wi-fi cuts truancy at Welsh school – Ping Wales | Welsh technology news

“Wi-fi cuts truancy at Welsh school, By Staff Writer, 6 Oct 2006, www.pingwales.co.uk

Following their implementation of a £10,000 wireless network at Bryn Hafren Comprehensive in Barry, Cardiff-based IT networking company, Capital Network Solutions (CNS), and Cisco Systems will run a seminar at the school on 10 October to demonstrate the benefits of the technology within the education sector.

Implemented in September 2005, the network has enabled the school to install a cashless canteen and a swipe card system which helps parents monitor their child’s diet and attendance at school.

The individual swipe cards include memory chips that allow pupils to clock in and out of the school and between classrooms. The daily electronic registration means that as soon as a pupil is registered as absent, a text message is automatically sent to the parent’s mobile phone. The text service also notifies parents when school reports are being sent home, and sends reminders of parents’ evenings. Truancy and absenteeism have reportedly been reduced as a result of the introduction of the network.”

MySpace attracting an older Internet crowd – Internet – www.itnews.com.au

By Antone Gonsalves, TechWeb, itnews.com.au

“More than half of the visitors to MySpace are reportedly 35 years old or older, a surprising statistic given the media attention the site has received as an Internet hangout for teens and young adults.

A recent analysis of the users of leading social networking sites found significant shifts in MySpace’s demographics while the site grew dramatically over the last year, ComScore Networks said. In August, children and teens from 12 years old to 17 years old accounted for 11.9 percent of all visitors, compared with 24.7 percent the same month a year ago.”

Bloggers unite! Governments ask for advice on future of net | The Register

Have your say today, By Kieren McCarthy
Published Monday 9th October 2006 10:01 GMT, The Register

“A meeting of the internet’s top brass as well as UK politicians, businessmen, and academics will take place in London at 2pm today – and bloggers have been asked to make their voices heard.

Discussion will cover the future of the internet and seek answers to the problems the medium has thrown up, including spam, phishing, freedom of speech, and child pornography. The results will then be fed into a global meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that will be held in Athens at the end of the month, and that meeting’s chair, United Nations representative Nitin Desai, will be present and giving a speech alongside trade minister Alun Michael.
Click here to find out more!

Representatives from Google, Nominet, Ofcom, the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), Messagelabs, the Worldbank, the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), Cyber Liberties, and the London Internet Exchange (LINX), among others, will put their point across in a number of panel discussions that mirror what will take place in Athens.”

I am back

OK, been away from Webologist for a while, on other projects. I have learnt a lot more about websites over the last month or so, so will soon be ready to start providing some useful tips for all you budding web designers.

I think I will try to cover the following topics (making no promises though!):

1. ISP’s – a few tips on what to look for etc. when choosing a internet service provider.
2. Webhosts – What to look for with a webhost, what you need for a basic site, or for more complex and demanding sites.
3. Web design packages, why you don’t need to pay anything, plus tips on publishing photo albums for friends and family that look professional.
4. SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – how to get you web page found on the web – being search engine friendly etc.
5. How to modify a blog for you page
6. How to build a wiki
7. How to install and set up a Forum
8. Um… and anything else I think of !
9. Pligg – the new open source Web2.0 CMS.

Cheers,

Jon.

More grief from website building

Well, finally realised where I was going wrong with NVU and my pages. Needless to say, loads of work to do. I was building pages in Strict HTML which should have been transitional. Lots of faffing around, but getting them sorted. At least much fewer errors on each page.