Light-weight XML editor

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XML Copy Editor LogoI was looking for an XML editor to perform a few simple tasks. Since i worked heavily with XML a few years ago, the Windows XML editor of choice is apparently still the Altova XML Spy. You can get it to do anything with XML (except – i think – transform XML to coffee). Negative minds would probably call it bloated and expensive. Positive minds would look for a cheap agile alternative.

Using the Open Source Alternative-site it is possible to find applications doing somewhat the same as commercial products. For the XML Spy query, the result is XML Copy Editor – a SourceForge application that has currently reached version 1.0.9. My needs were met as it:

  1. color-codes XML
  2. beautify/pretty-print XML with consistent indentations to increase readability
  3. opens files directly from URL’s

Also it XSLT transforms and has a small set of other features you may or may not need. Before you venture into extensive license bill-paying, you may try out this nifty little XML editor.

Why are Wiki’s so darn ugly?

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I am a Wiki-virgin. Not in the sense of being a wiki-reader/contributor, but today I set up my first Wiki which is about to go online. Wiki’s based on the MediaWiki software (which is also used for WikiPedia) are actually skinable, but as content usually is king in Wiki land, very few operators make an effort to change skin before going online. The well known default Monobook skin is used almost everywhere (you know – the one where the monochrome image of an book is the back-drop).

This has one obvious benefit: People recognize it as being a Wiki-type site immediately. Indeed a strong argument to keep things as they are. I may be running my mouth of as the green first day Wiki operator, and maybe I have actually used Wiki based sites that I did not recognize because it used some great unknown skin. But doesn’t the Wiki deserve it’s Kubrick skin – which was considered the defacto blog-look a few years back. People would look at the skin (which is beautiful) and say “Ahh – that’s a weblog”. These days I (and probably a few other) say “Yuck – It’s a Wiki”.

Michael Heilemann did such a great job with Kubrick. Isn’t it time for Wiki’s to have their own updated slick skin? Do you have it or know where to get it? There is one Wiki-skin I like: Cavendish. I would love to be able to create one myself, but my graphic skills are unfortunately only focused around my eyes – not in my hands.

Open Source time registration and tracking

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I am in the middle of a project with a client – a project to improve their time usage registration procedures. They had been looking at several commercial solutions – all requiring customizations – most of them costing “an arm and a leg”.

They actually started a project with one vendor who thought they could deliver, but apparently forgot to listen for client needs and forgot to set client expectations correctly – the project ran for six months and finally they had to retreat and stop the project in progress because they could not deliver.

Achievo 1.3I got a second chance to present my idea which is now running and in further development. It is based on the Open Source project Achievo, originally developed and opened up by the cool guys at iBuildings in the Netherlands.

The advancements of the processes around time registration and tracking is usually “evolutionary” for companies like my client. They know they need to register time in order to bill the client at the end of the month. In this case, the consultants would initially share an Excel sheet in which they would register their hours. It worked, but apart from being limited to only one person entering hourly usage at a time, it was very difficult to verify that everybody had remembered to register all billable hours. And that may or may not be quite expensive in the end – they actually didn’t know.

Achievo is based on modules and it has a billing module which I guess is used by more or less anyone running the system. It will be included as a standard module in the next release. My main task has been to integrate with my clients CRM system (regularly import customers and create dummy projects for them). Also I created a few reports to ease the actual billing, as my client cannot use the billing module as-is. They have a somewhat special price matrix, which I needed to get Achievo in tune with. It was also necessary to build some tidbits that would enable handling of prepaying clients bying a predefined number of hours at special rates. I hope that I will dig up some time to feed some business process documentation and project templates back to the Achievo community.

Achievo runs on a LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). Check out the demo sites running version 1.2.1 (the current release) and the nightly builds for the upcoming version 1.3. My one-man company can use Achievo 100% as is. My client – a 25 person consultancy firm – has been running Achievo since the beginning of this year and we are just now entering phase two, where we will add quite a few more “need” and “nice” features.