[unrev-II] Experimental Zope/Python DKR Site Running

From: Paul Fernhout (pdfernhout@kurtz-fernhout.com)
Date: Mon Jan 31 2000 - 16:17:53 PST

From: Paul Fernhout <pdfernhout@kurtz-fernhout.com>

All -

The specifications on OHS/DKR the DKR group have put together at:
are really impressive. That document shows a lot of good work and great
insight. The hardest part of a project is to get the specifications
right, and that document looks like the best definition of a flexible
information management / collaborative authoring environment I've seen
in a long time.

I've been thinking about how to implement that spec with Python/Zope.
Zope is a web application server built on top of the Python programming
language. Zope includes an object database and conduits to mySQL and
other relational databases. Both Zope and Python are "open source"
software. Zope is pretty cool in that you can edit all content through
the web and even do simple OO programming that way.

Using Zope and Squishdot, a Slashdot http://www.slashdot.org look-alike
product, I have set up an experimental news site for the colloquium.
Access information is at the end of this message.

Beyond news, the site includes a poll and chatrooms. My major concern
is that while Zope is fairly stable, the third-party Squishdot product
is still in Alpha (and the author disclaims "don't bet your job on it").
While I haven't seen any major problems with it, I wouldn't want Zope
to look bad if Squishdot failed under heavy use.

Zope/Squishdot/Python/etc. could be a next bootstrap level above the
reliable Onelist mailing list -- because Zope is very malleable.

Zope as is clearly is not a OHS/DKR in the complete Doug Englebart
sense, far from it. Zope does not have the level of integration Doug
would like to see (based on his writings). Zope is just a cut above many
other systems easily available under open source licenses, and probably
reliable enough (knock on simulated wood :-) that it could be made
better. Zope has the core requisite of providing an "object database"
coupled to a full featured OO programming language that can generate
HTML and talk via sockets to other applications. I'm still not sure how
reliable that entire system is, but so far I have not seen any problems.

In addition, time spent learning to improve Zope and work with it is a
(soon to be) readily marketable skill, because Zope is good enough "as
is" for commercial work -- which all means a bigger potential audience
of developers and users for anything done with it from day one.

Obviously though, Zope lacks built in support for all the cool aspects
that make OHS an integrated solution. And various Zope products compound
the problem by creating yet more unintegrated systems. Ideas like those
in William Kent's book "Data & Reality" tend to make me feel data
representations must frequently change to accommodate new user needs --
and that is something that Zope could do better (and also perhaps XML
DTDs could do that better too for that matter).

Yet, Zope is a starting place for a second level of bootstrapping a DKR
past Onelist & email. It is a good one IMHO because it is relatively
easily extendible and is already open source. And actually, it is the
best I know of as a server. Feel free to point me to a better one.
For me the only other major competition is Squeak Smalltalk
http://www.squeak.org which has other strengths and weaknesses.
I would also be interested in doing a DKR in Squeak is anyone out there
is a Smalltalk developer. Python is just generally more accessible to
Java/C++/Pascal/VB programmers because of the similar syntax, although
Python lacks the level of integration with development tools found in
Squeak/Smalltalk. Also, I could get Python/Zope on ISPs; I can't yet
get Squeak. It is fairly easy to put a Squeak server on the net if
someone has the hardware.

The Zope security model is intended to address some of the issues that
have come up with the colloquium and DKR web pages (delegation of
modification privileges, undo, working in sessions invisible to others
until committed). While this security model is not as good as the one in
the spec the DKR team developed, it is serviceable for a start.

For those seriously interested in working with Zope, you can download it
for your own system (NT, Linux, Solaris) or I can set you up with an
account on this server where you can experiment in creating content and
using existing products. If you want to develop new Zope products using
ZClasses, you will probably need to use a local copy of Zope.

One final point. As Paul Everitt (the CEO of Digicool www.digicool.com/
Zope's creator) pointed out, it might be a good idea to involve many
Python developers using Zope/Python in creating a DKR/OHS system. The
Python newsgroup is a very active one with many "think outside the box"
people interested in open source development. There are dozens of Zope
Products http://www.Zope.org/Products being distributed (for free)
already, many under various open source license. There might be some
serious interest among this user/developer community for participating
with such development and improvements if they were done in Zope. Also,
this doesn't have to be either or. Java VM Applets could talk to Zope
server. And Zope can fairly easily talk to other systems in whatever
language (locally or over the internet) through various adapter objects,
which for example is how the mySQL database integration is done.

I don't mean to step on the Java DKR effort. I know the DKR group was
working together on it for quite a while. I have my own opinions about
Java, but clearly the determination for the best language to use for
something is based on many factors, including familiarity, sponsorship,
and perceived growth. It is almost certain in any event that several
Java VM applets or such would be needed even with some sort of Zope
OHS/DKR, to implement things like screen sharing and many other
collaborative tools. Since Doug has pointed out several times the need
for evolution in DKR developments, I am making this site public even at
the risk of causing some fragmentation in development efforts.

The access information for the experimental Zope site is:
  User: UnregisteredUser
  Password: unrevii

Again, I'm not sure how stable it is. Please let me know if you
encounter any difficulties playing with it.

It might be interesting to see if we could implement some of the
concepts discussed here recently (like WebDAV & IBIS) as Zope products
which could then be installed on this site.

-Paul Fernhout
Kurtz-Fernhout Software
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the open source Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

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