Small company, complex IT

I was daydreaming today and I wondered just how many files actually make up the openxtra website. For a small site you would assume that wouldn’t be many?

Well, I’ve counted and I got quite a shock. The website is made up of 4974 files. And that doesn’t count the databases. There are three of those.

It just goes to show that things grow organically and before you know it you’ve got yourself quite a headache. Changing the website is not something we do lightly.

Just because you’re a small company doesn’t mean that your IT usage is going to be simple. Even small companies can have quite sophisticated IT systems.

And the website is only going to keep on growing…we’ve got some great plans for it in 2007 😉

The great domain telephone test

I wish I’d known this 3 and a half years ago 🙂

When starting out in business or anything else where a website or email is important. I’ve got a bit of advice for you. I call it the domain telephone test.

Get hold of a colleague or friend, ring them up and arrange for them to ask you the website address and then the email address of your proposed domain.

If you can tell them the website and email address without having to spell anything out to them, without any clarifications, no misunderstandings then you have yourself a good domain. If on the other hand, you have to spell things out or they get the wrong address then maybe you should reconsider your choice of domain.

It’s really quite obvious when you think about it, but it does get overlooked. When starting out in business there are a lot of things to think about. Sometimes the details do get overlooked. I see a lot of domains containing dashes. That’s gotta be a nightmare to dictate over the phone.

So what happens if you do get it wrong? Well, the best idea is to buy the domains your customers think they are hearing. Then point the website over to your main site. Also, enable email on the miss spelt domain and forward to your main domain.

Guess what people always get wrong with our domain? Answers on a postcard to…

Another Gem: Sqlite

Open source software never ceases to amaze (and delight) me. I’ve found another gem, though not a network management package this time!

Sqlite is an excellent embedded database. I’ve been playing around with it for the last week or so and I am really impressed with it. It’s quick, it’s simple and it just works.

One of the big problems with a lot of open source software is that the documentation can be a bit sparse. I am happy to say that the Sqlite documentation isn’t bad. And there are a number of books available for it too.

In fact, one of the criteria we have for choosing open source tools is whether they have a reasonable number of books available. When we’ve had problems before it has always been because of a lack of good documentation. If Apress, O’Reilly or another quality publisher has written a book about a project:

  • The project must have reached a reasonable level of users. Publishers like to sell books!
  • Reasonable level of reliability must have been reached. Users don’t like bugs.
  • Active engagement by a number of developers.
  • Rich ecosystem of supporting tools and utilities.

I look forward to further exploring this gem. It is a great new tool in my software toolkit.

Gadget Ahoy

OPENXTRA Console Screenshot
I’ve been seeing lots of activity on the Desktop recently. Apple started it all off with their Dashboard built into OSX. All very impressive but hardly of much interest to Microsoft Windows users.

Anyway. Google have brought out a similar system for Windows users called Google Desktop. It has been through a few versions now and it looks pretty good.

As an experiment I thought it would be fun to create a Gadget as the Google Desktop plugins are called. So, that’s exactly what I did 🙂

You can download the result here. You will need Google Desktop first, you can download that here.

The Gadget displays the current readings from the Sensatronics range of network thermometers. Please let me know what you think.

Give me a boost Boost

I’ve not been programming full time since the end of 2002. Ah, those were the days…strong coffee and err RSI a plenty 🙂

I am just about to embark on a heavy duty bit of programming, likely to last a few intense months. I’ll fill you in about the reason why in another post.

Anyway, I’ve just been having a peek at all of the new C++ goodies and my, haven’t the C++ standards people been busy. I don’t know why, but I am struggling with the new features. It doesn’t seem to matter how many books I read about generic programming, none do a good job explaining the new features.

Take a look at the Boost library. C++ is finally getting a library as high quality and broad in scope as many of the scripting languages like Perl and Python have had for some time. The main problem is the steep learning curve. It would be nice to play around with the various sub-libraries contained inside Boost, but time is always at a premium.

So, what’s the answer. Well, pragmatically I’m going to ignore all of those nice new features. Learning whilst in production mode is one of the more stressful things you can do in programming. Also, the resulting code is rarely of high quality.

As a pragmatic programmer I am going to write the code in a style I already know with a liberal sprinkling of unit tests. That way, I can refactor the code to my hearts content with the firm knowledge that when I break something I will know immediately.

You lucky people, yet more OSS

It is nice to see the open source network management community is still in rude health. Another network and systems monitoring tool has popped onto my horizon. Don’t know how I missed this one, it looks a goodie!

Based upon the much underrated application server platform Zope, Zenoss sure does look the part. If the website is anything to go by I can see a lot of IT and network managers finding a home for this one.

By the looks of the board they must have received a healthy dose of venture capital money. And the downloads are going thick and fast. The money tends to be a bit harder though, especially if you are relying on a support sale. That’s really hard.

The idea is far from new, hell we even tried it! Although, we did have a half arsed, underfunded English style attempt. They seem to have made a good stab at it. I wish them luck. The free open source NMS space does have some very nice projects, like Nagios and OpenNMS as well as a raft of RRDTool wrappers like Cacti and Cricket.

It does surprise me a little bit that Zenoss got VC funding. I mean, an open source company can never really build a defendable market position. All of the crown jewels are freely given away so anyone can do exactly the same thing. Still, never stopped Red Hat did it? Maybe I’m a bit behind on current VC thinking on the subject.

Why selling on the web is hard

We are currently on our fifth full iteration of our website. And when I say iteration, I mean full gut wrenching, throw everything out and do it again iteration. That works out to over one full iteration per year.

We’ve used the simplest e-commerce system you can use, called Mal’s-ecommerce, through a PHP based cart and then eventually to our current system based upon Elastic Path.

Trust me, it’s hard. But, that isn’t the hardest part of e-commerce. The hardest part on the web is trust. Trust is way harder to imbue in your visitors than anything else.

The whole trust issue was reinforced to me yesterday. My sister’s PC got infected with spyware. As the family IT guy I got the call. Of all of the tools to cure the problem, all of the ones I’d heard of didn’t work. So, how can I figure out which of the remaining tools I can trust? Well, you can’t. You just have to guess.

Thankfully I guessed right but I had no real information to go on. The bad ones look just as good as the genuine ones.

How to go about imbuing trust in your website I will leave for another day.