How does the OATS Website Work?
The OATS website (OATsoft.org) is built using a number of open-source tools to allow a strong community to grow around the project.
This is a non technical description - for the technical aspects of the website you can read this document on the Forge.
A Content Management System
A content management system (CMS) is a way of producing and managing a website.
OATS is based on PLONE, which is an open-source CMS. Plone is a very powerful CMS which is fully accessible - meeting a number of accessiblity and other criteria. Meeting these criteria means that the code that makes up the site meets standards defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C - www.w3.org) for correct syntax.
This is important for users who may be accessing the website using a screen reader, symbol browser or text browser - a significant proportion of the site's anticipated users. PLONE also meets Section 508 standards (the USA accessibility legislation) and works in any web browser.
Using PLONE means that maintanence of the site can be 'pushed out' into the community - anyone who logs on can add a document which is reviewed by a team member before being 'published' on the site. This process is called a workflow and allows strong community involvement whilst maintaining quality on the site.
PLONE also allows for complete customisation of the asthetics and usability of the site. For the OATS site we have two groups of users with significantly different needs from the site:
- USERS, who want quick access to appropriate software with readable and concise information.
- DEVELOPERS, who want full descriptions of projects including technical information.
PLONE allows us to achieve this using a single site in that we can customise the user-interface elements, content and layout according to the end user's needs.
PLONE itself is an excellent example of an open source project. Since the code is open, producing add on products is easy and a large number of add-ons have been developed for every conceivable application. OATS has used a number of these add-on products - the main one being the Plone Software Centre, a tool developed to manage and list software releases for PLONE's own site. This has been adapted and customised (again, a benefit of open-source) to manage the software listing, which is the heart of the OATS site.
The Forge is where new OATS software is developed - www.oatsoft.org provides a number of cutting edge tools for developers, who host projects on the site.
A number of open-source forges exist. However, there have been none specifically dedicated to assistive technology - until now with OATS. By integrating the development tools and FORGE site with the user side's REPOSITORY, the OATS team have made a concious decision to bring developers and users closer together.
To consolidate this, the OATS site provides tools to encourage communication between users, professionals and developers in the following way:
Each project has a dedicated area and web address. It also includes a number of tools to encourage strong communication between users and developers including: noticeboards, voting mechanisms & documentation areas.
Trac is provided to any OATS hosted project - it is an excellent tool that allows project management, planning and bug tracking. Trac includes a 'wiki' - a tool to allow collaborative editing of project planning and documentation. It also includes a bug-tracker that lists bugs and allows their rectification to be assigned to a specific developer.
Subversion is a code versioning repository - this is an area where developers can store their code. However, it is different from a normal filing system. Subversion allows a number of different people to work on the same software at the same time! Files are checked in and out, and, if two people have both made changes to the same file they are 'merged' into one. Subversion comes with a clever interface that seamlessly integrates with a developer's computer to allow simple updating of files that all parties have been working on.