|Drupal Intranets with Open Atrium|
|author||Tracy Charles Smith|
|summary||A good manual for (prospective) end users of Open Atrium|
Decision-makers who just need to assess whether Open Atrium can be the right solution for them will probably find answers already in Chapter 1, which gives a very good overview on the features and possibilities offered by the tool. After explaining the fundamental concept of groups (Open Atrium is meant for teamwork and it supports multiple teams, with independent work spaces), the author presents each feature available in Open Atrium with a sample screenshot and a summary. The only drawback is due to an inherent shortcoming: the Open Atrium features have deceptive names (for example, the Blog is actually meant for Discussions, while the Notebook is rather a Wiki), so the author cleverly renames them to clarify their meaning; but in doing so he is at times slightly inconsistent (the Notebook feature is called Wiki, Documents, Notebook and Handbook) with the potential to actually confuse a newcomer.
The target public will likely want to skip Chapters 2 and 3, that deal with system administration and installation. The installation instructions for Mac and Windows users (for Linux-based systems it would be enough to recommend to install the standard LAMP stack) are very detailed and comprehensive, and include important tips such as how to downgrade PHP in case of compatibility problems. A section explains how to use PHPMyAdmin to create the needed MySQL database, and it could be slightly simplified by proposing to create the database directly at the account creation. The book explains how to install Drupal, but this is only useful for troubleshooting, and not required for Open Atrium; then it proceeds with clear, illustrated, step-by-step instructions for Windows and Mac. Some Mac users might be put off by the lengthy command-line instructions proposed to perform operations that are easily done through the GUI, like copying files. The browser-based installation instructions are very clear, and they only miss a couple warnings: first, that the installation will automatically send a welcome e-mail; second, that the "Check for updates" checkbox will be discussed later, in Chapter 12. The final section is a great introduction to the administration panel, perfect for newcomers to know what they should and what they shouldn't do with it.
The "missing Open Atrium manual" is in Chapters 4 to 10. Anyone wanting to understand how Open Atrium works will find clear instructions here, and, whether you are evaluating Open Atrium or you are already using it and want proper documentation, your needs will be fulfilled by the time you finish Chapter 10. Everything is explained very clearly, with plenty of screenshots and examples.
The manual begins (Chapters 4-6) with two transversal topics to the Open Atrium administration, i.e., users and dashboard management. An alternative approach would probably be more effective for people new to Open Atrium, i.e., they should first become familiar with the key concept of Groups in Open Atrium and learn user and dashboard management only after Groups have been understood; this would allow to avoid several forward-references in Chapters 4 and 5 and to avoid explaining group creation twice, both in Chapter 5 and 6. However, Groups are properly covered in Chapter 6, even providing a sample mapping of an organization into Open Atrium groups. Some usability quirks of Open Atrium are also explained and workarounds are provided. Upon finishing this section, you will understand how to structure your Intranet in groups, what features you should enable in each group and how you can provide different front pages ("dashboards") for different groups or even different users.
The rest of the manual (Chapters 7-10) is a comprehensive guide to the four most important features in Open Atrium: Document Library, Blogs, Case Tracker and Calendar. About 100 pages with screenshots explain all details about the core features, ranging from the rather obvious functionality to advanced tips to make the most out of your Open Atrium installation. For example, there are valuable suggestions on the benefits of tagging content, hiding unwanted options in content creation, referencing content and other built-in functionality that is not immediately understandable, especially for users without prior experience in Drupal systems. The chapters are easily readable, with the only issue, again, that confusing synonyms are needed to cater for the awkward Open Atrium terminology (using case, bug, ticket, issue to mean the same concept).
The book then moves on to topics that will only be useful to the site administrator. For example, it explains how the site administrator can define new priority values and set default assignees in the Case Tracker. Then it moves on to more advanced tasks, like handling Views, but people wanting to configure the Open Atrium views will need a level of experience beyond the simple guided example shown in the book. On one side, this information is good since it explains basic customizations that most companies will want to apply; on the other side, the examples shown in the book are quite specific and cannot be generalized, i.e., you won't be able to configure the Blog based on how customizing the Case Tracker works. A long section is dedicated to running cron.php in order to keep the search index up-to-date, even though it would have been nice to mention poormanscron as an alternative and user-friendly solution. A good explanation of Drupal caching follows, with appropriate remarks explaining why block cache is unsuitable for Open Atrium. The book recommends the "all-in-one" upgrade strategy, i.e., waiting for distribution updates instead of upgrading individual modules as they are available, and this is fine, since indeed the Open Atrium maintainers are making a good job with a regular release schedule for security updates. A major shortcoming is a discussion on where the additional modules should be placed in the Open Atrium tree; at least, it should be mentioned that placing them in the Open Atrium profile may cause upgrade problems, and that the cleanest solution is to place them under sites/all. The book is completed by an Appendix listing Drupal resources and discussing briefly the concept of Drupal Features and Drupal theming, namely tips for Open Atrium subtheming.
In the end, this is a great book if you are an end user, or prospective user, of Open Atrium, especially in a corporate environment. If you already have some experience with building Drupal sites, you won't find anything new or interesting here, but you should definitely recommend it to your clients to save a lot of time to you and them.
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