Bonnie Babes – an open source email and website solution

The Bonnie Babes Foundation website, email and shared calendaring has recently been developed using free and open source software. That is, each of the software tools is completely and absolutely FREE! My time on the project (around 100 hours all up) was also donated, so the only costs incurred by the Foundation were for web hosting ($15 per month at Servers Australia).  So, how did it all come together?

Email

Bonnie Babes were previously using a POP-based solution using the organisation’s primary email contact address. This meant that if five separate people on five separate computers each sent mail, no one else could see what had been sent. This was migrated to an IMAP-based solution using Thunderbird.

The old POP email was moved to the IMAP folders. The biggest hassle here was that there was around 80 times more email to migrate to IMAP than I had budgeted for during the analysis phase. Luckily, Servers Australia came to the party and gave us some breathing space with an extra half a gig (NOTE: Big thanks Jared!). There was one machine that would crash every time I tried to import the mail from Outlook into Thunderbird, so as a workaround we first imported the mail from Outlook into Outlook Express, and from Outlook Express into Thunderbird. This finally worked (just be careful if you have to do this, as it imports ALL accounts from Outlook Express).

The staff at the organisation were used to using Outlook rather than Thunderbird, however they seemed to adapt fairly quickly. The only glitches we found were that the formatting in Thunderbird is a little different to Outlook – so ‘Paste without formatting’ was used as a workaround.

Filters have been set up on one computer rather than different computers having different filters applied.

Shared calendar

One of the requirements of the organisation was to have a shared calendar so that appointments, events and to do lists could be shared among multiple staff. An Exchange server was out of budget, so I settled for Sunbird. With Sunbird, it can be set up so that a remote calendar can be used. An .ics file was set up for this purpose on the web server, however it was made available under the FTP root rather than the web server root for security reasons.

The calendar is then accessed via a standard FTP URL such as:

ftp://username:password@ftp.mydomain.org.au/path/to.ics

Website

The website has been created using WordPress, with a number of plugins. Chief among them are cForms, for building user editable contact forms and the eShop plugin for online commerce. I had originally planned to use the WP e-Commerce plugin for the Online Shop component, however this plugin seems to be full of bugs and I had no end of trouble installing it.

One very useful plugin that deserves a mention is pageMash - used for ordering pages within WordPress. I’m surprised that this functionality hasn’t been made better yet – as the developers state, it’s still a little ‘janky’. Hopefully this will get a look in for the 2.8 release of WordPress.

One of the very nifty things I learned about WordPress during this exercise is that there is an .ics calendar available of upcoming releases – very handy (and very quickly put into Sunbird!)

Of course, the website validates as XHMTL transitional and CSS 3 valid (a very big thanks to Jason King for picking up that the theme version 1.0 wasn’t compliant).

Google tools

The web presence also makes use of a number of freely-available tools by Google, including;

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