First Update in 2011 looking back over the past 3 months and current projects

The new year 2011 has already progressed quite a bit, and it is time to establish good routines again. Some of you have missed the weekly updates, and I want to thank you who have asked for regular updates. A lot of things have happened since the last update, which was more than 3 months ago, at the end of September 2010. I will write a short summary later in this update.

The problem is that while busily working away, we forget to take time to write down what has happened, and what the goals are. For this year, which seems to be the year when the OpenPetra project becomes really busy, we want to keep everyone up-to-date. It might not be always a structured text, but even an informal update can help to keep people motivated and to share the vision. We might take writing the updates in turns, so one time you get the update written by the developers in Germany, the other time from the guys in Carlisle.

A short, not complete summary of things that have happened in the past 3 months:

In the middle of October, the 4 developers of, Matthias, Thias, Wolfgang and Timotheus, have had their first real-life meeting in Mosbach, Germany. Since then we have established a weekly phone conference call between us, and have all got into programming with C# and got used more or less to the tools.

Christian has visited in October 2010 the Free Software and Open Source Symposium at Seneca College, Toronto. You can find his slides and the recording of his session here, unfortunately the sound quality is quite poorly, there was a problem with the recording equipment:
Christian took away a number of good suggestions, and lots of contacts, and we still have to see how we can make best use of those.

Some projects that we have found interesting over the last months:

  • IRC: Christian was told that this is an excellent tool for developers on an Open Source project to communicate, and we have started using IRC, and it is really helpful! Today we have had 8 developers online at the same time, and that was not even all developers, some were offline. You find instructions for joining the IRC channel on the website:
  • for free voice conferencing, especially helpful because we are working as a distributed team. We have not used this software yet, though.
  • this is a freeware tool for easy-to-use cross-platform desktop sharing, we have found this very useful to help new developers getting started, and have another pair of eyes to look at strange bugs
  • Greenhopper, Jira, Confluence: the tools from Atlassian for work item tracking and wiki and agile work flows: we have had a brief look, but at the moment we will continue with Mantis and MediaWiki hosted with Sourceforge.
  • We looked at git, and realised that the git setup we have had with sourceforge was quite difficult to maintain and to adjust to our workflows. Therefore we decided to look into alternatives, which basically were mercurial and bazaar.

In the week after the first of Advent, which was in the end of November and the beginning of December, 3 of the SolidCharity developers travelled to Carlisle, UK, to meet the 4 developers who are working with OM on Petra and OpenPetra. We also met the managers who are actually responsible for spending money (that has been donated to OM) on the development of OpenPetra. We are thankful that we had a safe journey despite the snowy weather and quite a few delays on the planes and trains. The meetings were good, there was a good understanding of the common goals.
Major results were:

  • We have realized that OpenPetra will be the tool of first choice for growing and emerging mission movements from the “Global South”. Global South describes the part of the world that used to be the countries receiving help and training for many decades, but where the church has grown hugely over the last years, and should now be treated as an equal partner in world missions.
  • We now have an architecture board, with Thias and Christian, who will delegate the investigation of topics to other team members, and who will make technical decisions. In the end we want to have open discussions, but it is also good when there is some structure in the project.
  • We have asked OM to provide us with a Product owner, ie. a person that is full-time available to the OpenPetra project, and talks to users and developers, so that the software will fit the needs of the actual users. We as developers don’t want to make decisions for the users, and we cannot do all the interviews and negotiations.
  • We have decided to switch from git to bazaar, and host that on our own server. Bazaar supports a more centralized workflow, while still allowing distributed development. Bazaar also is more restrictive than git, which protects us from possibly breaking the history of a branch. We wanted to get this done before the Taylor students would come in the first days of January 2011, and with hindsight this was probably a far too hasty switch. Anyway, we have worked hard on this project over the past weeks, have written documentation in the wiki, and are still learning our lessons.
  • The other big topic was the project plan. The team in Carlisle had worked over the months of autumn on the categorizing of the old 4GL source code, and assigned levels of difficulty for each file. During our meetings, we assigned time estimations to each level, which allowed us to do a more appropriate estimation of the overall size of the project, of things that still need to be done on OpenPetra until it becomes an option to replace the old Petra. We also talked about having a smaller version of OpenPetra, which would work already for smaller offices inside and outside of OM, eg. offices that just do bookkeeping, but don’t use OpenPetra for personnel management. We have not got a final project plan yet, but WolfgangB is working on that. The project plan will not be set in stone, but should give us a clearer picture and vision, which should encourage fund raisers and other organisations and developers to join and support the project.
    • The Taylor students are working on better navigation controls for the main screen, collapsible panels, and a framework for assistants aka shepherds.
    • MatthiasH is working on GL and Gift export and import
    • WolfgangU is working on foreign currency accounts and foreign currency transactions.
    • MatthiasG is working on improving our NAnt scripts to generate csproj files.
    • TimotheusP has to work on high priority on the online registration for a conference that OM Germany are hosting in the end of July, and people would like to register already now! This will utilize ext.js and in combination with OpenPetra. You can find a demo here:
    • JoachimM continues to work on the spanish translation of the website, and also taking on smaller bugs developing in C#.
    • ThomasS is working on importing generated data to establish a good and big demo database, which we will be able to use for performance testing and developing reports.
    • ChristianK is working with the students, and will also continue to improve the Partner Edit and Partner Find screens.
    • WolfgangB is working on the project plan and still has other responsibilties outside of OpenPetra.
    • We have also got a good review of 2 people of our website, with suggestions to improve the structure and presentation of information for easy reading and getting to the pages people are looking for. We need to find time to apply some of these suggestions.
    • A number of developers of software applications similar to OpenPetra will meet at the International Conference on Computing and Mission (ICCM) in February 2011. We hope to get to know each other, recognize our common goals and different focuses, and we will see where we can cooperate and how we can encourage each other.
    • In the end of February 2011 there is a meeting of christian business people in Germany, Together with the project we will have a booth there, and hope to establish good contacts to business people who understand the technical challenges that OpenPetra aims to address, and who might be able to participate in the effort in one way or the other. We also will meet representatives from charities and non-government organisations, that might see the potential of OpenPetra.
  • In the first days of January 2011, a group of 6 students with 2 members of staff of the Taylor university have travelled from the US to the UK, to visit the OM offices in Carlisle, to get to know missions and how their IT skills can be used in missions, and to help with OpenPetra development. You can read an article about the visit and with some photos of the team here:
    Read their daily updates on the blog of the trip:

    Over the last weeks, more volunteers have started looking into OpenPetra, to see if they want to get involved. This is encouraging for us, and we try our best to help with setting up the development environment, even offering a remote Windows machines free of charge which are really fast compiling and prevent people from needing to install SharpDevelop and other tools on their own (slow) computer.
    I am sorry that we are sometimes slow to answer emails. The best is to write in the forum, and not personal emails to me. Talking to us on the IRC channel is also a good way to get answers quite quickly.

    Joachim, one of the first external volunteers, has worked hard with the help of native spanish speakers on the spanish translation of the OpenPetra client and the website. You soon will see the spanish version of the OpenPetra website. This shows how OpenPetra will be available in all sorts of languages and cultures, depending on the volunteers that see a benefit in OpenPetra for their favourite people group.

    On the production side, DFN UK are using the centrally hosted version of OpenPetra for managing their addresses, and they are looking forward to do bookkeeping as well with OpenPetra. They found a number of bugs when creating new partners, but were able to work around those issues.
    The annual gift receipts for the german Nazareth charity have been printed again with OpenPetra. We discovered a number of bugs, some of those have been resolved already.
    Erich in the Ukraine is evaluating OpenPetra to be used as accounting software for the charity he works for, and we are still working on getting the import for finance data to work for him.

    Projects we are currently working on (I probably have forgotten some projects):

    Events for the coming months:

    As you see, the past 3 months have been very busy and very exciting.
    It seems, this year 2011 will become quite interesting, and I cannot estimate at the moment where we will be at the end of the year.
    We need all the help we can get, since this task is huge, and even when we try our best, we lack experience and resources, and we aim far higher than we could humanly speaking get to.

    Thank you all for your support!

    I hope the next update will not be too far away, and it will be of course be a little shorter, but who knows, if things get rolling…

    All the best to you for 2011,
    Timotheus for the OpenPetra developers

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