Version 4.2 coming up - behind the scenes update
This will likely be the last time I talk about version 4.2 as "coming up" - since we are on the final stretch for release scheduled around mid-May. Development of version 4.2 stopped more than a week ago - except for a final touch-up here and there. So what is happening now is that our QA (quality assurance, aka testing) team of five is going through Wild Apricot with a fine-tooth comb and re-testing all of its functions and workflows - you would not believe how many different combinations are there!
Here's what else is going on during the final preparation for version 4.2 launch:
- Our support team is working on updating our online help (help.wildapricot.com). We may be unique in using our support team to update the online help instead of using dedicated tech writers, but there are two reasons we rely on our support team for this: 1) They have the best understanding of typical questions from our users and 2) In the course of updating help pages, the support team really gets to know all the changes to functionality and thus are ready to provide support for the new version once it's launched.
- To get the process going, senior product designer Evgeny (aka Apricot Kernel) has conducted a training session for the support team to introduce them to main new features and changes
- After that, Frank, the Fresh Apricot, had to scan around 260 various work tasks (new features, enhancements, changes, bug fixes) that constituted version 4.2, identify those large and important ones that warrant updating the online help, compile a list of help pages to update and create - and distribute the work equally among our support team.
- We also asked our QA team and product analysts to double-check the list to make sure we are not missing anything.
- We then proceed to create a full 'clone' of our online help website. All the work is done in that clone - updating the existing pages and creating new ones. When the new version goes live, this new help website is published, overriding the old version.
- Each help page to create/update is assigned to a specific person from the support team - and another person who is the main reviewer. (And I usually take it upon myself to do the last final check of the updated and reviewed version of each help page. Still, even with all this checking and rechecking we occasionally have some outdated screenshots, descriptions or incorrect links slip through - so we always appreciate it when people contact us about any 'bugs' in our online help and try to fix them right away.)
- Along the way, our support team is creating screenshots from the new version - so they typically set up one or several websites with some demo data that can be used for help site screenshots.
- We will also be reviewing our existing video tutorials to see if any of them are obsoleted by the new version. (If they are, we would for now hide them - and plan developing updated videos on the new version a bit later after the launch)
- Our QA team will be running one more full cycle of testing in our 'production environment'. In other words, up until now version 4.2 has been developed and tested using a bunch of special development and testing servers in our offices. As any developer worth its salt knows, complex software working on a particular computer would not necessarily work on another computer! So what we do prior to launch is rotate out a number of servers normally used for running our 'production' (aka live) environment (servers that normally handle all the client websites) and take the new version through the paces - fully configured and running on those servers, in our main data center.
- One more task is updating a 'mapping' of Wild Apricot 'administration backend' pages to online help - you probably noticed that whenever you click on Help icon in your account backend, it brings up a list of suggested help pages - which depend on the specific page you clicked it on - so we have to maintain that list of related help pages.
- Our technical team is also finalizing and testing so-called data transformation procedures. When we upgrade to the new version, we will need to take the full up-to-date database from all client accounts and convert the data so that tables and records correspond to changes in the new version. We are testing and timing these procedures in advance - using the current snapshot of client accounts - to ensure it converts without a hitch and within a reasonable period of time (we typically plan for 30-60 minutes of data conversion during the overall version upgrade process which normally takes several hours).
- They will also have to run what is known as "load tests' - to make sure that new version will withstand the high volume of requests - as well as run a set of standard security checks.
- Another task is to update our internal Knowledge Base - internal help website for customer service/tech support team to help them dealing with some tricky aspects of system administration and things that are not visible to regular users.
New CMS architecture preview for designers
As mentioned in our last newsletter, version 4.2 will use new CMS technical architecture, which will provide web designers with much more robust customization capabilities in Wild Apricot-based websites. Thanks to all the partners/designers who already got in touch with me to access the preview - you should hear from us in a few days and get a link to the preview servers and some initial documentation. If you are interested in preview, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know your IP address so that we can open access to version 4.2 preview for you.
Our focus is already shifting to the next version. As described in the previous monthly post, we have two major chunks of work:
- The first one - 'Payments from Profile' - has been fully designed, work has been estimated so it is pretty much ready - waiting for the starter pistol to launch the race for version 4.3 around end of May/early June.
- The second - and the biggest one - is a total redesign of Wild Apricot website management interface (aka CMS interface) to take advantage of the new capabilities provided in the technical architecture redesign of version 4.2. This one is taking up most of our effort and attention right now - designing all the final details and also trying to figure out what exactly we will be able to fit into version 4.3 without making it way too long.
Here's a couple more sneak peeks into our ongoing design work...
Page Access Control:
System Page Template Customization:
Marketing website updates
Our marketing team is quite busy this quarter with a number of changes planned for our marketing website. This site is typically changed much less frequent than the help site, since it contains higher-level descriptions of our software features and benefits as opposed to precise instructions that change with each release. One of the things we will have to update for sure is our pricing page. We are simplifying a number of aspects of our pricing structure, so for example, it will now be possible to create multiple restricted access sections in any Wild Apricot account -- in version 4.1 free, trial and group accounts are limited to only one such section. We'll also look at expanding the content about our financial and contact management capabilities, as well as reflecting some of the upcoming changes to our web CMS. As well, we're considering graphic design changes to 'freshen' the look of the site -- not a major renovation, more like a fresh coat of paint. Watch for that in the next few months!