Wild Apricot Software News September 2011

Dmitriy Buterin 28 September 2011 4 comments

Product Updates

Version 4.3

On September 19th we passed a big milestone in version 4.3 -- the development phase is now officially completed! (with the exception of a couple of small items lagging behind ). We are now in the final stretch for version 4.3 -- though it it still a pretty long stretch as it includes 3 important phases:

  • 4 week-long 'Stabilization phase'. During this phase no new development is being done in version 4.3 -- the main effort is on testing and reviewing all the changes.
  • 'Regressive testing' phase comes next -- when the whole system is being retested to make sure that changes did not have any unintended consequences in other parts of Wild Apricot. This is done on our internal test servers.
  • 'Pre-live' testing is another round of regressive testing, this is done on servers in our 'production environment', meaning that they are running side by side in the same hosting centre which serves the live system to our clients. This is done to ensure that differences in the configuration of servers and network between our test system and live system would not cause any unexpected issues.

The work above is the primary workload of our development and QA teams. There is quite a bit of work that our support team will have to be handling in the meantime as well:

  • First, our support team will run a 'review' а of all the changes and enhancements, text labels and the like. This serves several purposes:
    1. get some fresh eyes testing these changes to reduce the chances we missed something -- our developers and QA engineers have already been going over all the changes for a few months already
    2. review the changes from the end-users' perspective. Our support team have the best understanding of our user's typical questions, concerns and expectations
    3. finally, get to learn the new changes to be ready to support our clients right after our new version is launched
  • Second, the support team will be working on creating an updated version our online help pages, which will be launched on the same day as the new version. 

As you can see, there is still quite a bit of work to be done -- but we are on track  to launch version 4.3 around end of November (might be early December).

I have already described most of the 4.3 changes in previous monthly updates (see August and July) and you can also view a summary on the release history page. The only thing I want to mention is that we will also be adding one new design theme in version 4.3. This theme will use the latest capabilities of our content management system to enable so-called 'flexible' layout, meaning that your Wild Apricot site web pages would not have a fixed pixel width but would instead expand/shrink depending on the visitor screen resolution.

One other small fix that made it into 4.3 is uploading files with special characters in their file names. In the current Wild Apricot Version 4.2 it is not possible to upload files with some characters like '&", e.g. "Tips&news.pdf". This limitation is described in our online help but quite understandably most users would not know about that -- so would try to upload a file and get frustrated as the upload kept failing, and would contact our support team. In version 4.3 all these special characters will be simply replaced with underscores on the fly.

Version 5.0

As I described before, the main focus of Version 5.0 will be on new interface for our Content Management System, aka Website Module in Wild Apricot. We are building a new interface from scratch to take advantage of new technical capabilities we built into Wild Apricot and released with Version 4.2 back in May. As of now, only the users with advanced web design skills (and/or more adventurous users :-) ) have started to explore these capabilities via Advanced customization functionality we call Theme Override.

(By the way, we plan to publish a few new help pages with a bunch of customization examples based on this technology to make it easier to learn and experiment with. Stay tuned.)

Our main goal for Version 5.0 is to have regular users take full advantage of new technology and capabilities of Wild Apricot CMS -- I mentioned some examples before, to reiterate:

  • Change any page access at any time (getting rid of special restricted access sections)
  • Mark any page as in/not in menu
  • Getting rid of 'functional pages' concept. Instead, you will be able to fill any page with content and/or gadgets with interactive functionality from other Wild Apricot modules
  • Change page template (layout), including header, footer and menu -- e.g. for creating landing pages for special offers
  • Easily add site-wide columns to the website
  • Page changes history

I actually have a much longer list of all the enhancements -- but it is not yet clear which ones we will manage to include in 5.0 and which ones will have to wait for the subsequent Version 5.1.

There are two other non-CMS-related significant enhancements that are being designed right now and are being considered for inclusion in Version 5.0:

Email templates. 

The current version of Wild Apricot does not include any pre-built email templates -- you have to create one within the system or get it from some other source. (By the way, check this forum post that lists some places where you can get free email templates, and explains how to use those in Wild Apricot). As you have probably noticed, we have been rolling out email-related enhancements in each release and built-in email templates is another important step which will allow more and more Wild Apricot users to handle all their email needs from within our software instead of having to export contacts and use additional systems.

Email Templates

Editing Newsletter

HTTPS security.

Lots of thinking and analysis went into this in the last few months -- by our CTO himself (Dmitry Ivanov)! Felt like a complex puzzle with so many moving pieces to balance:

  • actual security considerations
  • perception of security (quite often very different from actual security!)
  • protection from casual attacks (e.g. people sniffing your unencrypted traffic on public WiFi) vs. much more complicated attacks targeted to specific organization/person
  • not overwhelming our users with in-depth technical details
  • how to deal with existing accounts which might have some incompatible web page content
  • people using free domains vs. their own custom domains
  • ...and much more!

HTTPS Design

I feel good about the current design -- we plan to offer three security options for https encryption:

  1. Elective -- encryption not enforced, can be used if special secure URL is used
  2. Partial enforcement - when we will force-redirect login submission and other forms to a secure URL
  3. Full always-on enforcement of https encryption, even just to view any public webpage. For geeks and paranoidal people (I count myself into this!)

Final interface details are being designed now -- and then we will have to figure out if we are able to fit this into version 5.0.

Other changes

We hope most of you have not even noticed that but we have recently moved our main website www.wildapricot.com to a new platform (content management system). And it's actually a good thing nobody noticed :-) ...since all we wanted from the initial launch is for everything to work just as it was before. We are quite excited about new platform capabilities -- it will make it easier for us to create and update web pages, from small things like upcoming webinar dates to some big new sections we have in our pipeline:

  • Contact management database and Online payments sections -- we have decided that these capabilities in Wild Apricot are strong enough now to deserve their own separate section
  • Knowledge Hub -- this is something very cool our colleagues Jay and Lori have been working on, building on the Wild Apricot blog (news and useful information for associations, small non-profits and such) and taking it to the next level by creating a library of articles and guides with much longer 'shelf-life'. Our goal is to provide new organizations -- or new board members and volunteers -- with practical, in-depth information on topics like membership management, event management and non-profit communications. More details to come soon!

Wild Apricot Start-Up Guides

We are quite proud of our online help site -- it is very comprehensive, with screenshots, videos, links between various related topics -- and we keep it up to date with every release. (Frankly, I think Wild Apricot's online help is one of the best in the industry. If you have come across other great online help sites for complex software, please let us know -- we are always looking to learn from others!). 

A huge challenge when creating documentation / help websites is to focus on user's needs/tasks instead of just a lame listing of all the screens and buttons in the software (Press Edit button to edit. Press Cancel to Cancel. Press Settings to change settings...ad nauseum) . We are quite aware of this and have been trying to avoid falling into that trap -- succeeding on some of our help pages and not so much on others. 

As a next step in this direction we have decided to create a series of 'start-up' guides -- a set of help pages that provide an overview of Wild Apricot and its modules for new users -- instead of overwhelming them with minute details right away. I am very excited about the work our support team has done on this -- we are now polishing the first 4 start-up guides and plan to publish them in early October. For now, let me share some of the cool visualizations our Fresh Apricot -- Frank Goertzen -- prepared for these guides:

Support Start-Up Guides

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Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Posted by Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 28 September 2011 at 1:49 PM

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Comments

  • Barbara Morford said:

    Wednesday, 28 September 2011 at 4:30 PM
    I continue to be impressed with Wild Apricot and your team. I am particularly looking forward to email templates, as I believe this will allow me to use WA for a special subscription news bulletin I currently send via Constant Contact (which many of my members have trouble receiving).

    Thanks!
  • Matt D. said:

    Wednesday, 28 September 2011 at 5:22 PM
    Glad to see SSL encryption has made it into the pipeline for Q1 2012.

    This feature will make our membership users much more comfortable with our upcoming move completely into Wild Apricot, and allow me to use WA's great features to automate a great deal of my membership management workload!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
  • Dmitry Buterin aka Chief Apricot said:

    Friday, 30 September 2011 at 8:08 AM
    Thanks Barbara and Matt!
  • Richard@creekside3.com said:

    Saturday, 01 October 2011 at 5:18 PM
    I just had the chance to read the last newsletter. I LOVE the changes that you have in mind for the email side of Wild Apricot. I cant wait to use the templates. - Looking forward to the new version. Need a beta tester?
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