Subversion, MediaWiki, WordPress, and LDAP

One of the biggest arguments you’ll get in deploying open source software in a corporate environment perception that they are extra, standalone applications. If your corporation uses an LDAP server, you can get some big wins by ensuring that your open source applications can authenticate with your corporate LDAP store, showing integration with the main systems.

I recently went through this exercise with a number of applications in our environment, including:

  • Subversion
  • MediaWiki
  • WordPress

I thought I’d throw up an entry here outlining the tools I used to make this integration possible.

Subversion was a no-brainer, since we host our repositories using mod_dav_svn. Configuring the mod_auth_ldap module in the Apache server and converting all access to SSL made this integration painless, once I figured out how to build Apache to use OpenLDAP and Secure LDAP. For MediaWiki, the Mediawiki LDAP Extension worked flawlessly. The key problem with Mediawiki is that there is no mechanism built in to ensure that logins are performed via SSL. A quick rewrite rule in the Apache server took care of this for me. A complete explanation of this process can be found at Library Web Chic.

For WordPress, I found a great plugin from Kane IT Consulting that was extremely easy to configure. I had the plugin installed and configured in minutes. I highly recommend this one. The Admin-SSL plugin, gave us the security around the login that we needed.

What has been interesting to me is seeing the subtle shift in perception of these applications as we integrated them into the authentication system. They almost seem like legitimate pieces of the system now … even to me.

Dabble DB – WOW

Back in June, Tom the Architect posted about something called Dabble DB that he said was pretty impressive. He described it as “collaborative data management, authoring, and publishing web application”. I made mental note to check it out (Tom doesn’t normally recommend stuff on his blog unless its exceptionally cool) but as most mental notes go, I forgot about it. That is, until I saw Tim Brays post from yesterday talking about how he invested in the company.

After reading this, I remembered Tom’s post and went over to check it out. I watched the seven minute demo and was completely blown away.

As you watch the demo think about the amount of data in any large corporation that is managed in spreadsheets. I had recently made a comment to someone that Excel seems to be the largest Enterprise Data Management tool used after seeing the number of extremely large spreadsheets in a meeting we were attending together. All of this data is passed here and there, modified, forwarded on, until there are so many versions of it you have no idea which one is correct anymore.

That is the beauty of Dabble DB. It allows you to pull this data into a centralized repository, refactor it into a normalized format on the fly, and even calendar the data if you have timestamps in the data model. The benefits of unifying all of that data tracked in spreadsheets is just too much to even comprehend given the pricing model that the company is offering the service for.

I do see one small problem though. Everyone talks about “software as a service” as the next “big thing” and I agree – in an ideal world. However, in the “not so ideal world” that most large corporations live in I see this model (or, more specifically, providing this model only) as a huge detriment to adoption in large companies who do not like to have their data hosted by a third party vendor. Given the volume of data tracked in spreadsheets of a confidential nature, I see this as a huge barrier for adoption. Until large businesses go through a major cultural shift in which they understand that they do not have to own and maintain all of the systems that their data resides, the audience that Dabble can have a huge effect on is limited to those “new companies” who get the “Web 2.0” thing (or whatever we are calling it these days) – and quite frankly, this is not the audience that needs them the most.

The fact that Dabble does not offer an option to host the application internally for a customer (that I could find on their web site anyway), in my opinion, may be the one thing that keeps them from actually providing the huge benefit they could provide to the user base that needs them most.

All that rambling aside though, this is one cool application. I think to really appreciate it you need to see it. Check out the demo and tell me this isn’t one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen!