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A beginner’s guide to open source

A beginner's guide to open source – Think you can't get something for nothing? Jonathan Crossfield looks at six ways you can dramatically enhance your business with free and easy open-source applications installed on your hosting account.


 content provided by netregistry

What is open source?

Although there is no simple definition, open source usually means software licensed so that the source code is made available to the general public. This enables the user community to openly collaborate on improving the software and generally allows the software to be reused or redeveloped as you see fit.

Some ‘free' software – as in, you don't have to pay for it – is open source and most open source software is available at no charge, but this is certainly not a definitive rule.

The most widely accepted definition of open source comes from the Open Source Initiative.


It seems everything comes with a price tag. Every time you have an

idea, at some point you realise it will cost cash to turn that idea

into a business reality.

But what if it didn't? What if you could unleash those ideas at no charge? What if the software and applications didn't cost you a cent to buy or license or install?

The internet has revolutionised business in many ways, such as by facilitating collaboration among computer programmers, software developers and users around the globe. From this grew the open source movement – communities of people committed to various projects – to develop better software for everyone to use.

If you're concerned that these free applications are unreliable or of a low quality, you'd be wrong. One of the most popular open source applications is the Firefox web browser, considered by many to be the best browser available. It has become so powerful and reliable because the developers behind the project are devoted to furthering web standards and exceeding the needs of designers and users. They do this because they themselves are designers and users.

Yes, companies and communities develop top-quality software and give it away. Your fantastic ideas might not seem so difficult or cost-prohibitive after all, if only you knew what was available and how to install it.

Well, funny you should mention that…

WordPress blogs

WordPress is the gorilla of open source. The most widely used and popular blogging platform on the planet, it was developed – and continues to be modified, tweaked and upgraded – by its own community of passionate users.

An entertaining and informative blog is one of the most effective ways to attract regular and returning traffic to your website. It allows you to show your customers your passion and knowledge for your industry while exposing them to your brand in a friendly, non-aggressive manner.

The secret to any successful blog is regular, interesting and original content. Everything else is about placing breadcrumbs towards that content throughout the internet to help people to find it.

This may sound like a lot of work, but blogging is an immensely rewarding pastime that can benefit your online business with incoming links, exposure, loyal followers, a reputation as a thought leader and the power to network with other influencers within your target market.

WordPress was designed to make blogging simple. With a gallery of built-in templates and new designs created every day for free download, WordPress can easily be modified to reflect your own style and brand.

The biggest hurdle for would-be bloggers is often installing the platform onto the server. Hosting server configurations vary from company to company, and installation instructions can be confusing or contradictory.

However, if you have a hosting account with Netregistry, installing WordPress is as simple as ticking a box. Once selected, WordPress will be installed onto your server, ready for you to log in and start writing your blog.

SimpleMachines forums

People love to speak their minds. We all enjoy expressing our opinions, swapping advice, sharing content and otherwise putting our own thoughts and ideas out there. Your customers do too and maybe, just maybe, in the right environment, they'll do all this on your website.

There are a number of reasons why forums (also known as bulletin boards) are a popular add-on that can greatly enhance a website:

  • Forums allow your customers and site visitors to engage with the brand and each other in ways that benefit the whole.
  • All of those extra words help the website appear in more search engine results by providing additional keyword-rich copy.
  • User-generated content provides additional resources for other users without you needing to write it.

Some businesses encourage their forum communities to help each other out in trouble-shooting problems, providing a far better resource than any online support manual. Your customers can be just as passionate and knowledgeable about your products and services as you are and – if suitably enthused – may be extremely willing to share that advice, insight and enthusiasm with others.

Creating a thriving online community around your brand still requires thought and planning. Customers won't form a community on your website just because you ask them to. What you need to do is create a resource that the community can rally around. The forum needs to provide a way of achieving a goal more efficiently than can be achieved elsewhere – what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg calls ‘elegant organisation'.

You should have a clear idea of why people would want to use your bulletin board community instead of some other method of achieving the same goal. If your website sells cameras, you might consider adding a forum that allows photographers to share camera tips and swap photos – as long as a more efficient one doesn't already exist. But there's no point trying to become the next Flickr because, well, there's already Flickr.

Finding an original focus and creating that elegant organisation can be immensely powerful.

Communities also don't like too many rules and restrictions. They will want to shape the community and use it in ways you may have never considered. Although you will need to moderate inappropriate uses and ensure everyone plays nicely, ideally you should step back and let the community develop the way the users want to.

SimpleMachines is another open source application that can be installed on your server straight from the Netregistry Console. This provides you with a fully featured and functional bulletin board community, live and ready for skinning. You can tweak and adjust it to fit in with the rest of your website and then start encouraging your customers to participate and share.

Joomla content management system

Behind every great website is a content management system (CMS). This framework allows you to easily add new content, update and administer your website, without having to deal with nasty stuff like web code.

WordPress and SimpleMachines are, by definition, content management systems, limited to certain uses – blogs and bulletin boards. If you would like a CMS that can support your entire website from home page to contact form, an application like Joomla could be ideal – and free. Joomla handles every page of your site, every image and every piece of content, assembling and reassembling them as required by the user in each site visitor's browser.

You may need a little help constructing your website in Joomla the first time. But once set up, Joomla allows you to administer and update the website with ease, adding new pages, changing copy and updating stock.

A CMS is virtually essential for any website owners who are not comfortable with building and administering their own websites. The Joomla CMS is used by many major organisations, including Harvard University, MTV and Citibank. It is also popular among small businesses, community groups and corporate intranets.

Installing a full CMS can be daunting to a novice. Yet again, by selecting Joomla in the Netregistry console, you can sit back and have the hard work done for you.

Formmail

Allowing customers to contact you easily is obvious, right? You can make it easier still by including an enquiry form. Instead of forcing customers to email you details, which are often incomplete, make it easy for them to send you the required information from your webpage.

A short form, with important fields made compulsory, can send information directly to your email or other system, streamlining your processes and speeding up an accurate response.

NMS Formmail is a popular, secure and stable form application that can also be installed free from Netregistry's Console. The simple Formmail code can easily be skinned and tweaked to match your site while allowing you to add as many or as few question and answer fields as needed.

Project management

Project management software can help a busy organisation allocate resources, plan schedules and monitor progress to maximise office efficiency.

Dotproject is an open-source project management system designed to sit on your server and be accessible from wherever you are. You and your staff can log in anywhere that has an internet connection. Being able to collaborate and plan online even when out of the office means projects can be kept on track and everyone stays focused with a clear task list and set of deadlines.

Installing Dotproject on your server is another way to get more out of your hosting account, adding extra value at no extra cost.

Free for all!

Why spend hundreds on software when there's a free alternative ready to be installed on your Netregistry hosting account? These are just some of the extra services available with web hosting, providing a whole suite of office applications and website enhancements at no extra cost.

Because these open source applications are installed direct from The Console with one click, there is no risk of mistakes due to bad configuration or incompatibility.

Open source applications with your hosting:

WordPress: Easy blogging

  • The world's most popular blogging platform
  • Easy to use, easy to modify
  • Thousands of free templates to choose from
  • Free and simple installation from Netregistry's Console

SimpleMachines: Forum communities

  • A professional-standard bulletin board community platform
  • Easy to modify to integrate with an existing website
  • Realtime customer interaction with user generated content
  • Free and simple installation from Netregistry's Console

Joomla: Content management system

  • Complete website control from admin panels
  • Powerful enough to run virtually any website, big or small
  • Flexible enough to be adapted to your specific needs
  • Free and simple installation from Netregistry's Console

NMS Formmail: Easy html enquiry forms

  • Allow faster, more efficient customer contact
  • Flexible enough to be adapted to your specific needs
  • Free and simple installation from Netregistry's Console

Dotproject: Project Management Software

  • Manage resources and projects more efficiently
  • Encourage online collaboration, wherever you are
  • Flexible enough to be adapted to your specific needs
  • Free and simple installation from Netregistry's Console

Netregistry.com.au has everything you need for every stage of your online business. With lower prices and easy services designed for the average business owner, you can be in control.

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Most people treat their web hosting as merely a place to store their website. With these open source services, you can achieve far more for your business and implement more creative ideas easily and efficiently.

If you already have a Netregistry hosting account, log into your Console and explore the various options available. If you don't currently host with Netregistry, you now have a number of reasons to reconsider.

To set up a Business Hosting account on Australia's best hosting network for only $29.95 per month, call the Netregistry team on 1300 888 940.

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Got a blog? What other free services are there?

Although not open source, there are many other free services that can be used to enhance your WordPress blog.

  • Feedburner.com. This free service allows you to customise and publicise the RSS subscription feed for your blog, provide email subscriptions and – most importantly if you want to track its performance – generate reports and graphs on subscription numbers, click-throughs and more.
  • Tweetmeme.com. Twitter is a highly effective way of allowing readers to share your blog content with their friends. Tweetmeme can be easily installed on your blog, providing a simple one-click process to create a tweet and reach those followers.
  • JS-Kit.com. A number of free and easy-to-install javascript applications are available for bloggers. You can add a rating system to your blog posts, and make the blog comments far more interactive. But easily the best choice is the new ECHO service, allowing your blog comments to also track and aggregate any comments, tweets and mentions of your post elsewhere on the web and republish them on your page. 

Keep up to speed with all the latest technology trends to benefit your small business. With technology moving at an ever-increasing pace, it can sometimes be hard to follow and understand the latest trends and products. NETT features up-to-date, informative and inspiring news on all things technical to keep you in the know. Discover great technical solutions for your small business and grow your business inline with the times.