A bit of Tomcat, a bit of Aspire, and a touch of master pages: Microsoft Access never looked so good ;)
A bit of Tomcat, a bit of Aspire, and a touch of master pages: and Microsoft Access comes to life. Having developed this simple minded content management system called AKC, when I look back I am given to think how well the web complements even the simplest and readily available of relational database systems. I use this site for my web logging, classified repository of articles, online documentation tool for the open sourced Aspire product, online educational tool for young children, a research aid for new technologies.
AKC is pretty small in scope. About 10 to 15 pages. It is developed with simple html, Microsoft Access, and no IDEs and no debuggers. But the simplicity of Java and Tomcat and a bit of help from Aspire is at the heart of the idea. The system itself is an abstract idea of users, folders, and files similar to a traditional file system but managed inside of a database. The tabulated nature of a database, coupled with updatability and transactions makes the programmatic presentation and manipulation much faster to develop.
The face: Master pages
AKC will allow a user to create/update/delete html pages and file them into various folders that the user can create. The created content can then be viewed either by date or by classified folders. Typically the by date views can be exposed as web logs. The individual views of an html page and of a folder can be customized for third party web sites via XSLT or Aspire's tags. I have used the system in this mode for a few months. It was very functional but not pretty and missing the idea of context. Borrowing the idea from Power Point I have created master pages at every user level. The user can upload a template page which will become a back ground for all the content he/she authors. The result can be seen at my weblog.
An educational tool
I use AKC regularly to help with my daughters homework. I collect web links for poems, stories etc and classify them. I create reading and math practice sheets to supplement her teaching in school. I get to create some photo essays based on our walks in spring in the neighborhood. My parents in India can enjoy the silly things she does on a fairly frequent basis. More importantly the grand parents or any interested individuals can participate in distance educational efforts.
A self learning/research tool
Learning is an interesting thing. It is best accomplished by an enquiring mind. The reverse of a traditional teaching method. With the web, the vast repository of everything, in place it becomes important for the learner to formulate questions and record them. Then you go and attack each question and seek answers. The answers are documented in turn. "I browse, I question, I consolidate": may not be the best rhyme but works quite well as a learning strategy. You can see this in action in some of XML efforts and my efforts on Rational Unified Process knowledge folders on AKC.
A documentation tool
I never really wanted to write this system when I did this at about this time last year. I was looking into effective ways of documenting Aspire with very little effort. I want to remove the infrastructure resistance of uploading html files and creating the topic links for them on a physical web site. Someone suggested a web log might be a better option. So I looked around some web logs. I couldn't effectively accomplish what I wanted to do. It might have been due to a variety of reasons including my lack of experience in the area. I couldn't categorize my documentation well enough. The documenation is not necessarily time ordered. Some times it is and some times it is ordered based on importance like the chapters of a book. So I have created AKC using Microsoft Access in about a week to serve my documentation needs. Then I enhanced it for multiple users, followed by master pages. The facilities in AKC allows me to manage the content in AKC but borrow that content in third party websites. To match the third party web styles one can use XSLT or Aspire Tags to manipulate the XML data streams that Aspire publishes. One can even use AKC as purely a middle tier that gives out XML and not HTML to further build documentation systems that are much more tailored.
Categorized web logging
When I create content in AKC it can be viewed by folder, by date, and by web logs. The last view is all the public content that is presented 30 entries at a time in a reverse chronological order. If a reader is interested in book marking only Java related entries, then one can book mark this folder view sorted by date. Nevertheless the ability to classify content with minimal fuss and effort, I deemed that to be important.
Sorry for the long tale for those that survived this far in to the web log. But I am just tickled at how Microsoft Access is finagled to present a web front that gave me so many benefits so far. If any one is keen on using it for your own purpose, you can do two things. You can email me at "satya at activeintellect dot com" to create an account for you. Or if you have an NT hosting system, then I can give you the webapplication that can run under tomcat. Or if you want to take the challenge you can take the source (some html pages and some properties files with SQL in it) and convert it to MySQL. Mostlikely in the next few months I will be trying a MySQL port. Just looking for a few weekends worth of free time.