Posts Tagged ‘Cool Tools’

Cool Tools 15: Atlassian Crowd

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

It’s official: I’m pretty much out of the kind of “Cool Tools” that started the feature in the first place.  I’m pretty sure I’ve covered every tool that I regularly use during the administration of the Plumtree/ ALUI/ WCI portal.  So while I may have a genuine new “Cool Tool” at some point, this category will mostly apply to different applications that augment or replace pieces of functionality in the out-of-the-box WebCenter Interaction product stack.

It’s also (mostly) official that WebCenter Interaction is winding down as a product line, and many clients are formulating their strategy for the next couple years.  While WCI isn’t going to go away tomorrow, at Integryst we’ve been working with a lot of different technologies to help clients evaluate “what’s next”.  It’s clear that there are pretty much three directions clients may pursue:

  1. Stay on the Oracle Gravy Train and work on a migration plan to WebCenter Spaces and the rest of the Oracle stack
  2. Move to a similar competitive enterprise project – particularly, Microsoft SharePoint
  3. Look at building a best-of-breed open-source/inexpensive solution by tying together a bunch of great products

None of these are bad approaches, and in fact all of them are appropriate in different client situations, depending on the portal profile and business requirements.  But expect to see more of option #3 in these pages in the coming months.

As such, let me introduce you to Atlassian’s Crowd.  Crowd is a Single Sign-on product that allows you to stitch together a bunch of disparate web applications together by allowing users to log into one application and navigate to another without having to log in again.  It allows you to create various directories (LDAP, AD, custom sources), and surface those user accounts to different applications (Confluence, Jira, and even – with some custom code – applications like WebCenter Interaction), and has integration points at pretty much every level of the stack.

You’ll be hearing more about Crowd in upcoming posts, as well as some pretty slick hybrid integration solutions that won’t completely lock you in to the Oracle stack, if that’s the way you might be rolling.  Stay tuned!

Cool Tools 14: Actual Search & Replace

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Occasionally, you may need to modify hundreds of Plumtree style sheets on the WCI Image Server, or perform some other mass search-and-replace across a bunch of files (If you need search-and-replace in Publisher Content Items, check out Integryst’s PublisherManager).

For this, I’ve found no better tool than DivlocSoft’s Actual Search & Replace.  The tool is simple to use, inexpensive at $30 bucks (free if you just want to use the trial version for a quick one-time task), and allows a great deal of tailoring folders and actual strings you may want to replace.  For example, updating those Plumtree style sheets to fix all the broken crap when upgrading ALUI to WCI 10gR3 requires only a couple of regex search and replace strings like this:

Give it a shot, and let us know what you think!

Cool Tools 13: UnixUtils

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Here’s a great little set of apps if you’re a command-line type of person, you prefer Unix commands to DOS, and don’t want to install a “Linux-like environment” such as CygWin on your Windows servers.  Basically, UnixUtils is just a bunch of Windows executables that provides many Unix command-line functions from a Windows command prompt.

I don’t use it every day, but I do find myself using it when I’d like to run a quick grep to parse huge PTSpy Log files that Plumtree Logging Spy can spit out.  You may also find it a simple way to brush up on your Linux skills from the comfort of your Windows environment.

There’s no installation – you just download the binaries, and add the bin directory to your Windows path.  Then just use the Unix commands like you would at a DOS prompt:

UnixUtils is free, open-source, and available here.

Cool Tools 12: CACE’s WireShark

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Sometimes tcpTrace just won’t do the trick when you need to monitor network traffic, such as when you need to see what’s going on in the network layer between servers where you can’t control the port used between endpoints.  I recently used today’s Cool Tool when diagnosing an email issue between IIS and a remote SMTP server trying to send mail: I needed to see why emails coming from the WebCenter Interaction Portal weren’t being accepted by the government server being used to route the traffic:

The problem ended up having to do with Reverse DNS lookups, which I’ll write about soon. 

For the purposes of this post, though, the Cool Tool is CACE’s WireShark, the Big Brother (read: later version after a name change) to Ethereal (see this post for a clarification to that comment: “ethereal is still ethereal, but ethereal development has ceased. All the core developers are currently working on wireshark. So do not expect new releases of ethereal any time soon, Wireshark is what’s being developed.”).

WireShark allows you to sniff all traffic going into and out of a network interface, which is hugely valuable (if not a bit more complicated as you get acquained with network protocols and WireShark’s powerful filtering capabilities).  As a portal administrator, you likely won’t need it daily, but when you do, it’s hands-down the best network sniffing tool for the good guys – and potentially dangerous for the bad guys if you haven’t, say, locked down your search server.

Cool Tools 11: Microsoft BizSpark

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

This “Cool Tool” is yet another one of those that won’t directly help you with the Plumtree / ALUI / WebCenter portal, but is more of a collection of tools that will help out my fellow consulting colleagues, entrepreneurs, and hobbyists by offering access to a huge library of “Cool Tools”: every single Microsoft product ever created through Microsoft’s MSDN:

The “Cool Tool” is the Microsoft’s BizSpark program.  Started in 2008, BizSpark is Microsoft’s idea to incubate the startup community developing software around its own products.  It’s a great concept, although as a startup and mostly Microsoft shop myself, I honestly haven’t leveraged it as a way to “get my company name out there”, which is how the program is positioned.  Instead, as a consultant, I use it as a way to get almost-free ($100 or so) access to Microsoft’s MSDN program – which can cost in the thousands – for fully licensed versions of Microsoft’s products for some production applications I use (like Office 2010), and mostly test applications (like Excel 2003 to test the Plumtree Excel Portlets).

I realize most of my readers don’t meet the criteria for this program, but there are a couple of my consulting peers – and clients with “side businesses” – who could greatly benefit from this incredibly valuable program.  Just go to if you meet the following criteria and sign up!

  • Developing Software
  • Privately held
  • Less than three years old
  • Making less than $1M annually

As a final note, the BizSpark Team is wildly helpful and personal; when I was having problems logging into the site and submitted a request via email, I wasn’t hopeful for a response from the “giant conglomerate” of Microsoft.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to end up on a phone call with a real person on a LiveMeeting call showing her exactly what my problem was, and she fixed it within 10 minutes!

Cool Tools 10: Base64 Decoder

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Generally, my Cool Tools articles feature tools that are novel, unique, or otherwise helpful when managing WebCenter Interaction portals, or other applications that can help augment (or – dare I say, replace?) it.  Today’s Cool Tool is in a category where apps are a dime a dozen.  So, let’s call, uh,’s Base64 Decoder a Cool Tool:

Why highlight a dime-a-dozen online app that’s pretty much just a free online tool?  Because today I’m going to explain a bit about how Basic Authentication works between the portal and remote tier, and show you a trick to answer a question that you may have come across during your portal administration:  what password has been configured for the “authenticationid” in the portal for ALUI Publisher Remote Server (or Collaboration Server, for that matter)?  In the process (after the break), hopefully you’ll get a little insight into why it’s not all that secure in and of itself. (more…)

Cool Tools 9: Atlassian Confluence

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I started the Cool Tools feature 3 years ago at Function1, and I’m sorry to say, I’ve listed everything you could possibly ever need now or in the future of WebCenter consulting, portal development, or portlet hacking.

HA! Truth is, while I’ve already done one lap around the “software utility” track, there are LOTs of Cool Tools out there – some directly related to portal development, debugging, or maintenance, and some more broadly defined.

In fact, I wouldn’t really consider today’s “Cool Tool” a “tool” at all – it’s a full-fledged application, and it’s likely to give the WebCenter stack a run for its money in the long term.

Allow me to introduce Atlassian’s Confluence – one of the web’s best Wiki platforms out there. We’ve been working with this application a lot lately, and have been very impressed with it. It’s a powerful wiki platform, has a robust third-party support and development network, is dramatically less expensive than Oracle products, and provides many of the features some clients bought the Plumtree portal for. (Does it surprise you to know that a bunch of the old Plumtree team ended up there?)

When ALUI Publisher was released, BEA occasionally said it would be the blog and wiki platform that customers had been waiting for (it wasn’t). Then, we started hearing that the ill-fated product called Pages was the REAL blog and wiki platform (it wasn’t). 2009 brought us some more “WCI Sample Portlets available for the Wiki/Blog/Discussions functionality” (meh, didn’t really work). This year the message clients have been hearing “it’s all about WebCenter Spaces”. Honestly, while we may or may not see the fabled 11g version of WebCenter Interaction, Spaces does look very intriguing. In my opinion, though, it’s still not as rich as the much more mature – some would say over-the-hill – WCI portal is now. And it certainly is not the right application for all WCI customers.

So, friends, until I see Oracle deliver the great, mythical, elusive Enterprise Wiki we’ve been hearing about for years, consider me firmly in the Atlassian camp on this one – the stability, ease of use, price-point, and sizable third-party ecosystem are first-rate! Don’t take my word for it – try it out yourself for ten bucks.

Stay tuned for many more tips and follow-up posts on Confluence and other third-party products that can work alongside your existing portal implementations – and some posts on where Confluence falls short of a “full Portal Replacement”. Until then, feast your eyes on… THIS:

OK I’m not going to lie to you, unlike most Cool Tools, it’s not easy to find a screen shot that embodies all of what a great wiki product Confluence is.  At least it’s not as hard as taking a picture of the wind

Cool Tools 8: IEWatch

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

You know what I like about Integryst’s Cool Tools feature?  You guys always have great alternatives to the specific problems these tools solve – the Cool Tool feature of Benthic’s Golden drew more comments than any other post, and they were all great!

I’ve profiled header tools before (FireBug is an obvious one), but I haven’t profiled any IE header/debug tools yet.  I’ve used IEInspector’s HTTP Analyzer before, but for the love of all that was Holy and Mighty, that thing crashed IE more often than a WebCenter Consultant on a 24 hour code bender (didn’t see that one coming did you?  yeah, I’m not funny).

So, today’s profile is for my latest IE header tool of choice: IEWatch’s IEWatch Professional.  It’s not cheap at $169, but at least it’s not as bad as HTTP Analyzer and doesn’t fold like a cheap suit (yeah, i don’t even know what that means.  i’m not funny.).  The tool is straightforward:  install it and choose View: Explorer Bars: IEWatch from IE’s menu, and you’ve got a slick header tool that gives you a decent snapshot of what IE is doing behind the scenes, showing requests, responses, post data, and pretty much everything else you need to diagnose a poorly performing ALUI portal…

So here’s my question – given that HTTP Analyzer is cheaper, but has more bugs than this place (sheeeesh!  i TOLD YOU i wasn’t funny!), what IE header tool do YOU use?

Cool Tools 7: Benthic Software’s Golden

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

For those of you that use the Oracle DB in your portal stack (or for pretty much anything), you know what an atrocity Oracle’s SQL*Plus is (it’s more dated than Plumtree / ALUI!).  I’ve looked on and off over the years for a simple Oracle client that works as well as Microsoft’s SQL Server Management Studio, and I want to thank Hani Atalla for turning me on to this one: Benthic Software’s Golden.  It’s hyper-simple to use, and even has all the “creature comforts” like being able to copy a result set into an Excel Spreadsheet (try doing THAT with SQL*Plus!).  It does require Oracle’s Instant Client to work, but even I (as a non-Oracle DBA) was able to install both in a matter of minutes.

If you’ve sweated through SQL*Plus sessions for way too long, definitely check this tool out – it’s cheap, at only $40.  If you’ve got a better tool for quick and easy Oracle DB queries, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Cool Tools 6: IE Web Developer 2

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

After upgrading from ALUI 6.1 to WCI 10gR3, all of our portlets looked … wrong.  The background color had reverted the blue, and they were cutting off on the right side so you couldn’t see the toolbar buttons.  Strangely, this was only happening in IE, so we weren’t able to use Firefox’s FireBug.  Fortunately, there’s a similar type of tool offered by IEInspector Software called IE Web Developer 2.

Similar to FireBug, it offers basic HTTP tracing, JavaScript debugging, and, in this case, DOM/CSS analysis.  This allows you to higlight an item on the page – in this case, a portlet – and view all the styles applied to that item.  it also shows you where the style definitions are coming from:

Using it, we were able to determine that the CSS files had changed, and there was an addition of “table-layout:fixed’ and a ‘background-color’ definition in the CSS definitions for the column layouts.  Removing these definitions from the CSS restored the look and feel back to the way we had prior to the upgrade.

How did we update the hundreds of CSS files we had?  Well, that’s a post for another day… (more…)