Archive for January, 2007

Where we are today; OSAF after Dreaming in Code

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Scott Rosenberg’s new book about OSAF’s first years comes out this month, titled Dreaming in Code. Scott is a friend of OSAF — he spent a lot of time in our office, hanging out in meetings as a sort of “embedded reporter”. I’m not going to comment on OSAF’s adventures during that time period — you can go read the book for yourself. Instead, I’ll give an update on what OSAF has been up to since Scott’s narrative leaves off, around the end of 2005. At that time, we had narrowed our focus to get a calendar working, cutting out many interesting features. Since then, we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve added a Dashboard for managing other types of information (including tasks, notes, messages) and improved polish, performance and reliability. The Preview release around April 2007 (described below) should be a good release for people to try out Chandler and Cosmo for the first time.

Cosmo

The Cosmo project was just getting started at the end of Scott’s book.
Cosmo is currently both a web calendar and a server for sharing data. The Chandler desktop application uses the Cosmo server to share data; shared calendars can also be viewed and edited in a browser using a Cosmo URL. Eventually Cosmo’s web client will be as full featured as Chandler, supporting tasks and other types of information. Cosmo’s server implements several standard protocols, so data can be accessed from other clients as well (including Apple iCal and Mozilla Sunbird). One of the big changes at OSAF in the last year has been the increasing importance of the Cosmo project. We’ve been designing Chandler and Cosmo so that they can be used in tandem.

Using Chandler and Cosmo at OSAF

With the release of Chandler 0.6 in late 2005, we started using Chandler and Cosmo at OSAF. Chandler at 0.6 was pretty rough — but we got good feedback and made significant improvements. The most recent milestone, Chandler 0.7alpha4, runs much more quickly on the Intel Mac, has a more polished calendar, and has the first workable Dashboard for tasks and notes. Several of us at OSAF brave the rough edges and use Chandler for our calendaring on a daily basis. Mitch and his assistant Esther are currently using 0.7alpha4 to share a calendar.

Preview

We set a major goal for ourselves last year: GET USERS OUTSIDE OSAF! We’ve been focusing on a “Preview” release for Chandler and Cosmo that will be functional and interesting for end users. While Preview will not include everything we want to accomplish for a 1.0 release, it will provide a tangible, plausible promise of the fully-fledged application we’d like to build.

Setting this goal has been a key step in transitioning to a “ship it” mindset from a more chaotic big tent of interesting ideas. Once Preview is out we can start building a community, since we’ll have something real people can use to solve real problems.

It was important to us that the Preview release contain some of the features that we’ve been excited about from the beginning: “stamping” features to blend tasks, events and notes; and “triage” features to manage important information in one view. It was also important to coordinate Chandler and Cosmo designs. We set a goal of Q1 2007 — my current best guess is that we will hit Preview in early April. Feedback from users will shape the remaining work towards a 1.0 release.

Informal workgroup collaboration

Early in 2006, we did a gut check and reevaluated our priorities. From the beginning of the project we struggled with too many ambitious and sometimes competing goals. The end result of a prioritization exercise was a tighter focus around small workgroup collaboration. Note that we never aspired to be an “Outlook killer” — we’re more passionate about solving problems for informal groups than for enterprises.

To make decisions about the feature set for Preview, we used the technique of identifying target users and the workflows they would use to accomplish their goals. Our keystone user is a person who sits in Chandler every day, using the desktop app for projects and tasks, as well as calendaring. We refer to this type of user as a “Hub”. The Hub interacts with “Casual Collaborators” — people in the Hub’s workgroup who don’t run their life with a calendar and task list or people outside of the group. The Hub might send a URL to the Casual Collaborator, who can then use that URL to access a calendar or task list on Cosmo. An example scenario: individual contributors in a workgroup edit their PTO on a shared office calendar (via Cosmo), which is largely maintained by a project manager (using Chandler). More info on target users and the Preview feature set for Chandler and Cosmo can be found on our wiki.

osaf.us

We’re going to host Cosmo as a free service starting in March or April (when Preview is ready) . Small groups will be able to use the service to share calendars and task lists instead of running their own Cosmo server. Someday we’d like small workgroups to be able to run their own Cosmo server without much hassle, but that will require more work. Braver souls can download Cosmo and try it out, though.

CalDAV and interoperability

CalDAV is an emerging calendaring standard; Scott chronicles a bit of Lisa Dusseault’s involvement breathing life into CalDAV. Cosmo is a CalDAV server and Chandler is a CalDAV client. OSAF remains committed to supporting standards based interoperability — we test against other servers and clients at Calconnect events and fix bugs when we find them.

People

Several people mentioned in Scott’s book are no longer working with OSAF, including Andy Hertzfeld, Michael Toy, and Chao Lam. Lisa Dusseault moved on to focus on IETF work as an Area Director. Each of these people made significant positive contributions to the project. We have new talented developers and designers working on Cosmo and Chandler who don’t appear in the book, appear only briefly, or have taken on new roles. The current team deserves a lot credit for pulling Chandler and Cosmo together as healthy, productive projects. I’m pretty excited about both and am really looking forward to Preview.

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