As you point your browser to OCmodshop, you may have noticed something different…
Well, it’s more of a complete overhaul.
This update has been a long time coming, as I have been planning changes for over two years, and never had the balls to just get it up and going. I was worried about the “what if” and became petrified of the unanswered questions that I had in going forward. Instead of worrying about these issues I just put both feet forward and began work on the new site.
The move to Linux
Real work on OCMS 3.0 began over two months ago. I finally decided to go with a Linux server, so I built the server from the ground up. The server is running with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 with 8GB DDR2-800 RAM and 4x 500GB Western Digital black hard drives in RAID 10 configuration.
I initially began the new server project with Ubuntu Linux, as that was recommended by my Linux buddies, as well as the general consensus on support forums. Ubuntu was nice and surprisingly user-friendly, but just didn’t support my hardware RAID card, no matter what I did. Ubuntu did support RAID 1 without a problem, but any other RAID setup was very hard to configure. I could install just fine but booting up was another story altogether.
After a lot of sleepless frustrating nights, I decided to try Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.0. I heard that it was a completely different monster, but was very popular and had lots of support… which was one of my main criteria for going forward with Linux.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) supported my RAID configuration without any hassles, but I found the ins-and-outs of how to install a web server with Linux properly. Ubuntu installs everything you need to get a web server up by default, but with RHEL you have to know what you want and select them at boot time. Ubuntu does not install a GUI interface by default, which could be downloaded, and RHEL allows you to install a GUI, but you have to select it first.
I could go on, but you get the gist… There was a lot of trial and error in getting the server up. After initial install then I went to the School of Hard Knocks about configuring the server. There are several different camps about how to set up multiple websites properly, and each of them has their own set of headaches. Mucking through this, and learning all about permissions took about another week.
Once I finally got the Linux server stable, I was able to install the new CMS. I went with WordPress. I had been going back and forth about a custom solution versus WordPress for several years, which was the main reason for delaying this huge project. All I can say if you’re on the fence about using WordPress is to leap forward and ask questions later… just know that there are several answers to any issue you have.
The long road to import
Importing data was the next hurdle. I had written custom scripts that would (in theory) create a file in a format that WordPress could import. I was exporting from a Microsoft SQL 2000 database and was of course using Windows and ASP/ASPX. There were several problems with the exports. There were timeout issues to contend with, data transformation, and all sorts of other headaches.
Even after getting the data exported properly, importing into WordPress had its own issues. Sure the data was there, but not everything came across perfect, and there are some things that you just can’t import from a text feed… like meta data, uploading and associating images, and the like.
Everything was put on hold until the new website was complete. I didn’t write any new articles or post any news, as I wanted to save all of this for when the new site was live. Why spin your wheels when you’re in a mud pit?
Unfortunately I had to face the eventual reality that I had to import every article by hand. That’s right… every one of the 2,294 articles on OCmodshop were copied, edited, massaged, imaged and tagged by a single person… me. This part of the project took over 3 weeks of pretty much every waking hour in front of my computer, which my wife can tell you put additional stress on the household… but I was on a mission.
I wanted to make sure that I had complete compatibility with the old system. As I edited each article, I updated a spreadsheet with each article’s meta-data… the permalink, the old querystring, and other information so that I could eventually write an .htaccess file that would automatically forward the old URL to the new one without so much as a hiccup.
As I was importing these articles, I became rather nostalgic as I was reminded about certain events and exciting times in the tech industry. I also found a lot of content that was just lame, and I now recognize some of the things that made us look bad. There will be no more articles on lame products that nobody cares about, no matter how much vendors plead with us. I will no longer publish syndicated content… if it’s not an original piece of work then it will not appear on OCmodshop. If you see something that’s lame, then let us know (via the new Contact Us forms) and bring it to our attention.
After importing the data, the rest was pretty easy. I got to play with a lot of code, and fight with what CSS will and won’t do. I have my laundry list of items to ensure compatibility, and there are probably several other things I have to after the Internet domain updates (such as dealing with letter-case issues with image URLs). But nearly everything that matters is done.
So, what features does the new OCmodshop have?
A lot of the issues make things easier on the back-end, such as the ease of creating editing, and updating posts. To correct a simple spelling mistake in the old system (which didn’t have spell-check, btw), we would have to un-publish the article, update and save the article, re-publish the article (which resets the publish date), and manually edit the article’s date in SQL (if we wanted to preserve the original publish date. Now we simply select the article, make our change, and save. The old version of the article is archived and can be retrieved.
A new design. I figured that if I’m spending a lot of time doing an overhaul, then I might as well redesign the entire site. I contacted several graphic designers and had new logos and layout produced. Those who know me know that I am a graphic designer and web developer by trade, but I felt that I was too close to the project and wanted fresh eyes to take the site forward.
A lot of things are now made automatic. There were a lot of manual processes that went into publishing an article, as too many systems were separate. Publishing an article required logging into no less than 4 separate systems. Now everything is handled at once.
Image thumb-nailing is handled automatically. We used to have to manually watermark and resize every image, upload them, and manually link them. We also had to manually hand-code any alt tags and captions, which due to the extra work would never get done. Now this is all handled automatically.
We now have a real comment system. The old system had a very primitive comment system, and required a lot of manual work just to have a crippled comment area. The new comment system lets you login with Facebook, Open ID, and just about every other internet login tool. If you don’t have one of these you can still leave a comment as a guest. The comments are also threaded, so you can respond to a particular post or person, share your comment on Facebook, and of course the comments support Gravatars so your avatar follows you on any comments you make on any website. You can even subscribe to comments when anyone responds to you.
The new system supports AJAX and other modern web technologies that make the user experience way more fun. The entire site has been given an SEO overhaul, so our content is easier to find and share on the Internet. We also have real search functionality, rather than relying on Google search.
There are lots of other little features, too. Just know that they’re there to make things faster, easier to find, and easier to produce.
Suite of websites
We have broken out content into several sections. Our news has moved over to a new sister site, OSIM (pronounced Awesome) Tech News (osimtechnews.com). We also have updated our gallery, and our forums will be moving to a more support-based focus. We are also launching a sister site called Hardware Dictionary, which you will be able to look up technical and hardware terms, which we will leverage to provide definitions to terms in OCmodshop articles. And of course, we still have the OCMS Shopping page, which you can use to find the best prices on hardware.
We still have a lot of new things planned, and there is still a lot of work to do. Now that the flood gates have been opened we can concentrate on producing some of the best reviews and articles on the internet.
OCmodshop has been running for nearly 10 years, and I am very proud of this latest version of the site, which I believe re-edifies us as one of the best tech sites on the internet.