Integrating Google Site Search into SilverStripe

SilverStripe is an excellent, user-friendly content management system but its internal search functionality is, to put it kindly, useless. Fortunately with Google Site Search you can embed a Google-powered custom search engine into your SilverStripe site. Doing so requires a paid Site Search account, pricing for which starts at $100/year.

This tutorial explains how to integrate this Google Site Search XML feed into your SilverStripe site. Doing so has a number of benefits over the standard means of integrating Site Search, namely:

  • No Javascript is required to display results within the SilverStripe site.
  • The user is not taken to a separate, Google operated website to view results.
  • The look and feel is consistent with the rest of the SilverStripe site.
  • Multiple Site Search engines can be integrated into a single SilverStripe site.
  • Site Search results pages are integrated into SilverStripe's management console.

Note: To integrate Site Search into SilverStripe using the described method a Site Search plan must be purchased as this provides results in XML. The free, advertising supported, Site Search engine does not provide search results in XML and cannot be used.

Google O3D may finally bring 3D to the Web

Today Google released a very early preview of O3D, a cross-platform, open source plug-in that enables OpenGL accelerated graphics within Web browsers. Delivering 3D graphics within browsers is not a new thing, (remember VRML?) but what makes this initiative promising is that it works on all platforms and is backed by Google. Performance-wise O3D seems very snappy when compared to alternatives such as Flash 3D. As a result some of the initial demonstrations are very impressive, and it hints at a future where Google Earth and SketchUp leave their desktop roots behind to become pure web applications.

Safari 4 on Windows looks good

It is really nice to see Apple have dropped the unsightly bushed metal look in their latest Safari 4 beta on Windows. Whilst that aesthetic worked fine in OSX, in a Windows world next to "traditional" applications it came across as being really unsightly. Let's hope this is a sign iTunes will take on more of a native Windows aesthetic in a future release.

However what is really crazy is how much Safari 4 looks and behaves like Google Chrome on Windows. Apple's developers have spent the last few months "borrowing" many of Chrome's features, such as the top-sites view and browser tabs on top, but on Windows they have gone a step further with the menu system itself. This is not a bad thing as the result looks nice, but beyond the little Google logo in the top right, your average Windows user is going to have a hard time telling the difference between the two browsers.

Now if only the Apple engineers would implement process isolation for each tab or window like in Chrome. It is hugely annoying to have all the Safari windows disappear just because somebody at Adobe cannot write a stable Flash plug-in.


StressFree Webmin theme version 2.0 released

Version 2.0 of the StressFree Webmin theme adds limited support for Google Gears. Whilst this addition does not provide true "offline" functionality it does help speed up the performance of the Webmin theme, especially over slow connections. In a nutshell Gears is used to cache a significant portion of Webmin's static content (images, javascript and CSS).

To enable Gears click the Gears link on the top right of the screen and follow the instructions. If your browser does not have Gears installed you will be provided a link to install the library. A demonstration of this functionality is given in the video below. There is not much to see, but the performance improvement is noticeable if you use Webmin a lot.

The concept and initial code for this functionality was kindly provided by Dwi Kristianto. I have integrated his proposal into the core StressFree theme and in the process tweaked it a fair bit to ensure it works in a variety of Webmin configurations.

This release also fixes a login screen rendering bug introduced since version 1.450 of Webmin. Unfortunately to resolve this bug backwards compatibility with Webmin versions > 1.450 is broken. If you are not using Webmin 1.450+ it is recommended that you do not install this theme, or better yet, upgrade Webmin prior to installing this theme.

The updated theme can be downloaded from here.


Google Chrome rethinks the browser

Yesterday (after a comic strip teaser) Google finally took the plunge and released their own web browser named Chrome. For years they have had a defacto relationship with Mozilla Firefox, but now they have decided to go it alone with their own, radically different offering. How this affects the Firefox/Google relationship is anyone's guess, but presumably for Mozilla having your number one revenue stream release a competing product is not a good sign.

So why should I care?

Rather than a simple re-branding of Firefox, Google Chrome is a completely new beast built on top of the WebKit rendering engine (the same engine that drives Apple's Safari). Innovation is a term used pretty lightly in the technology industry, but in this case Google has really tried to break conventions and create something that is genuinely a generation better than the competition.

Process isolation comes to tabs

The biggest conceptual leap the developers have made is thinking of each tab as its own distinct process. Traditionally your browser has run as a single process, which means when one tab or window goes haywire the whole thing goes up in a puff of smoke. By running each tab as a distinct, protected process the browser gains a level of robustness never considered possible. In fact in some respects Google Chrome is a lightweight operating system unto itself, it even has its own Task Manager for monitoring and selectively killing errand tabs.

Web Forms in Google Docs

Yesterday Google Docs users where given the ability to define spreadsheet-backed Web Forms for gathering feedback from people. The interface for doing this is very clean and it is a piece of functionality that could prove to be a real time-saver for those wishing to conduct quick surveys or gather structured feedback on a topic. Even though Google Docs doesn't compare well in a straight-up comparison with Microsoft Excel it is Web-centric functionality like this that put it ahead, especially in environments where spreadsheets are used more for communication than data crunching.

Below is a screen-cast demonstrating the use of Web Forms within Google Docs. It runs for a couple of minutes and covers the creation of the form, filling it out and receiving the data.

Off-line enabling existing applications with Gears

Today Google released their open source Google Gears extension for Firefox and Internet Explorer. Also announced at the same time was upcoming support for the Safari and Opera browsers and inclusion of the technology into Adobe's Apollo framework. All these things should help make the concepts underpinning the software fairly ubiquitous. You may at this point be asking yourself what is Gears? In a sentence it is a set of Javascript API's and supporting backend functionality to enable offline use of Web applications. For more information on the subject I would recommend checking out David Berlind's recent podcast interview with Linus Upson of Google on the topic.

Google Gears is big news because a Web-based application's biggest stumbling block has always been the fact that if there is no Internet access your application stops working. If you are like me and write Web-based database applications then this is really interesting because it opens up opportunities for your users to access their data in a variety of ways that are currently impossible. For example WhichDoctor manages physician information ranging from their contact information through to their training history. From my perspective it would be nice for a user of this application to be able to pull down a sub-set of this data so they can take it away to a secluded beach to work on for the weekend. Gears helps in realising this functional requirement on the browser but for existing and complex applications like WhichDoctor there is still a great many problems to overcome before such a possibility becomes reality.

Google Apps gets serious but where is the offline option?

On February 21st Google released their anticipated Premier and Education versions of its Google Apps service. In a rare move for Google the Premier option actually costs the business US$50 per user per year rather than simply relying on advertising revenue. For your money you get quite a few more features: 10gig of storage per user, some interesting looking API's and a guarantee of 99.9% uptime with support.

On the whole deal is pretty good but Google has gone out of their way to stress that this service is targeted at the significant portion of employees who do not actually have email accounts on the basis that it is too expensive for the business to maintain them internally. Aiming at this market is a good strategy considering Google Apps lacks one significant feature that will see it struggle to gain acceptance in the majority of businesses where staff email is an entrenched and essential service: offline access.

Google Reader is now my primary RSS experience

I have been using NewsGator's NetNewsWire for Mac RSS reader for years but yesterday I moved all my RSS feeds over to Google Reader and closed NetNewsWire for good. There are lots of things to like about NetNewsWire like its tabbed windows, responsiveness and polished look and feel, but even with these things in mind it struggles to compete with the best online RSS readers out there today.

I played around with Google Reader in its first carnation last year but its interface went over my head. It seemed to me they were trying to be clever with news rather than give users an interface they were used to and actually wanted. Recently Google re-released Reader in a far more conventional guise making the overall experience very similar to traditional RSS readers with a few added bonuses.

So how does Google Reader, a Web-based application overcome NetNewsWire's OSX savvy advantages?

Forget about fetchmail thanks to Gmail

Gmail's highly anticipated mail fetcher service went fully operational over the weekend. It is a nice addition for existing Gmail users but an even better option for those currently using fetchmail, getmail or some other pop3 checking tool for multiple email accounts. Traditionally you would have to run one of these applications or pay for a service such as Runbox to consolidate your email around a single account, but with Gmail this process has become significantly easier and cheaper.

Simply sign up for a free Gmail account (or log onto your existing one) and set Gmail to forward all incoming email to your primary account (assuming it isn't Gmail). Once the forwarder is in place configure the mail fetcher to retrieve mail from the accounts you want to check. Before you know it you have in place a free, spam filtered and highly redundant fetchmail/getmail replacement all without the cost and stress of maintaining your own server or application on your desktop for this task.