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Opus, a partial RIP


As the domain which hosted it expires this week I've decided it's time to wind down my policy of open sourcing Opus, the content management system (CMS) that powers this web site and lots of our other web sites and that seems like a good time to talk a bit about how its history.

I started creating web sites back in the last millennium when I had still had a proper job and web sites were all static HTML but CMSs had just started to appear. I could see how they would make it a lot easier to keep an active site up to date so I looked around to see what was available and rapidly realised that all the offerings then available assumed that, as a very minimum, you had shell access on the server and often root access.

Opus the penguin In those days the best people like me who were playing around with public web sites could get for a reasonable price was an account on shared server, with a MySQL database and FTP access to upload files to the server and I couldn't find any open source CMS which I could use. Meanwhile PHP had started to replace perl as the language of choice for this sort of thing so I learned PHP and wrote my own CMS which I called Opus after Berkeley Breathed's Opus character from his Bloom County books.

With Opus I started created web sites for other people too, something I'll return to in a second, and continuing to develop and upgrade Opus over time as I needed to or as PHP evolved (for example replacing mysql_ functions with mysqli_ functions for accessing the back end database).

Anyway almost two decades later Opus' day has largely passed as it has long since been overtaken by well known CMSs like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal and I'm not aware of anyone who's created a new site using it other than us in a long time which is why I've now stopped making Opus available for download or worrying about the effect of any changes I make on anyone other than our remaining sites.

Still it was fun to do, it made a lot of people's lives easier and it even made me some money. It also lives on for our own web sites, and is likely to continue to do so for a while yet.

I've been trying to work out all the web sites I've created with Opus but these below are bound to be incomplete lists.

Pro Bono

Over the years I've created a lot of sites pro bono mainly relating to Milton, the village where we used to live, including:

  • the original village web site which later became just the parish council's web site.
  • the village web site with lots of news and information about the village.
  • Milton Country Park's original web site.
  • the web site for the campaign (which I lead, along with my friend Stephen) to save Milton Country Park when it was threatened with closure.
  • a separate site to drum up support for a trust to take over running the country park.
  • the web site for Milton Photographic Club (which, at the time of writing, is still running Opus).
  • Cavernoma Alliance UK - two sites: one public, one for members only.

Paid Work

Even before my stroke I'd written a web site based on Opus for money for a charity and, once I was over the worst of it, that continued. What was nice about it was that I found I was passed on from one organisation to the next, all not-for-profits, without having to go out and actively sell myself.

Sites I created included:

  • Help and Advice for Relatives of Prisoners
  • Ormiston Families
  • Ormiston Families extranet (this is still an active site)
  • Action for Prisoner's Families
  • Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
  • Crime and Society Foundation
  • Make Votes Count
  • Make Local Votes Count
  • Emmaus Cambridge

However it seems that my day in the sun has passed when it comes to creating web sites for money. Now people are looking for more blingy web sites than I can create or that I'm interested in creating and they are sold by professional salesfolk working for larger companies and developed by teams of people rather than one person working alone. I've not sold a new web site in several years so, with Beth, we've moved on to other things: mainly mapping related and also WalkLakes.

Other Users

Being a proper Linux geek I open sourced Opus from the start and it was picked by various people, especially parish councils as Opus had features specifically tuned towards use by them given the developments I'd done for Milton parish council.

Sites I'm aware of included:

  • Histon & Impington On-Line - the web site of two villages west of Milton and their parish councils.
  • Lydiard Millicent - the web site of a small village and parish in the far North-East corner of Wiltshire trying hard not to become part of Swindon.
  • Bognor Regis - a community web site for the seaside town (which is still online but hasn't been updated in almost a decade so I'll be emailing the owner suggesting that they take it down).

Tags: websites, work Written 23/04/18

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