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This has become a horror, a horror I tell you.

I am not a techie. I am not a developer. I do not want to be a developer. I am trying to set up a pro bono program for a non-profit law office that serves the poor. Every time I try to look into anything to do with the computer, the network, my web site, ANYTHING, I am bombarded by haughty, presumptuous verbage and mysterious, impenetrable terminology and acronyms. I am sick in my stomach from all this. I cannot go and get a whole new education. I need to set up a simple website with a few simple links. I need to create a database to use in my office to track cases and clients and lawyers and fundraising. I don't have hundreds (thousands?!) of dollars to spend on bitchin' new programs that I don't have time to learn anyway. I got a hosting service with a Moveable Type platform--I guess that's the right word-- but support is drek. There's a MySQL database with my account, but all the "support" for it already presumes I know everything. I have MS Access on my system at work, but I don't know how to use it, and my host is Linux (Unix?) based (one of those) and can't take Access. I don't know where to turn or what to learn or how to invest my small quotient of time for all this.

Jeeeeezus. People are losing their homes. Children are getting beaten up by foster parents. Little old grannies are getting swindled out of their Social Security. I kinda have a lot of sort of pressing issues to deal with already. Is there any simple, non-smart-ass, non-MCS degree solution? All I need is a clean, simple website and an accessible, simple database and simple instructions for how to use them.

I'm asking sincerely, is this too much to hope for? I thought everything was supposed to be so "user-friendly" nowadays, but everything I find and read assumes I have some fairly advanced understanding already. Am I screwed? Should I just stick to boxes of file folders and lists on a legal pad? :sad:

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Last Post by cliffwells
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You've discovered the truth. This stuff is not easy. It is not user-friendly. When Microsoft asks "Where do you want to go today?", they already know the answer: HELL.

Seriously, though, this stuff is not easy. You'll hear people talking about how great and simple MySql and/or PHP is, but truth is, you still need to be a real programmer to do any real work with this technology. It's not something a person casually plays with in their spare time. It is a skill, that to become good at, will probably need to be your profession or serious hobby. Like most technically difficult things, once you are familiar with the technology, and have some successful experience under your belt, it is "easy", but we can't forget the amount of effort it took to get from point A to point B.

You said "I do not want to be a developer". You can't build the Internet application you describe and not become a "developer". You need to contract this work to someone who can and wants to do it.

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Thanks for your candor, Troy. I saw another post you wrote to someone. It was about the clearest, most lucid thing I found all day.

It's not that I don't want to because I don't find it interesting. I started teaching myself HTML and CSS to work in my own Moveable Type blog ... but that was before I got this eat-your-life job. (And you're right about the time that took from Paint A to Point B... I probably blew four hours one night just discerning the difference between padding and margin.) I just can't lollygag around with it anymore, because this thing needs to be up and functional. I was hoping someone could suggest something.

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Thanks, ae1. As for your "simple website with a few links" need, you probably already have enough experience from working with the MoveableType blog system to create a basic HTML page and include some links on it. If your need is truly for a "basic" website, you could always use a product like FrontPage that come with templates to get you started. (Don't tell anyway I suggested FrontPage. I'll fiercely deny it! :))

Then you mention a database, so I assume what you really want is a browser-based application to help you manage the law-office data needs. When it comes to specialized, data-driven software needs, you have 2 choices. Find something off the shelf that can be made to your needs, or roll your own solution. In 5 minutes on Google, I did not find any existing software packages, but there have to be some out there.

The jump from web page design (working with HTML, CSS, and graphics) to developing a data-driven Internet application is a big one. At your current experience level, if you want this app in the next 6 months, you need to find one or contract to have one built. I wish I had an easier answer for you.

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Thank you again, Troy. I initially believed that for what I need, I could just use an Excel spreadsheet, but there was the challenge of how to make it web accessible through forms, and then I determined I really did need something that could deal with more relational data.

We have some proprietary law firm database that does several different tasks, but I've never been trained in how to use it and it's based in the main HQ office 90 miles away, and we have SERIOUS server problems, so I'm trying to get away from that. We're a tiny new office with just 3.5 attorneys, and we're sort of the ugly, forgotten stepchild of the Big Office. We get no support and like Rodney, no respect. Hence the web-based hopes, but I apparently know just enough to be a danger to myself.

But I'm a big believer in asking for what you need, and I posted something about my difficulties on another thread and three --yes, THREE-- people have offered to help build the site. I'm really touched.

Y'all are nice folks, all the way round. And I think you're right about Microsoft advertising and the like ... the funny thing is that all this web stuff has unrolled so fast and there is so much high-level, techno-proletariat buzz that I think a lot of the general public get the idea that "build your own web site" is just another way to spend your tinkery tech time, like playing games or shopping ebay. It's fine if you enjoy masochistic levels of anxiety and frustration.

I think it's roughly analogous to non-legal folk trying to litigate their own court actions. You're allowed to, sure, and you can find lots of reference material, but will you know what to DO with it? You sort of proceed at your own peril...

Sigh ... Legal nerd bowing in deference to techno geeks ...

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Troy, am I correctly discerning that I sort of need to commit to either ASP-Access-FrontPage or to php-MySQL-Other WebDev program...?

I gather that there's an either/or question here... you can't do MS/Windows-based programs in conjunction with non-windows stuff?

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You can mix and match some tech that is usually Windows with some tech that is normally linux. For example, PHP is usually used on the Linux OS with the Apache web service. But you can use PHP on Windows with IIS. (IIS stands for Internet Information Service and is the free Microsoft web server software. Apache is the standard web service for Linux and Unix.) There are usually some small drawbacks to using any tech on any OS other than what it was originally developed for, so I don't recommend it.

You are correct--once you've decided on an architecture, and start down a path, changing direction probably means a lot of rework. So you want to pick an architecture. I have my preferences, of course, but many times the architecture decision is based on existing hardware, software, and skill sets. For example, I prefer the "LAMP" solution over the Microsoft or Java architectures. LAMP is an acronym for Linux, Apache, MySql, and PHP. But if you told me that you work for a company that already has Windows servers, a Windows network admin, and a programmer who is skilled with C#, VB.NET, or VBScript, I'd say you should probably go more the Microsoft route with ASP or ASP.net web development. If you said you had a team of java programmers and existing UNIX servers and an Oracle database licensed for the web, I'd have to suggest you look into a UNIX/JSP/Oracle architecture.

Do NOT use Microsoft Access for a web application unless you plan to have no more than 10 users ever, and then only if the database will never become larger than say 10MB. These are not hard & fast rules, but Access is not a multi-threaded database server, and in fact, must open the entire 'database' file for every request. So if you have 10 tables, and make a query to a single table, the web server must open the entire Access file to work with the single table. It's just not a robust or scalable solution. For personal and small-office small database needs, Access is fantastic.

Now for some quick tips! Microsoft SQL Server (MS SQL) is an excellent product, and easy to work with. However, MS SQL, last I checked, costs $5,000 per processor to use in a web environment! So on a dual processor webserver, you'd pay $10,000 to be legal! So for database, I highly recommend MySql. Postgres is another excellent, professional quality, free database. I recommend MySql, though, because it is well supported and 99% of the PHP database examples you'll find deal with MySql. MySql is "native" to Linux. Yes, you can run it on Windows, but unless you have big reasons to use Windows and/or IIS, I recommend you go with Linux. Going with Linux means going with Apache for the webserver and PHP for the scripting language. It's just such a great combination, and there are thousands of programmers at your disposal who know the tech along with thousands of online code examples.

As you may have noticed, I used the database to drive the Linux decision. In my opinion, Microsoft's SQL Server pricing is what drives a LOT of web developers to Linux in the first place. It's why I did, and boy am I glad I did.

PHP is far superior to Microsoft's ASP scripting. Microsoft's ASP.NET is very powerful, and really a total paradigm shift from "traditional" ASP. My problem with .NET is #1, Microsoft will undoubtedly completely change the rules again within 3 years, and #2, it's really a LOT harder than the "old" way. In my opinion, .NET takes web development away from the casual scripter.

No doubt about it, though, setting up Linux, Apache, and MySql first time compared to setting up Windows, IIS, and MS SQL first time, the Microsoft way wins no contest! With Linux, you don't get "pop in a cd, then follow the graphical menus and wizards to do everything for you."

Other thoughts to consider: who will manage the server, and where will it be located? Many start out by getting a server, installing everything, getting a firewall, yada, yada, yada. You can skip all that by going with a managed server solution. This means paying a monthly fee to use a server or space on a server that is professionally managed and located in a robust data center with security, multiple power grid feeds, battery backups, generators, and multiple high-speed backbone connections to the Internet. You can find solutions where Linux, Apache, MySql, and PHP are mostly ready for you to start developing. You can pay anywhere from less than $10/mo for a shared server solution to $100/mo or a lot more for a dedicated server. Since your application will be web-based, there is no reason the server needs to be physically located in your office. In fact, why add that cost and headache if you don't have to?

Man, I'm writing a book here. :)

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Funny, as a developer I feel exactly the same way about the legal system. Why is the legal system so complicated and impossible for a layperson to navigate. In fact, the legal system is far worse since you cannot live without interacting with it. The legal system is so inaccessible that there's even a famous quote about it: "the man who represents himself has a fool for a client".

So remind me again why a highly technical field that takes years for most of us to master should suddenly be free and easy to use for lawyers?
You already have tens of thousands of people (myself included) from all over the world contributing free software to help. Now you want what? Some of these people to come to your house and install it for you? I'm sorry, but I think you need to understand that running a complicated public service is something that will remain beyond the abilities of the layperson for the duration (and this goes beyond the scope of computer technology).

Your complaint is completely unjustified.

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