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October 19, 2008 / Ben Chun

WPMU for School

Last year I rolled out an installation of WordPress MU for my school… a fun-filled technical, political, social, generational, and educational adventure. Things have been going OK this year, with some teachers really taking advantage of Google calendar integration, posting their assignments, and using the home page to push timely info to students. But of course there are always people who complain about things being too hard to use. So I decided that “addressing ease of use concerns” would be the perfect cover story for upgrading to the latest version. Since we were coming from a pre-2.5 version, the new admin interface would be included in the update, giving world-ending system shock to at least a few teachers.

Here are two plugins that I think are essential in making the new interface work for people who aren’t admins of the overall MU site:

  • Simple Dashboard lets me remove all the pingback info and RSS feeds that are present on the dashboard by default.
  • Disable WordPress Plugin Updates prevents a bunch of people from worrying every time a plugin author decides to release a new version.
  • Disable WordPress Core Updates, likewise, removes the nag messages to update to the latest version — critical for WPMU because MU updates aren’t released at the same time as core updates.
  • Menus allows the menu structure to be tailored to just what’s needed. That means nothing about themes, tags, or comments shows up for teachers.

Thing I am most pleased about is fixing the bug that was preventing the visual editor from loading. Last time around I punted after finding a workaround. This time, the answer fell into my lap: realpath. For some reason, it doesn’t work correctly on our host, Joyent. There’s a solution where you build your own realpath function, but I found it was easier to just go to wp-includes/js/tinymce/tiny_mce_config.php and comment out these two lines:
if ( function_exists('realpath') )
$path = realpath($path);

I’m not sure if this is because we are on Solaris or because of the way they do server virtualization, but I don’t really care about the reason as long as I can fix it. The other problem was that the uploader didn’t work at all, because for some reason the upload path that starts with ../wp-content/blogs.dir couldn’t be resolved. All the permissions were correct, the directory existed, the file was being uploaded with error, and the only reason I was getting the dreaded “The uploaded file could not be moved to the upload folder” was because .. couldn’t be resolved correctly. So I hardcoded it. Ugly, but effective.

I am dreading the fact that 2.7 is on the way because I like the level of simplicity that I’ve got now (especially with the custom menus removing a lot of the extra clutter) and I have to keep the rate of upgrade churn relatively low. More than one interface change per year is a lot to ask of people who aren’t web professionals or bloggers.


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