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UtterAccess Forums _ News _ UtterAccess In The 2020 Decade

Posted by: jleach Jan 6 2020, 01:31 PM

It's hard to believe that UtterAccess is in it's 18th year now. Created in 2002 (April 27th, to be exact, when Gord launched it), UA has been a home to myself and many others for a long, long time. The origins of UA go back even further... Simon Wolf and A3 (Access All Areas) preceded UA, and A3 was born somewhere between January 1999 (, and January 2000 when it became "official." Going back just a bit further, his decision to host around March of 1997, which included Access-based content that began to collect a following of interested people that drove the evolution to UA today. That's 23 years...

Twenty. Three. Years. For a free, public, community-driven website. notworthy.gif

It's almost as impressive as the tenure of Access itself.

Therefore, it is immensely gratifying to be able to write this to announce that we're nowhere near done.

We have a number of plans for UA in the year 2020 and forward. Some of this is already heavily underway in the background, while some things are tentative and still in vague idea stages, but in either case we're excited to announce a number of upcoming changes.

New Forum Software
Most notably, UA will be undergoing a software change. The current software was implemented for specific reasons at the time, yet comes with some difficulties in providing updates to the software. Now, years later, we've moved on from those specific reasons and are more interested in the ability to improve UA moving forward.

In mid-2019, we started taking a hard look at what to do with UA's software situation. Continue with the current implementation? Find something off the shelf? Write something from scratch? The answers of course depend on where we want to be in the future, and what kind of path we want to take to get there.

We don't feel that continuing with the current software is a wise long-term forward path. While it's served its purpose quite well, it is difficult to manage and based on what's considered antiquated technology in modern day web applications. We looked at other 3rd party software as well, though there's really only one ( that is any "better" or "more modern" than what UA already is. While it likely would have been easier to adopt discourse as a new platform for UA, it wouldn't help us in terms of having our own flexible software to ride the future with.

Ultimately, we decided that a new custom developed software fits the needs well and offers the easiest forward path for many of the future plans for UA. As such, a new version of UA has been in development since September of 2019, and we expect the following timeline for it's major public milestones:

- End of First Quarter 2020: public beta release of the new "UAv4" web application
- End of Second Quarter 2020: final move to the new UAv4 software and retirement of the current software

What to expect?

- All existing content to be retained
- All existing memberships to be retained
- All existing messages, avatars, uploads and such to be retained
- The greater majority of current forum software features to be retained
- A number of new features, many of which will be related to ease of posting and searching
- UA "Areas" (discussed in more detail below)

We've been working with the UA VIPs on feature suggestions/discussion and have collected a number of requests from the public suggestion forums and included these in our considerations for feature priorities in the new software. While we can't promise that every suggestion/request will be implemented, we think the UA membership on the whole will be pleased with the new software, and we have plans to set up a more formal feedback/feature request mechanism for future requests.

UtterAccess Areas
A significant factor in our decision to undertake the UAv4 custom software project is that we want to be able to expand UA beyond only forums. We feel that there's a great number of ways that UA can serve the Access community, and that forum discussion is one of many ways to do so. Over the years, we've supported some of these things through the existing forum interface, but we believe that there's better ways of doing so.

As such, with the UAv4 software, we've allowed for varying "Areas" that can be added to UA. An Area can be thought of as a major chunk of functionality, or perhaps as a sub-site or differing feature set. The forum itself will be one (the main) Area, and members can participle/visit only that Area if they prefer not to be involved in others.

While the timeline above for the UAv4 software only covers the core Forum Area, here are some examples of things we may (or may not...) implement as separate Areas in the future:

- A dedicated Area for articles/documentation (like the wiki)
- An Area for the Code Archive (this can include discussion, but can be presented differently, not in forum-first mode as it currently is)
- An Area for job postings (potentially: we could, but haven't decided yet if we will)
- Potentially Areas for other development platforms (.NET, BI, AI/ML, etc)
- Tool and product catalog/search/comparisons

These are examples of things that could be done, and the key takeaway is that each Area can essentially be a separate web application custom-built to support the content, rather than trying to fit that content into a forum software's box.

As part of the UAv4 software, we've specifically designed the overall system architecture to support any number of future Areas that we may want to implement.

Wiki, Code Archive, FAQs and Knowledgebase(s)
While the initial release of the UAv4 software will have only the core Forum Area, we have concrete plans to move certain types of content currently within the forums to a new Area for articles/documentation/faqs and such.

Also, there's a question of what happens with the UA Wiki.

The Wiki was a large undertaking (and is the reason for the current software: integration between forum and wiki), and while initially there was a lot of content added and the articles still get a number of views to date, it has been mostly inactive in terms of contributions in recent years. Rather than trying to continue running the wiki in conjunction with the UAv4 software (the two are on completely different development platforms), we will be "freezing" the wiki as read-only, retaining the content, and eventually migrating it to the future planned Articles Area.

Along with the wiki being moved to a new Articles Area, there's a number of various FAQs and knowledgebase-type topics/boards currently in UA that we feel can be better utilized in a dedicated Articles area. We will begin moving this content to the new Area when ready.

Mobile App
While the UAv4's UI/UX will offer some improvement for smaller form-factors (e.g., a bit more tablet friendly), it's pretty much a hard fact that the UA site is mostly a desktop experience and should stay that way.

With that said, we do have plans for an initial basic mobile app to be released by the end of 2020 for Apple and Android devices. The initial release of this will cover basic forum interactions in a feature-light manner.

Over and out
We'd like to take this opportunity to offer some thanks to everyone who has been a part of the UtterAccess community and Access community at large. Specifically, our founding fathers Simon Wolf and Gord Hubbell, as well as a number of the "original team" core administration (Jerry Dennison, Ricky Hicks), and many of the long-time administration members since the early days of UA (Glen Kruger especially, Mark Davis, DougY, George Hepworth, and a host of others who I won't list out completely).

Looking forward to the next 20 years thumbup.gif

Posted by: FrankRuperto Jan 6 2020, 01:59 PM

Congrats UA, you've survived and come a long way! uarulez2.gif

Looking forward to the mobile app UA version

- End of First Quarter 2019: public beta release of the new "UAv4" web application
- End of Second Quarter 2019: final move to the new UAv4 software and retirement of the current software

End of 2019Q2 was June 30, 2019. Do you mean year 2020?

Over and out...

Are there any rules and policy changes?

Can you provide a current UA organization chart?


Posted by: jleach Jan 6 2020, 02:14 PM

Hi Frank - I meant 2020 yes, sorry (fixed).

We don't really have an org chart handy. This is probably the closest thing, but needs to be cleaned up a bit as well:

Posted by: lex Jan 9 2020, 12:11 PM

Thanks to all that have helped with past and future development!

Posted by: JonSmith Jan 10 2020, 05:26 AM

Congrats to everyone that kept this site running for so long.
I've ended up doing mostly .net work the past couple of years so dont frequent here nearly as often but it was always an amazing site for me to get site and inspiration. smile.gif

Looking forward to seeing the updates in functionality. I hope we retain the code archive, I still pull old stuff out of there to solve little problems quickly and efficiently.

Posted by: tina t Jan 10 2020, 02:13 PM

Jack, a huge thanks to you and all the other folks who run the environment that this amazing community resides in. a testament to your excellent and ongoing work is that it's not noticeable - like all great design, the focus is on the story, not the book it comes in. :) tina

Posted by: jleach Jan 10 2020, 02:49 PM

Hi Jon - for sure the Code Archive will stick around. Initially we'll keep it as part of forums just as it is, but at some point I'd like to create a dedicated sub-site/area specifically for that, including better categorization and search functionality (as well as updated administrative controls, as this is a pain point in the background with the CA). Regarding .NET work - I moved mostly away from Access myself a number of years ago into C# (winforms, WPF and ASP.NET), and since then have expanded into enterprise application development, mobile dev, react/vue/angular frontend, BI, etc. One thing that was very noticeable in trying to pick up everything else was that there's a severe lack of venues for good discussion on those topics. While S/O is great for strict Q/A, it's only good for that, and very unwelcoming to new users, where UA has always been the opposite: we welcome long discussion without restriction on (technicalities of) content. I would love to see UA be able to fill that gap.

Hi Tina, thank you! Though I think others more than myself - I've only somewhat recently been back around, having taken a bit of a hiatus for a while previously, but going all the way back it's impressive to see the passion and commitment that so many have had to the Access community and UA. Pretty good stuff thumbup.gif