I’m taking some time off work. I’ve a few chores to do, one of them getting my car MOT’d. But I am going to spend some of the break working on the update on my board game forum site, Posh Games. A real busman’s holiday!
The upgrade is long overdue. Official support for the version I am using ended in 2009, although I’ve managed to keep it going and secure. Over the years, I have made 2 attempts to upgrade, both vexed by the new versions lacking features that are pretty central to my website – mainly a fully integrated calendar/scheduler, allowing you to attach dates to specific topics (so people can schedule a game session, then discuss who is coming and what games to bring).
It’s always seemed to me that the main developers behind phpBB have been fairly resistant to even user-led system calendars; all the arguments I have seen seem to misrepresent (or at least not understand) the function some of us need. It is not just about displaying “birthdays” and “on this day”
The other discussion point is about multi-column pages, which I’ve been told by many is “old hat” and bad design. They say that multiple columns – in my case, a listing of upcoming events in a narrow left-hand column, with the main action alongside – do not display well on phones and tablets, which I am informed represent 50% of the forum browsing use. The answer seems obvious to me – have a different version of the screen for mobile devices – and yet all the main “themes” available are plain, boring single-column flat-screen renditions. It is even trivial to make this auto-sensing – what is the problem?
There was a time when I could happily hack the phpBB code to my own needs (as I did with the earlier version). But the current version uses a complete different and complex (but quite decent) way of integrating “extensions” (as “modifications” are now called) into the core system, without rewriting core code. So I was facing a steep learning curve on how this worked. But as my day job also involves web work, I find it hard to maintain the enthusiasm to learn a “new” system in the detail required.
Anyway, having looked in vain 2 years ago, I recently found two active and working extensions, one for multi-column and one for calendar, that do something like 90% of what I want. There are some things about them that I don’t like, and new features that I’d like to introduce, but starting with something that actually works is a big help. I’m going to rename and fork both packages, strictly for my own use; it lets me get exactly what I want, without any possible confusion between my version of the extensions and the originals, and it will also prevent any misguided attempt to auto-update and overwrite my changes. I won’t be publishing my versions, as they are so specific to my own preferences.
I spent some of last weekend playing with these two extensions, and it made me happy to be moving forward at last. Coming back to it today, I am pleased with the progress I am making in finally understanding the architecture of phpBB v3.2 – having working extension code helps me, as I learn best by studying examples. The new site won’t be up immediately, but having failed to upgrade twice, I am hoping third time’s the charm.