Have you ever thought about what it might be like to have a “portal page” for your family, just like many companies offer to employees? Wouldn’t it be convenient to have a central web-based repository of important documents, files and schedules for your family? Unfortunately, when it comes to operating a portal site, it’s difficult to find a free solution that isn’t scaled down in functionality. Most portal software out there comes at a hefty price, and any free scripts are either very simple demonstration sites or trial versions.
Luckily, there is an open source Portal that you can install on your own home web server. What this means is that you can create an Intranet start page in your home where all of your family members can access photos, videos, music, calendars, web links and any other resource that’s stored on the home web server.
Setting Up A Home Web Server With ocPortal
Unsure whether you have what it takes to create your own web server to install ocPortal onto? Have no fear – all you have to do is connect a PC to your home network, and then install and set up XAMPP as Dave described in his article. You could also use some of the XAMPP tips I offered in my article on setting up a USB stick web server.
The prerequisites to installing the ocPortal on your home web server is to install XAMPP, and then create a MySQL table using PHPMyAdmin. Remember to create a user name and password on the table as well, ocPortal will need this information during the installation.
Once XAMPP is running and you’ve got the database ready, go ahead and download the ocPortal software. On XAMPP, your public HTML folder is hpdocs. Within this folder, you should create a subfolder called “Portal“, and then upload all of the ocPortal software files there. Then, go to http://localhost/portal/install.php.
This will kick off the ocPortal installation routine. One of the first options is to choose whether you intend to use a forum. Unless you have some other forum software from the list installed on your web server, just go with the ocPortals forum.
Don’t forget to change the database to mySQL, since this is what XAMPP uses. The next step of the installation will be to identify the domain. You should have your web server set to a static IP (use Karl’s instructions in his network domain article to do this).
Use that static web server IP as the domain, and as part of the base URL settings. Leave the table prefix as is, and choose your preferred password.
Keep default settings on subsequent steps, and once you reach step 10, you’ll see the following completion screen if the installation completed without a hitch.
Go to your htpdocs/portal/ directory and make sure to delete the “install.php” file, or your portal will not work without flashing a warning at you on every screen. Now that your new portal software is installed, all you have to do is go to the IP address of your web server, like this: http://192.168.1.107/portal/, and you’ll see your portal page. If you log in under the admin account you created during setup, you can click on the “Administration Zone” link to set up the portal.
On the main admin page, you’ll see a status with reminders for each step of what you need to set up to get content loaded onto your Portal as quickly as possible. The nice thing about ocPortal is that it comes with lots of dynamic tools like a calendar, file sharing, an internal chat system and a whole lot more.
If you’re using the ocPortal for your family, like I am, the first thing you’ll want to do is establish the member accounts. You’ll find the Members panel under “Tools” in the Admin zone.
The majority of the time you’ll be spending, as the administrator/creator of the site, is in the editing areas. To get there, click on the Administration Zone, and then click on the “Structure” menu item to get to the website design page. You can access all of the same icons under the Structure menu list itself.
The “Site Tree editor” is probably my favorite method to design the site, because you can view sections of your portal in a tree-format. Clicking on any of the portal pages in the tree lets you choose to edit that “zone.” When you edit a zone, you’ll enter the “Zone Editor” where you can view the page and then edit the sections or “blocks” that you want to change.
Below is what my first attempt to redesign the main page looks like. I removed the poll, added an image of the day, included a schedule/calendar block to the right menu bar, and added in a news section that I can update every day.
It’s also really easy to add new pages to the portal by editing the left menu and then clicking to add those pages to your portal. Here, I’ve created individual pages for each family member, with items, features and links that matter most to them.
The beauty of ocPortal is that it takes so much less time to set up than if you were going to try and build an HTML portal page yourself on your web server. Installing this PHP application includes everything you need to build a fully-functional family or small-business portal site in just minutes.
So take ocPortal for a test drive on your own web server and see what you and your family think. Does it have all of the add-ons you need, and how is the learning curve? Share your experiences and your opinions in the comments section below.
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