Interview of the week: Chamilo

20 mai 2010

This week, an interview that you are numerous to have been expecting after the publications and discussions that have animated the blogosphere around the creation of Chamilo by a former developer of Dokeos.

After the interview of Mr Thomas De Pratere from Dokeos, it seemed natural that I should receive Yannick Warnier, ex-Dokeos and initiator of the Chamilo project, in order to get to know more about the substance, leaving behind the polemical aspects and human factors related to the end of any common adventure.

Sébastien FRAYSSE (SF) – Could you tell us a few words about the origin of the Chamilo project?

Yannick WARNIER (YW) – The Chamilo project comes from the Dokeos project and recovers its main advantages like its lightness and usability.

The project was created out of a different vision of the software future by the technical staff, that is to say the developers, the translators and a few consultants who thought that the project should remain attentive to the community, including “in a non-exhaustive way” the customers’ units.

The Chamilo project aims at ensuring the software freedom in all its forms and at encouraging the companies as well as the institutions to collaborate under a same framework: the one of an association with no lucrative purposes.

After numerous refining steps, we managed to create an association, the name of which is the name of the project and which is in charge of controlling the use of the trade mark (to avoid any misuses).

All in all, 90% of the developers decided to move to Chamilo.

Chamilo is a derivative of « Caméléon » and must be pronounced « Kamilo ». We have been willing to make a double wordplay on the transformation from the parent software while keeping a similar aspect but, more especially, on the fact that version 2.0 of the software (first release planned for the summer 2010) is much more modular and will enable the users to better adapt the software to their use of it.

SF – Chamilo is a « fork » of Dokeos, that is to say a declination of Dokeos which will now proceed its own way. Is it fitted with all the functions of the FREE version of Dokeos? Any functions of the PRO version?

YW – Chamilo is fitted with all the functionalities of Dokeos FREE and a series of functionalities of Dokeos PRO, together with a series of innovating functionalities like social networking: the trainees can create groups of interest and indicate their personal interests and other trainees can join them on the basis of these criteria.

It is also possible to link the “profile” to other social networks or to information feeds like, for example, his/her personal blog, the last five articles of which shall appear within the profile.

These “social” functionalities can be considered as entertaining to some people but their implementation has already showed us interesting cases within only two months of use.

Beyond all that, a few important functionalities which make the difference, namely the course catalogue and a generation-time improvement (/10) for the reporting.

Chamilo’s next version, 1.8.7 (already available in beta version), shall be launched in May 2010. Within the programme: complete management of the international characters (UTF-8), time zones, roster lists, a new panel for the Human Resources Manager and various improvements in the management of the training cycles. In particular, the internationally orientated developments shall enable us to meet the objective of the association for this year: the opening to the Asiatic world.

At the same time, fifteen developers, mainly working within Belgian and Swiss universities, get concentrated on the new version: version 2.0, which enables us to independently advance on two fronts.

Versions 1.8.* shall be still supported at least up to June 2011 but we progressively encourage our users to move to version 2.

SF – Who takes part in Chamilo’s development? How is the project financed?

YW – Chamilo’s basis of developers is the same as the one of its predecessor. BeezNest, the main private company which was in charge of the software development under cover of Dokeos is currently working on version 1.8.7 of Chamilo, in collaboration with 2 independent and committed developers. All in all, 10 developers are working hard on the project of version 1.8.7.

Version 2.0 currently benefits from a new type of energy thanks to the involvement of trainees within 3 educational institutions: fifteen developers improve the code in a regular way.

The project is financed by its effective members, that is to say a series of companies and universities which generate their own income from the provision of their services, which guarantees that our developments are not based on developers’ abstract wishes but rather on the clear operational needs expressed (up to the present day) by 25 customers all over the world (we are talking here about a base of customers built by or migrated to Chamilo from January 2010).

The association has been set up to ensure the software promoting and to have the code developed by the external companies recollected for the better benefit of the whole community. A system of contributions for particular sub-projects shall be set up within a short time.

SF – Is Chamilo already used by training centers?

YW – Yes, mainly in Spain by training companies active within the edition or bank environment. The other types of customers are the mining, educational, banking sectors (which remain in charge of their training), biology/veterinary and cultural sectors. Lots of Dokeos’ current users are still wondering about turning to Chamilo or not: they want to see the results first and this is what we shall show us in an indisputable way all along 2010 and the coming years.

SF – In the end, will you propose additional services like hosting or specific developments? Will you rely on a network of partners as Moodle does?

YW – Of course, we will. By the way, this is what we are already doing. The services themselves shall be in charge of the official providers. The association shall not interfere at this level, except at the level of the information about what the title of official provider represents, a warning against impostors and a list of these approved providers as well as a financing system of developments by the community by means of contributions.

We shall effectively rely on a network like Moodle’s one, but the contributions shall not be given to a private company (which we consider as a danger with regard to our past experience).

It is the association which shall decide where the contributions are to be distributed and possibly dedicate a specific budget to a development project that a lot of customers are expecting and that none is interested in financing alone.

The association brings a solution to 3 former problems:

  • The trade mark is no longer under the control of a single person (which always represents a danger for a free software)
  • Other technical companies can be directly involved (formerly, this used to generate a conflict of interest with the major company which owned the trade mark)
  • The institutions which do not hold technical resources can financially support the project without any concerns about the way their contributions shall be used.

In order to allow the companies to freely develop their services (commercial ones) around the software, the association develops a series of attractive media to encourage them to take part in the open base of the software: rebates on the next subscriptions as an official member, documentation and translation, invitation to great events as an exhibitor, co-organization and diffusion of events organized by the member-entity, etc.

In total, 8 technically orientated companies, from 5 to 60 employees, have already shown a strong interest to be official providers according to the established conditions (be a member, contribute and take an examination). They should achieve so in the course of May 2010.

All this without any marketing approach for the moment.

SF – Which direction will you give to the LMS? What are the future development axes?

YW – We have lots of ideas and more developers than before, which obviously increases the possibilities, but the most likely to be implemented are the following ones…

First of all, we are willing to direct the software to the individual and his/her acquisitions via what is commonly called the « e-portfolio » and which allows the trainee to regard his/her training as a personal active process building up within the platform but also to take it with him/her.

In a second time, we would like to move towards functionalities liable to increase the ROI of the companies adopting the software. Notably via modules allowing the sourcing management for the new projects by means of the research of talents within the company (training one’s employees is not the only thing to matter, benefiting from this training is equally important).

Finally, lots of « free » software solutions are at the present time sufficiently mature for the enterprises world. The inter-applications communication (generally called web services) allows us to exchange information in a reliable and rapid way.

We wish to benefit from this context to enable the companies to integrate our software to their existing applications without any major effort.

Parallely, the team working on version 2.0 gets concentrated, for the present time, on the building-up of an ultra-flexible software base which shall enable the quicker development of extensions of any types, among which the ones developed on version 1.8.

We therefore hope to rapidly reach the summit of the LMS suites.

SF – Thank you very much Yannick for your answers. Any reader is encouraged to use the comments to ask questions and react to the article. You can also visit Chamilo website for any further information.

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