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Yesterday we had a little brainstorming session in our admin team where our IT documentation was one thing to discuss. The result was, that we need to change our documentation tool to something faster and easier to use. And my team developed some incredible ideas which we implemented and I want to share them with you now.

What we had

  • Mediawiki wiki system
  • customizable but uncomfortable
  • slow, because we had to login, go to the correct page, edit this page and then save it.

What we want

  • a system with a comfortable and fast input method
  • cross platform compatible
  • secure
  • easy to use

Solution

After talking about the existing tools we came to a private and customized wordpress setup. Sounds strange? Read on 🙂

WordPress offers an API which is used by many third party apps. This allows us to use a desktop app to publish a new entry. I decided to use “Deepest Sender”, which is a small blogging plugin for Firefox. We use Firefox on Linux, OS X and Windows so that’s a good choice. Another cool app is the WordPress iPhone app. Imagine you need to document your server inventory in your data center: Open the app, create a new post with a picture of your servers taken with your iPhone and press send. Now, how cool is that?

In WordPress we can make use of categories. A few examples we implemented are “Password”, “License” and “Change Management”. So I can open my Firefox plugin with a hotkey, set the category “Password”, paste the password and press send. Done. WordPress now publishes this post with my name and date. In the category browser we can click on “Password” and see all published passwords on one page automatically. So there is no need to create pages by hand – but you can if you want.

On the startpage you get a listing of the newest entries. That’s your perfect starting point after vacation.

You can subscribe to WordPress with your RSS feed reader. Now I’m informed by a desktop notification when someone posts a new entry. There’s no need to write mails about that anymore.

Interested? Here is what you need:

  • WordPress setup. You can use my how-to.
  • A simple theme that concentrates on just your documentation: http://bueltge.de/documentations-theme-fuer-wordpress/469/
  • Force User Login” plugin because you don’t want your documentation seen by others.
  • Quick Post Widget” is an extension that allows you to post a new entry without going to the backend of your wordpress setup. Very handy when you decide not to use a desktop app.
  • Search highlight plugin” highlights your searched keywords.
  • A good apache setup. We only allowed our admin V-LAN to access WordPress. Secure your setup as it might hold sensitive information and WordPress was not always a solid product regarding security. Also, https is a must have in your network.

Some Tips

  • When using https (thats what you want) with a self signed certificate you might have problems with third party apps like the iPhone app. We used our Active Directory CA to sign the certificate so we had to import our root certificate into the iPhone. To do so, go to your CA (sth. like https://domaincontroller.company.domain/certsrv) with your mobile browser and download the root certificate from there. The iPhone then asks to install the root certificate. I’m sure other phones work equally. If you are outside your LAN you can configure a VPN connection on your mobile phone.
  • Active Directory binding of wordpress. We used http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/active-directory-authentication/ which worked fine but had problems with third party apps. We are back to local users now but you might have a look at it.

Please let me know if this was useful or if you have any additions that could be useful for us. Have fun!

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