|The FirstClass Client and FirstClass Personal
We have just started to update this page to reflect two significant changes which have taken place in the last couple of years. The original page was one of the first we wrote in support of Pauline's teaching and it was largely unchanged after ten years. It is clear that FirstClass is one of the rare pieces of software to stand the test of time well and remained true to its roots! We have always thought it an excellent concept which brings together Mail and Conferences in a perfect way for collaboration and still has no serious competition.
The new material firstly covers the updates to the version 8.x Clients and Personal and secondly we are adding a large new section covering FirstClass on Linux as we have almost entirely changed to using Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows. The emphasis in this paper has always been on using FirstClass offline with FirstClass Personal. If you are only accessing FirstClass from home on a broadband link and are not too worried about retaining an audit trail over several years then the normal FirstClass client is all you need - it is fast and allows access to a huge range of online conferences etc. The normal Client is well supported with excellent documentation from the OU.
FirstClass Personal allows offline operation where one connects, downloads all new mail and selected conferences, uploads mail and conference contributions and then disconnects. Personal offers big advantages if you are operating on a limited bandwidth and expensive link such as a mobile telephone. We use FC Personal most of the time and even with a mobile telephone link the bills are contained. FirstClass Personal has never received a high level of support by the OU and the last versions where it was included in the Software distributions on CD was 7.1 although version 8.2 can be found in the support conferences. Personal has not yet been issued for the latest issue of FirstClass, version 9 and there seem to be no plans for version 8 for Linux or Mac which may be a long term problem for us although mobile broadband costs are falling fast in the UK.
We started in the days of 3.5 upgrading to 5.1 and 5.6. We continued to use FirstClass 5.5 for many years before we shifted to 7.006 just before the end of Pauline's teaching of M206 and are still using it for Offline access of archived information. It looks as if that may have to continue for a while longer as we have not yet found a way to upgrade our local 'archive' for the latest versions - we have some emails and posting which contain valuable information going back 5 years. It has a less swish interface and can not reproduce some of the latest facilities offline. Note that recently the OU have upgraded their servers to First Class 9 which is not compatible with FC 7.x Personal and breaks the local archive when you replicate.
The major difference that is apparent in FirstClass 8 is the new interface layout which now has a choice between accessing in a 'panel' or via separate windows. This is an advantage on a large screen and makes some of the facilities easier to access and takes advantage of the new services from the server.
The OU CDs have version 8.101 but most of what follows is for version 8.326 which we could download both the Client and Personal Versions for Windows and version 8.315 Linux Client from the Firstclass web site. They are the latest versions of version 8.xxx but take a little searching out as the new version 9 is being pushed. They are available currently at:
If they are no longer on those pages you could try a search for the filename.
The instructions the OU provides are very detailed and there is no need to repeat most of it. You need to have your OU username and password and to know which server you are using. The information is entered once and for all using the setup button on the FirstClass Login Windows - the password does not have to be saved, you can enter it each time. The server box has oufcnt1.open.ac.uk or oufcnt2.open.ac.uk entered depending on which server you use.
There are no instructions from the OU on installing Personal. Before using Personal you should be confident in online use of FirstClass and in configuring and customising it. We suggest that at the minimum you should be able to:
I am hoping to find an old copy of the instructions on how to install and set up personal but what I recall is:
Selecting up Conferences to Download: First you must choose the conferences - for test purposes keep to say three and include OU Service News - you can add the rest latter. Now go online and create a Folder called Offline Conferences using the Service -> Offline Conferences. Drag it to somewhere you can easily get at it. Now make an Alias of one of the conferences you have selected by Right Click Menu -> Add to Desktop. It will turn up somewhere on your desktop (it always seems random where!) and drag it into the Offline Conferences folder. Repeat with another Conference. Note that however deep the Conference is that you make an Alias of it turns up on the desktop. You may well want to make two aliases so there is one left to easily look at online if it was nested within another conference. It is worth double clicking on the Offline Conferences folder to make sure it contains your two or three selected conferences before you disconnect. You should also make sure that the mail and conferences contain some unread items - if not use the Toggle Unread Flag button you added to the toolbar to change a few.First Replications: Follow all the setup instructions and then choose Replicate Now from the toolbar if you have added it as suggested. Assuming all the setup has been OK the computer will go online and download all the unread items. This can take a while the first time. After the phone has been disconnected you should find a Mailbox and an Offline Conferences Folder on your Personal desktop containing the items which have been Replicated. You are now in business and can add extra conferences online as required. Next Steps: The Offline Conferences folder on your desktop will contain the replicated conferences - you can make Aliases and position them neatly on your desktop. You can now see why we suggest that you become confident in certain actions and add them to the toolbar! At this point you may wish to choose how long to keep your local copies and set the default by Offline Configuration where you can also set the maximum size of message to Replicate. You will not find messages with big attachments unless you go online occasionally and look for the red unread flags in your mailbox and conferences. You also need to look for new and interesting conferences online. Note that sub-conferences all have to be individually selected. In Practice: We find it works very well if one checks online once a week and Replicates daily. The daily time to replicate mail and 16 tutor conferences averages about a minute per server and at evening rates very rarely exceeds the time for the minimum charge of 5 pence. TIPS:
WINE comes at the top of the Linux section as most of the OU specific programs are solely available for Windows and WINE enables one to run many Windows programs within Linux and arguably more safely as no Windows code is used. It is under continuous development and the number of applications it can handle has recently increased dramatically including a number of the most demanding games which are used as a criteria of performance by many. To loosely quote Wine HQ " WINE is an Open Source implementation of the Microsoft Windows API run on top of the X windows system and Linux. WINE is a compatibility layer for running Windows programs and does not require Microsoft Windows, as it is a completely free alternative implementation of the Windows API consisting of 100% non-Microsoft code" Applications are run at full speed without the need of cpu emulation. WINE normally does not require anything from Microsoft Windows, however it can use native system dll files in place of its own if they are available.
The implementation of WINE has been much improved in Ubuntu Hardy Heron. The version installed is 1.0 and it is now fully integrated into the Ubuntu Linux system. The package now includes a program loader for running unmodified Windows executables as well as the WINE project's free version of the Windows API for running programs ported from Windows. It is now installed by the Add/Remove Applications Manager in minutes if you are on broadband and the default configuration is all that is normally required - with the caveat that you may wish to add the Microsoft Proprietor Fonts.
It appears on the Applications menu with a slide out menu giving Programs, Browse C:\ Drive, Configure WINE and Uninstall WINE Software as you can see below. The Programs then slides out to give the programs as they would have appeared in the Start Menu. All very well integrated. The extensions .exe and .msi are now linked to WINE so you just double click most installation files (.exe or .msi file) to start and installation going. The following is a screen-shot showing how it now looks when one is about to run FirstClass. Note the number and spread of Windows programs we have running successfully under Ubuntu Linux and WINE 1.0 including Minitab, the OU eTMA file Handler, FirstClass 8.326, Dreamweaver MX, Paintshop Pro and Irfanview.
We have been running a legacy version which has a simpler and less elegant interface than the latest version but is fully functional for what we need. It has the advantage that it has an Offline mode called Personal which reduces our telephone bills considerably when 'mobile'. The version we were running is very well behaved and does not seem to have any registry entries so we used to move it around by copy from machine to machine into a C:\Program Files\FirstClassxxxx directory along with its Offline database of emails and conference postings which they call a Personal Post Office (the \ppo subdirectory. Copying to the matching WINE folder gave full functionality under Ubuntu immediately, all we had to do was create a link from the desktop as we used to do under Windows. We have covered use of FirstClass 7 in client and Offline modes on a dedicated page and little has to be added for use under Ubuntu Linux, all the old features (and bugs) remain unchanged. You should also note that some of fancy icons have changed in the transition to version 8 on the server so take care in adding them to conference postings etc as others may see nothing or worse still something you did not intend.
There is a Linux version which has been packaged for the most popular Linux distributions including Debian on which Ubuntu is based. It is not part of the Ubuntu distribution but can be downloaded as a .deb file ( fcc-8.315-2-Linux-i686.deb ) via links from the FirstClass.com previous clients page which can be installed by double clicking on it. It started by Applications -> Internet -> FirstClass Client and seems to be fully functional and 8.3 is a considerable improvement over 7.0 for online use alone. Unfortunately there is no Linux version for Offline use. You will need to set up one configuration file which specifies the linux programs used to open files - it currently uses one from the K rather than the gnome desktop. It is at /home/username/ firstclass/fcapps. Usee ooffice for all Office application and firefox for browser applications.
This is the final version of 8.3 which was frozen at the time FirstClass 9 was released. The installation file ( FC8326US.exe ) can still be downloaded via links from theFirstClass.com previous clients page and the matching Offline 'Personal' from the FirstClass FCPersonal Client Downloads Page. Installation just involves double clicking on the files you download and following the Wizard, just the same as under Windows. The normal client runs perfectly OK with only a single minor quirk I have found to date, namely that you have to select icons by clicking (or double clicking) the text below rather than the icon itself!
It took a little work to get Personal working. The initial problem for me is that it can not convert my existing legacy Personal Post Office to the new format - it gives an error message that it is pre version 7.0 although it is running under FC7. FirstClass is now installed into a number of locations rather than a single directory. Next I found that Personal had to be running before one could log in offline as it was not started automatically. Lastly it was impossible to replicate as Personal could not find the settings file in either the primary or secondary locations.
On examination I found that under WINE the main files including fcc32.exe are in C:\Program Files\FirstClass as one would expect but the settings are now split off into C:\windows\profiles\ username\My Documents\FirstClass. There are also a few other locations such as C:\windows where there are some .ini files. The unusual feature was that the new ppo directory and the executable FCSPRA.exe were also in C:\windows\profiles\ username\My Documents\FirstClass. When I copied the new PPO and the file FCSPRA.exe from C:\windows\profiles\ username\My Documents\FirstClass to where I would have expected it to be namely C:\Program Files\FirstClass I could replicate without problems but still do not have an automatic start of the Personal Server. I do not yet understand why the local server is not started automatically but it could be fixed by using a script to start one then the other but at present I hope to find out why rather than bodge it. I also hope to find a utility to convert my legacy PPO to the new version and until I can keep our 10 year audit trail we are settling for 7.0 although I have discovered that if I replace the new ppo folder with an old one Personal still starts with some error messages in the log file and seems to work but lack some of the new features such as a Trash container.
I have as yet been unable to make Personal run under Ubuntu Lucid Lynx - amongst other things one of the sytem files used seemes to have changed version. As FirstClass seems to be on it's last legs with the OU it is currently a low priority and I have kept one machine running Jaunty.
This section is not for the total newcomer to either Linux or Windows and is not totaly wthout risk, although the worst would probably be you would have to remove WINE and Add it back as a fresh copy. When you are running a Windows program under WINE there are few built in programs so if you wanted to run an Office application you would have to do the same as on a real Windows machine and install Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. What you actually want to be able to do is to access programs which are available in the Native Linux machine so that if you right click on a document file attachment which is in FirstClass or the eTMA File Handler then it will open up the File using the copy of OpenOffice that comes installed with Ubuntu Linux. This seemes a fairly normal requirement to me and I was surprised that no such facility was built in to make set up such associations and even more surprising that there was no proceedure easily found by Googling. I eventually came on a set of postings which gave a suitable way forwards.
There are several stages.
The names used above follow those of the originator of the idea, Tres Finocchiaro, which I found under the unlikely heading of [Wine] Fun Wine Project -- Configure Some Default Registry Entries. The contents of the two files word.reg (this link does not have the additions in red below as it is more tested) and winenative on my system are:
# License: GPL >= V3
# Author: A. Tres Finocchiaro
# Modified: May 2008 Hilary BH Wright
# Used to call on the native linux OS to launch a filetype in Wine.
# For example, if you have a Microsoft Word document, but want to
# use the Linux version of OpenOffice Writer to open it, simply call:
# @="/usr/bin/winenative "%1""
# This assumes you've already added:
# HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.doc --> "Content Type"
# The native command to open the file. This can be changed to $1, $2
# if you'd like to set up input variables, or you can type "openoffice"
# or something similar if you'd like to statically map it.
# If you don't use gnome, change it to your desktop's equivelant, and
# update this comment!
# The url of the file. Change to $2, etc if you want to take the 2nd
# input variable in your call.
# Transform the windows path to the linux path with the 'winpath' command
# (i.e. C:\Windows\Temp\1.doc to /home/tfino/.wine/drive_c/etc)
# NOTE1: The ticks are (` = tilde key) NOT (' = quote key).
# NOTE2: You need the "" here in order to allow for spaces in the path and file names.
# NOTE3: the -u parameter is there just to be sure that you are chnaging from windows paths to linux paths: it is the default.
lin_file=`winepath -u "$win_file"`;
# Call the native command passing the linux path enclosed in ""
# Exit status 1? Manipulate this value to work with errors.
The proceedure is to first save the files word.reg to your desktop and do an import into the wine registry by executing in a terminal:
The second file is the " winenative " shell script. Save it to your desktop, copy it to /usr/bin, and make it executable by:
sudo cp Desktop/winenative /usr/bin/
sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/winenative
You should now be able to open the common word processor files formats in OpenOffice and PDF files in the Linux viewer. You can add .zip .xls .ppt .ods, .odp etc to the list if you want.
Many thanks to Tres Finocchiaro for the original idea and Hilary BH Wright for the improvements to winenative.
I have also received some excellent addition suggestions from Jorgen Qvartsenklint which are very useful enhancements and have been incorporated in the word.reg file above and highlighted in red. In summary the backslash and quote before and after %1 allows files with spaces and special characters in the file name to be opened in Ubuntu applications via WINE and the remainder allows web links to be opened in Firefox via WINE.
If you only intend to use FirstClass online use the Linux Native version of Firstclass, it is trivial to install and just works. If you are a Personal fan you can run version 8.326 for Windows under WINE if you accept a couple of minor quirks and re prepared to do a little hand crafting to set Personal up. If you already have an early FirstClass version running with an offline Audit trail then you can probably just copy the folder(s) across and put a link (called a launcher in Ubuntu Linux) on the desktop but beware the early offline versions had bugs under Windows which have not gone away - for example Never do a Manual Trash collection on version 7.0 or it will trash every folder you have created's contents
The views here are entirely our own and are not endorsed in any way by the Open University. What is written on these pages is our own experiences and is not intended to replace in any way the documentation supplied with any of the Open University software. Always Backup before installing any Software and on a regular basis. Do a proper cost Benefit and Risk Analysis taking into account your circumstances and knowledge base before making any changes. Past performance is no indication of the future returns.
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| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Version 5.5: 17th April, 1999
Version 7.006 updated, Version 8.326 and Ubuntu Linux options added: 1 st November 2008
Changes: 2nd November 2010 to enhance use under Linux