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Strawberry Perl vs ActivePerl

Perl” is the coding language we develop our web based room booking and resource scheduling software, MIDAS, in.

Most Linux and Mac OS based operating systems come with Perl pre-installed, yet, Windows operating systems do not.

We test MIDAS on a range of operating systems, servers and platforms. Our in-house development of MIDAS is primarily within a Windows-based environment. This means that we needed to install a Perl distribution on Windows.

ActivePerl ActivePerl

When MIDAS development started back in 2005, there was really only one mainstream solution for running Perl on Windows. This was a Perl distribution named “ActivePerl“, produced by ActiveState.

The reason we liked ActivePerl was two-fold; firstly, a completely free “Community Edition” was available. Secondly ActivePerl came with a handy tool called the “Perl Package Manager” (PPM). This made installing and updating Perl modules easy. It provided a graphical interface where modules could be quickly installed, updated, or uninstalled with just a few clicks:

ActivePerl's Perl Package Manager

ActivePerl included a number of “default” Perl modules. MIDAS requires some additional modules not included within the standard ActivePerl distribution. The PPM tool allowed easy and quick install of any such modules as required.

Many of our “self hosted” customers intended to install our MIDAS booking software on their Windows-based server. Therefore, we would recommend ActivePerl due to its availability, regular updates, and ease of use.

ActivePerl Strawberry Perl

Since 2005, other Perl distributions built for Windows have come along. Perhaps the most notable of these being “Strawberry Perl“, which first appeared in 2008.

Back then we explored what Strawberry Perl had to offer when compared to ActivePerl. After evaluating Strawberry Perl, we decided ActivePerl would continue to be the Perl distribution we developed under and would recommend to our Windows-based customers.

What initially made ActivePerl better than Strawberry Perl?

When we first evaluated the newcomer Strawberry Perl in 2008 against the more established ActivePerl, differences became clear from an ease of install and use perspective.

Firstly, Strawberry Perl didn’t include a visual “Perl Package Manager”-type tool for installing and maintaining Perl modules. Rather, Perl modules required installation via the command line. On Linux-based servers, installing modules via the command line is the norm, but many of Windows-based users were less familiar with command line use. Consequently, a graphical Windows application which allowed easy install of Perl modules was preferable.

Another difference was that ActivePerl was established and more stable. Strawberry Perl was still the newcomer and felt a bit “rough around the edges”. Some Perl modules were also not fully supported or failed to install easily/correctly in Strawberry Perl.

As such, because we continued to only recommend ActivePerl to Windows customers, it was logical to continue to develop under ActivePerl ourselves. We would however keep an open mind and keen interest in the ongoing development of Strawberry Perl.

For the most part, our Windows-based customers continued to opt for our recommendation of ActivePerl. A few chose Strawberry Perl instead and were able to initially do so successfully.

Are we POSIXtive?(!)

However, around June 2010, Strawberry Perl suddenly removed a key component from their distribution which MIDAS relied on; the ability to natively work with and set Timezones. This resulted in those running MIDAS under Strawberry Perl seeing “POSIX::tzset not implemented on this architecture” errors. We had no idea why Strawberry Perl removed this functionality, or whether it was just an unintentional bug/glitch in their software. The reason for the removal of this functionality wasn’t forthcoming, or even acknowledged, by the Strawberry Perl team. This led us to initially suspect that perhaps it may have just been a bug.

This wasn’t a major problem for us, as we’d never officially recommended or supported MIDAS running under Strawberry Perl. It was of course though an inconvenience for the handful of customers who had been running under Strawberry Perl.

As a fix wasn’t forthcoming from Strawberry Perl, the solution for affected customers was either to install an older version of Strawberry Perl, or switch to ActivePerl.

By late 2010, it became clear that the developers of Strawberry Perl weren’t going to address/fix this issue. So we re-engineered our MIDAS software to work around this issue. Our next release in January 2011 once again ran under Strawberry Perl without issue.

What we learnt from all this was that Strawberry Perl still felt in its infancy and in a state of flux. We still didn’t consider it “stable” enough for use in production server environments.

We continued to recommend ActivePerl for all our Windows-based customers.

ActivePerl was in continual development, with regular releases which reasonably closely tracked the latest versions of Perl available for Linux-based servers.

Something changed…

In late 2016, we felt things began to shift and change with ActivePerl.

We began to notice that the latest versions of Perl modules stopped being offered via ActivePerl’s Perl Package Manager (PPM). Initially, this wasn’t a great cause for concern. MIDAS didn’t require the very latest version of any Perl module.

The released of ActivePerl 5.26 saw things further decline…

As you may be aware, MIDAS uses MySQL as its database. Perl therefore has to be able to connect to a MySQL database in order for MIDAS to function. The critical Perl module for doing this (DBD::MySQL) wasn’t made available for ActivePerl 5.26 via the Perl Package Manager.

This meant that MIDAS wouldn’t run for customers under ActivePerl 5.26. Customers would instead have to install the previous ActivePerl 5.24 build, which was still available for download from ActiveState.

Now, in the past following a new release of ActivePerl, it could take several weeks for Perl module updates to become available though the PPM.

So we waited… and waited.. yet still no DBD::MySQL module appeared for ActivePerl 5.26. ActivePerl 5.26 became useless for any application like MIDAS which need to connect to a MySQL database!

In our view, ActivePerl declined from there; in order to download ActivePerl an account was now required on their website. Additionally, they discontinued Perl Package Manager. Instead users had to “custom build” their own ActivePerl package in the cloud with the modules they need.

ActivePerl’s development started to lag behind Perl itself. For example, at time of writing, the latest official version of Perl available is 5.30.2. The latest version of Strawberry Perl available is also 5.30.2. However, the latest version of ActivePerl available today is 5.28.1 – nearly 2 years behind where Perl is currently at!

Then in 2019 ActiveState’s website was reportedly hacked.

Doubts began to arise over ActiveState’s commitment to continuing to continue to provide Perl and a free “community edition”. Their focus seems to have shifted more towards monetization and on their Python language products instead (as evident from the majority of their recent posts on Twitter)

Why we moved to Strawberry Perl?

These developments were a worrying trend for us. This is why last year we began equally promoting and recommending Strawberry Perl alongside ActivePerl on our server requirements page. We also provided a helpful step-by-step guide for installing Strawberry Perl, to complement our previous guide for installing ActivePerl.

Strawberry Perl has certainly come a long way since its first release. It’s now very stable, is passionately developed, and closely tracks the official version of Perl with frequent releases. Best of all, it remains completely free!

Whilst there’s no “visual” tool to install Perl modules as there was with the PPM under ActivePerl, installing modules under Strawberry Perl is still straight forward. We’ve found that the latest modules are always available (including DBD::MySQL!)

Many previous ActivePerl users around the world have already made the switch over to Strawberry Perl. At the start of 2020, we also moved all our development from using ActivePerl’s distribution or Perl to Strawberry Perl.

Should I choose ActivePerl or Strawberry Perl?

If you’re considering a self-hosted edition of MIDAS (remember that we also offer a cloud-hosted edition too!) for install on a Windows-based server, whilst we still presently support both ActivePerl and Strawberry Perl on our website we would strongly recommend you choose Strawberry Perl.

If you must use ActivePerl, then we’d suggest getting your hands on 5.24, although this is now four years old, and we’re big advocates for keeping server software up to date. So going forward Strawberry Perl would be our preferred option on Windows.

MIDAS v4.24 Out Now!

We’re all experiencing unprecedented times with the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Firstly, if you’re an existing customer whose business is currently affected by the situation, we want to reassure you that we’re here to help! For more information, please see our recent blog post: 3 ways we’re supporting customer’s businesses affected by Coronavirus.

Now, here at MIDAS as we are a small and agile online business, and as such our operations haven’t been significantly affected at this time. For all intents and purposes, it’s “business as usual” here at MIDAS. Our sales team is still available online (via email or Live Chat) to answer any pre-sales questions you may have. Our support team is still providing prompt assistance to customer’s support queries (you can view our latest response times on our dedicated Service Status site).

As such, we’ve decided to press ahead with the release of our next update to MIDAS, v4.24, which is available now.

Highlights of MIDAS v4.24 include:

  • New: Support for multi-select custom list fields
  • New: Post booking email option – send clients an automated email after their bookings have taken place
  • New: “Can Bypass Venue Blocks” user permission (disabled by default)
  • New: Optional “Reviews” addon – automatically collect feedback, ratings, and reviews from your customers
  • Improved: List of organizations in drop-down on Invoicing screen now limited to organizations with invoices
  • Improved: BCC to me option when emailing an invoice/receipt now remembers user’s previous setting
  • Improved: Individual client statistics now include count and sum of outstanding invoices and client’s current credit
  • Improved: When assigning the “Can Process Booking Requests” permission, MIDAS will indicate if the user isn’t currently a manager of any venues
  • Fixed: Cumulative roll-up of various fixes for issues discovered since v4.23

How To Get MIDAS v4.24…

New To MIDAS?

We are committed to fair and accessible pricing for all organizations regardless of size. We’re totally upfront and transparent about our pricing structure, and you can purchase MIDAS v4.24 securely through our website and be up and running in no time!

“Self Hosted” Customers:

Self-Hosted customers with ongoing Annual Support Subscriptions will be able to update to v4.24 in the coming weeks. It only takes a couple of clicks – simply log in to your MIDAS system and go to MIDAS Admin Options → Manage MIDAS → Update.

If no update is available, please check back again in a few days time, as we are staggering updates for self-hosted customers over the next few weeks.

“Cloud Hosted” Customers:

Cloud-Hosted customers don’t need to do anything! – All our active Cloud-Hosted MIDAS customers have now been automatically updated to this latest version of MIDAS

Thank you for your continued support of our software during this unprecedented period of global uncertainty. Please remember if you’re an existing customer affected by the current situation, that we’re here to support you!

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is arguably the largest global health threat in modern times. Now classified as a “Pandemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO), and predicted to last for many months. It is having far reaching consequences for organizations and businesses around the world.

We want to do our best to support our MIDAS customers in affected businesses however we can. That’s why today we’re announcing a package of support measures for affected businesses;

Firstly, exclusively for our customers in Medical/Healthcare organizations – we recognize the unprecedented demand that there is – and will be – on your services over the coming weeks and months. If your MIDAS subscription is shortly due for renewal, we will allow an extra “grace period” for you to complete your payment without risk of your MIDAS access becoming suspended. We believe it’s far more important for your focus right now to be on helping those impacted by the Coronavirus in your care than on paying bills. Therefore we are happy to defer any upcoming renewal payment for your MIDAS service for up to six months. [1]

Secondly, we want to support our customers in businesses and organizations which may have to temporarily close and suspend their operations as a result of Government guidance or restrictions put in place in response to Coronavirus. If your business/organization has suspended its operations, you’ll likely not be using your MIDAS system for a some weeks. We don’t feel it’s fair that you should continue to pay for a service during such a period it would be redundant. If you’re in this situation, please contact us. We’d be be happy to put a temporary suspension on your MIDAS system for a length of time you wish. Once access is re-instated, we’ll be happy to extend your current subscription period by the same length of time your system was suspended for. For example, if your school is forced to shut for two months, we can suspend your MIDAS system for this length of time, and then extend your next subscription renewal date by two months. This ensures that you’ll effectively not be paying for your MIDAS system during the period your organization/business closes. [2]

Thirdly, we recognize that many employees are now encouraged to work from home by their employers or government to reduce their risk of exposure to and fight transmission of Coronavirus. We also know that in many of our customer’s organizations multiple members of staff may share the same user account in their MIDAS system – for example, in part time or job share situations. With more people now working remotely from home, you may feel that the current user limit on your MIDAS license makes it difficult for all your staff to still be able to access your MIDAS system remotely and effectively work from home. Therefore, we’re offering temporary user license increases for up to six months for organizations this would benefit to enable them to allow their workforce to work remotely from home. [3]

If any of the above measures could support your operations during this challenging time, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we’d be happy to assist.

Notes:
[1] Applies to both self-hosted and cloud-hosted MIDAS customers in medical/healthcare related organizations only.
[2] Applies to cloud-hosted MIDAS customers only whos business operations have temporarily ceased as a result of government restrictions or other officially recognized guidance. Temporary suspensions won’t be “back dated” and will only come into affect once requested by contacting us.
[3] Applies to cloud-hosted MIDAS customers who wish to enable more of their staff to work from home and still access their MIDAS system in the short term in response to the Coronavirus. After six months, the customer has the option to retain the new user license level by purchasing the license upgrade, or revert back to their previous license level. In the case of opting to revert, any additionally added user accounts over the previous license level would be removed.

T&Cs:
Please note that the support measures outlined herein are discretionary. We will assess eligibility on a case-by-case basis, taking into account – but not limited to – the above notes. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented and rapidly changing, fluid situation. Therefore, we reserve the right to refuse, revoke, or amend any support measure outlined herein at any time without prior notice.

Coming Soon: Reviews Addon

With the latest update (v4.24) to our MIDAS web based room booking and resource scheduling software fast approaching, we’ve been introducing some of the highlights of the new update over the past few blog posts.

In our previous post, we revealed a new editable “Booking Feedback” template and options to allow your MIDAS system to automatically send clients a post-booking follow-up email. This could be used, for example, to thank them for their recent visit and to encourage them to use your facilities again soon.

To further enhance and extend this new feature, we’re also introducing a new optional “Reviews” addon, which works in conjunction with this feature. This addon allows you to automatically collect feedback, ratings, and reviews of your facilities/business on leading independent review sites, such as Trustpilot.

Initially, the new optional “Reviews” addon supports four leading independent review platforms;

Collect Reviews
https://collect-reviews.com
Reviews.io
https://reviews.io
Trustpilot
https://trustpilot.com
TrustSpot
https://trustspot.io

How It Works

The “Reviews” addon works by automatically notifying an independent review collection platform after a client’s booking has taken place at your facilities. The review platform then in turn sends out a review invitation by email to your client asking them to leave a review or rating of your business on their website.

Here’s how the process works:

  1. A client’s booking in MIDAS takes place.
  2. Shortly thereafter, MIDAS automatically sends the client a post-booking email (the content of which is customizable via a template)
  3. When this email is sent, it is also transparently BCC’d (Blind Carbon Copied) to your chosen review collection platform
  4. The review platform in turn sends your client an invitation to rate/review your business on their independent review platform

What you’ll need

In order to be able to take advantage of the functionality the optional”Reviews” addon offers, you’ll need the following:

Complete documentation for the new Reviews addon is available online.

Once MIDAS v4.24 is released, new customers will be able to purchase the “Reviews” addon through our secure site.

Existing customers with valid subscriptions running MIDAS v4.24 may add the optional “Reviews” addon to their system by upgrading.

Are there any other review platforms you’d like to see included in this addon in the future? Let us know!