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Kruse, Fabian [Fabian] - 19. Feb 2019, 10:06

Report from the Technical Board: Mobile Developments and a Look at ILIAS 6.0

A mockup of ILIAS 6 that is currently being developed.
Many ILIAS users want to access their LMS from their smartphones. As ILIAS is responsive, it can easily be used on smaller screens. But there are limits to mobile usage. For this reason, the topic "mobile ILIAS" continues to be discussed regularly. One approach that was developed within the ILIAS community is the Pegasus app: Its users get logged in automatically to their ILIAS platform and they can access documents offline. They can also work with position-based augmented reality scenarios. We spoke to technical board member Timon Amstutz about the app and the upcoming ILIAS developments.
The Pegasus app has been available for ILIAS since July 2017. It allows for the optimised use of parts of ILIAS on smartphones and has attracted interest from a lot of ILIAS users. What do you think of the app in the version currently available in stores?
The app enriches the environment surrounding ILIAS. I tested the app in my role as a member of staff at the University of Bern. I especially liked the simplified authentication and the features related to the the offline-availability of files, which seem to have diverse scenarios well covered.
To what extent does the Technical Board intend to become involved in the development of the Pegasus app or any other app, or to make the app part of ILIAS's core development?
From the very beginning of their development, the SIG Mobile introduced their own development processes. For this reason, we don't play an active role in the development processes surrounding the app. We are open to the proposition of allowing the app to become part of ILIAS's core development.

However, the Technical Board doesn't propose features but rather concentrates on cross-sectional functionalities and the development process (as described here). This keeps us more than busy enough, so we can't get actively involved. Anyone who is interested can make entries in the Feature Wiki as part of our open development process. These entries would then be discussed as part of the Jour Fixe meeting and decided upon by our project manager and maintainers.

Furthermore, the development processes themselves are also open for proposed changes. You could make a request to the Technical Board (via email: tb@lists.ilias.de) or create a pull request in the appropriate Docs in the ILIAS repo on GitHub.
A mockup of ILIAS 6 when used on a smartphone.
A fundamental debate when it comes to mobile strategy, was whether or not the resources necessary for the development of an app wouldn't be better used making ILIAS overall smartphone-friendlier. In a conversation we had in May 2017, Alexander Killing, as TB-spokesperson, told me: “The Technical Board would like to try to take the original requirements (for an app) more strongly into account, among other things through developments in the ILIAS core. We are in contact with the SIG and will make efforts to achieve an open and integrated strategy.” Have you made any progress with this?
Access via mobile devices is already high in many places and will continue to grow in the future. ILIAS 6 will bring many improvements in this area – see here. For certain features, however, (Login, offline-availability of documents, notifications etc) we will come up against certain limits in the web version. The technical board sees their primary role in this as further improving ILIAS's connectivity with third-party systems (e.g. apps). For this purpose we will soon be publishing a call for tenders in order to tackle the first part of this huge task.
Many community members have already heard that Fabian Schmid has left the Technical Board. After so many years of collaboration this came across as a real setback. We do of course understand that this voluntary work is a burden and want to thank you all for the work you put in. At the same time, Fabian is one of the directors of studer+raimann – the company which developed the Pegasus app. Did his resignation have anything to do with the disagreements regarding the mobile strategy?
No – as far as we know, not at all. Fabian kept an exemplary distance at studer+raimann when it came to developing the app and also in the Technical Board when the app was being discussed. Fabian also ensured us that his resignation from the board had nothing to do with the board itself, or its work, but was rather due to personal reasons.

We really miss Fabian and his numerous competencies. We do understand his decision though. All that remains is for us to thank him for his amazing services and hope that we will still be able to count on his valuable contributions in the community.
In past reports from the Technical Board, security was an important theme. Is there anything new to tell us about in this area, for example regarding penetration tests?
Together with the Managing Board, the Technical Board is currently formalising the security processes to enable the introduction of an operative security group. Furthermore, in the third quarter of 2018, we called for tenders to come up with a concept on the topic of 'Input Filter Service'. The call for tender was won by Richard Klees (CaT Concepts and Training GmbH), who submitted a highly convincing concept (see here). In order to implement this concept, we have just published a new call for tender.

Both these and future measures are intended to give the ILIAS developers central tools to process user input. Before we test ILIAS with regular external penetration tests, we want to first prepare ILIAS by reducing or removing the vulnerabilities and attack vectors that we are already aware of. We believe that only after this has been done, will a penetration test give us new insights into vulnerabilities. Penetration tests, like many things, first grab for the 'low-hanging fruit' which would then comprise the large part of any report. Instead we'd like to present the testers with a truly difficult nut to crack.
How are things looking when it comes to dividing up Test&Assessment and distributing the development across several shoulders? Any news here?
Yes – great news: Björn Heyser, the maintainer of Test&Assessment, announced in January that Martin Studer from studer+raimann is going to take over the maintenance of the Question Service. The recommendation came from Björn himself and we are confident that Martin Studer is an excellent choice. Martin has stood out for many years now due to his tremendous commitment in the Community and for running a company known for quality code. At the moment this project is still lacking funding to the amount of 10 person days – if anyone is interested in supporting this important project, then feel free to contact Björn Heyser (bh@bjoernheyser.de).
Finally, a look to the future. The upcoming overhaul of the look and feel of ILIAS is so comprehensive that some technical foundations needed to first be set in place with version 5.4, before the the external innovations that will come with 6.0. What is the current state of things here and what can we look forward to in particular?
The best impression can be got by looking at the mock-ups here and here. The UI components from CaT - see: here – are currently being tested by the Zurich University of Teacher Education and will be presented at the DevConf in March.

All those interested in the current state or development and ongoing discussions, or who would even maybe like to take part, are advised to contact the relevant development group. Additionally, in coordination with members of the ILIAS 6 development group, the University of Bern recently hired Enrico Zenzen from Leifos as a project leader. He will now hold the threads of the project together, in this crucial phase of the refinement and implementation of the concepts for ILIAS 6. If anyone has any questions regarding this project, Enrico Zenzen would therefore be a good person to get in touch with: zenzen@leifos.com.
Timon, thank you very much for your time and this update from the Technical Board!

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