We are very happy to announce Tobira 2.0, the first major version after Tobira’s initial release in July last year. A lot has happened since then!
Tobira aims to be a pleasant interface through which users interact with your Opencast content. It lets you present videos and series in a customizable, hierarchical page structure, but also makes it easy for users to search through all media. Additionally, it offers tools to upload and manage videos. It’s possible to connect Tobira to virtually any authentication system and integrate it into your university’s/organization’s infrastructure.
The main changes in the 2.0 release include an extensive design refinement, user pages, being able to upload videos into series, a better share menu, a revamped color system, and a large number of accessibility improvements. User pages allow users (who are allowed to) to create and manage their own pages that are independent of the main page structure. The design changes don’t include anything major and the layout certainly stayed the same, but everything looks a lot tidier now.
But there are 7 additional releases between 2.0 and 1.0, which brought a large number of features and improvements as well. The most notable ones are:
Properly support live-streams
Make videos nicely embeddable
Add subtitles support
Vastly improve documentation
Add metrics endpoint (e.g. for Prometheus)
Improved series & event block editor
Pre-authenticating users for Studio and Editor
Collapse/hide multiple upcoming events
Ease first-time setup considerably
And much much more!
And there are no signs of development slowing down!
As usual, we would like to thank all institutions which make Tobira possible by funding its development. This is primarily the ETH Zürich which is the project’s primary patron and has been from the very start. We are also very grateful for the significant contributions by Bern university and the TU Wien.
The following article is in German, as it is about the German-speaking community meeting in Bern.
Vom 14. bis 15. August findet in Bern das deutschsprachige Opencast Community Treffen statt. Die Teilnahme an der Veranstaltung ist kostenlos inkl. Pausenverpflegung. Wir freuen uns über eure Anmeldung bis 31. Juli 2023. Bitte beachtet, dass wir am Montag früh beginnen und daher eine Anreise am Sonntag angezeigt ist – auch wegen des informellen Treffens am Abend…
Die Unitobler ist mit der Linie 20 (ab Bern Bahnhof oder Bern Schanzenstrasse) von den Bushaltestellen Mittelstrasse oder Unitobler zu erreichen.
Rund um das Areal der Unitobler sind nur gebührenpflichtige Parkplätze mit beschränkter Parkzeit (blaue Zone) vorhanden. Wir empfehlen deshalb dringend, eine Parkmöglichkeit mit der Übernachtungsunterkunft abzusprechen.
An unterschiedlichen Standorten (Karte PubliBike) können Fahrräder oder E-Bikes gemietet werden.
In der Stadt Bern sind Leihroller von Tier verfügbar. Bitte beachtet das Parkverbot für einzelne Strassen in der App.
Das vorläufige Programm zur Veranstaltung findet ihr hier in der separaten Ankündigung (folgt später).
Alle vorgeschlagenen Unterkünfte sind in der Nähe des Hauptbahnhofs und maximal 20 Minuten zu Fuss von der Unitobler entfernt. Wir haben kein Hotelkontingent reserviert. Wir empfehlen eine frühzeitige Buchung. Die Hotels sind grob nach dem zu erwartenden Preisniveau sortiert.
You heard it first at the Opencast summit in Berlin, so it comes as no suprise that commercial lecture capture solutions are becoming a financial burden to universities, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic explosion of video content. What is a surprise is the fact that Opencast receives an honourable mention in the respective article from streamingmedia.com, being described as “the venerable and well-maintained Opencast (née Opencast Matterhorn) open source video platform”. Blush.
After a three-year hiatus, the Opencast community was finally able to come together in person for their annual summit at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in March. More than 60 people joined, the programme was packed and the backlog for informal communication was reduced, but not resolved. Next stop: Bern in August for the German-speaking community. Go to https://video.ethz.ch/events/opencast/2023/berlin.html for recordings.
As board, we talked to several members of the community about projects, efforts, and plans they have for Opencast in the near future, so that we could integrate them into a roadmap we would like to share with you.
Hello New Admin Interface
While we have been talking about it for a while, early 2023 should finally reveal the new admin interface.
But hold on… doesn’t it look kind of… identical? Yes, it does.
The main goal of this effort spearheaded by the University of Stuttgart is to replace the obsolete foundation we built on. Web technology has evolved over the years and what was state-of-the-art in 2014 when the current admin interface was conceived is remembered by few gray-bearded old developers today.
The new implementation allows us to fix some problems and makes it easier to build on the current foundation. This should hold true, especially for new developers.
Opencast Studio: Bug-bash
Opencast Studio was released in early 2020 and immediately saw very heavy usage during the pandemic.
But over the last couple of years, a number of minor issues came up and have been recorded in the issue tracker. These issues were not important enough for someone to immediately fix them, but they still contain lots of good ideas.
That is why we will review them and try to fix as many as possible in one big update.
Opencast Studio: Desktop Audio
Opencast Studio allows you to easily record your camera, desktop, and microphone. Unfortunately, desktop audio is missing. You want to play a short video and include that? No audio. You want to show someone how screen readers work? No audio.
In 2023, we would like to change that and again tackle the issue of recording desktop audio. This was hard with browsers in 2020, but technology has improved since then, and we hope that we can now make this happen.
Opencast Studio: Camera Blur
A lot of video conferencing tools allow users to automatically blur the background to hide their personal spaces.
We hope to transfer this technology to Opencast Studio in the first half of 2023 and include this in a later Opencast 13 or 14 release.
Tobira in Action
Due to the growing number of adoptions, early 2023 will be a lot about “refinement” for Tobira.
Specifically, there will be a focus on improving the design and accessibility across the entire application. But also more concrete features like the uploader offering more control over the content, or the video page giving more details and sharing options to the user.
Another area of focus is the search, which will incorporate more metadata like subtitles, for example. We are also thinking about how we can meaningfully integrate statistics for both, producers and consumers, and user-generated content.
One of the best things about Opencast 2 was the new documentation. No more reading through several wikis in the hope that somewhere someone wrote down something about what you want to know. Everything started to be at one place, you could easily switch between different versions and there was no longer an excuse for developers to not provide documentation alongside their patches. Not that an Opencast developer would ever not write nice documentation, of course…
Still, our documentation is getting old. Priorities have shifted. Functionality that has been purely optional in the past has become an integral part of Opencast. Some deployment options are mentioned but not properly explained. Some functions are no longer supported. You have all seen some of these problems pop up here and there.
That is why we set out to focus on a big overhaul of the Opencast documentation for Opencast 14. Having better documentation should help us all.
Goodbye and good riddance Solr
Solr is one of the search indexes used by Opencast. It is very old and has already been replaced in most places as part of last year’s crowdfunding. As part of that, we also built a prototype of a Solr-free search service, which is the last part using Solr.
While the prototype works, we have to be careful when replacing this part in Opencast since the publications players and many integrations depend on this. That is why we turned this into a separate project for early 2023.
The advantage of getting rid of this final Solr is that we can make both the admin and the presentation nodes redundant easily. That is great in terms of high availability. Additionally, we will also fix a few minor security issues along the way.
Advanced Storage Backend for Archive
The asset manager is the central storage for Opencast recordings and can contain both source and processed video material as well as additional files like metadata catalogs, subtitles or preview images.
With the growth of Opencast instances over the last couple of years, the need for asset manager storage has also increased significantly for many adopters. This led to problems due to storage system limitations.
To address this issue, the asset manager will get an updated storage backend that allows adopters to split the storage between different backends. This allows for far more flexibility and a seamless extension of existing storage.
The target release for this new feature is Opencast 15.
Subtitles as First-Class-Citizens
Subtitles have been a topic in Opencast for the last couple of years. New integrations with cloud transcription services have been added, free open source tools have been integrated and the new editor now has a subtitle editor for users to improve subtitles themselves.
While Opencast now has many tools, what is still missing is a coherent integration and a workflow easy to use for all users. The community has expressed sufficient interest in subtitles that the default workflow will automatically include support for subtitles (uploads, editing, …), so you no longer have to configure this yourself.
Doing this is part of an ongoing effort for Opencast 14.
Following the 2022 Opencast summit, the Board followed up on a number of projects, efforts, and plans institutions and individuals presented to integrate them into a roadmap we would like to share with the community.
One major completion of the Opencast ecosystem will be Tobira, the Opencast video portal. Not only because it’s going to become the default distribution/publication channel for Opencast, but because it brings together a number of features end users can use in one place: They will be able to upload videos, produce them with Opencast Studio, share and manage their assets, and edit videos, their metadata, and the subtitles that can be created automatically. Talking of which: With Microsoft Azure, there will be yet another provider you can use for this in Opencast.
With respect to accessibility, all of these tools (Studio, Editor, Paella Player) as well as Tobira itself will vetted for WCAG 2.1 for end users. All of these components will also see design improvements with a UX/UI designer working towards a consistent look&feel.
End users will also benefit from work underway towards high availability: Less downtime when upgrading, higher performance levels, and resilience to failures. Related, efforts are being made to increase the number of automatic tests for developing and building Opencast.
Finally, a dedicated effort will be made to increase security and make sure Opencast meets institutional requirements in this field.
The board is happy to see (and will continue to make) these efforts come together over the next 12-18 months. Feel free to contact us for questions or comments or if you would like to have your efforts towards Opencast featured in the roadmap. Obviously, contributions to the work underway are appreciated, be that in development, testing, or documentation.
The goal: Installing Opencast may be somewhat confusing to new users, partly because there are lots of different additional services to run. For a long time, one of them has been ActiveMQ which is a message broker used for inter-service communication in Opencast. Used… well… barely used, actually. With recent versions, we only needed ActiveMQ on a single server only. Since ActiveMQ is meant to distribute information across multiple servers, this meant we could also communicate with these services directly. In short, less overhead and fewer additional services to run for adopters. That is why our goal was to entirely remove Opencast’s dependency on ActiveMQ.
Current state: Work on this task has been mostly finished. A pull request removing ActiveMQ has been filed and reviewed. All that is left is a bit of cleanup work before it can be merged. This means that this is almost guaranteed to make it into the next major Opencast release.
The goal: Opencast has a good track record of identifying and fixing security issues, and we had identified a few known or potential security issues we wanted to evaluate and fix, if they turned out to be problematic. That way we can keep our servers safe and avoid any spectacular data breaches.
Current state: There have been a number of security fixes for Opencast 9, 10 and 11. The issues we addressed range from limited data extraction, over privilege escalation to potential remote code execution attacks. Fixes for these have been included in the last couple of releases. We have also been able to dismiss a few reports of code we suspected to be problematic which turned out not to be a problem after all. Still, we have not yet processed the whole list of suspects. We will inform you, as usual, if we release another security patch and will keep trying to make these releases as responsible and painless as possible for adopters.
Log4j: We cannot talk about security fixes without pointing out one particular problem we faced as part of the crowdfunding. The Log4Shell remote code execution vulnerability and several additional vulnerabilities found in this library after the world’s security researchers all turned their attention towards Log4j have affected Opencast as well. We released several versions of Opencast in December to address these issues as fast as we could, since we knew that these vulnerabilities were actively exploited. To help adopters, we even decided to release new versions of Opencast 9 since it only just reached its end of life, and we knew about many adopters not having updated yet.
The goal: Opencast uses both Solr and Elasticsearch for full text search and caching. Both services serve an almost identical purpose. However, one of them is in desperate need of attention: Solr. We built an integration with Solr using an older version, which is both too old to easily deploy in a cluster, and not easy to update. In short, things have to change. But instead of updating Solr and still end up with two different services doing the same thing, we chose to consolidate on Elasticsearch¹.
Current state: Opencast uses Solr for three services: The series service, the workflow service and the search service. All of these services were user-facing in Opencast (Matterhorn) 1.x, which is why full text search and caching was important. The same is no longer true today, and thus the need for some of these indexes no longer exists.
We were able to completely remove two of the three Solr indexes, sparing adopters from re-indexing these ever again. The services this was done for are the workflow service and the series service. In the future, data will be requested from that database directly. The patches for these are currently being reviewed. We hope to get these merged soon to have them included in the next major new version of Opencast.
Work on the final service, the search service, is more complex and not yet done. We cannot remove Solr in the same manner, since full text search capabilities are actually used here and the service is still user-facing, being the back-end for the players among other things. We hope to still be able to make the shift to Elasticsearch for Opencast 12, but this is more challenging, and we will act with caution since it’s a central piece of Opencast infrastructure being used by all adopters.
 We may actually use OpenSearch instead of Elasticsearch, but that should be a drop-in replacement. We will report if it actually is. But for sake of simplicity, we stick to Elasticsearch for reporting.
The goal: Opencast uses Spring Security for handling logins and access control. We did fall behind when it comes to updating the library to its current state and are now using a version which is no longer supported. While this does still work just fine, unfortunately, like we have seen with Log4j, this bears the risk of suddenly blowing up. Thus we would like to update.
Current state: Our plan was to separate the different login mechanisms Opencast supports which are all woven into Spring Security, then start updating the core and basic login mechanisms first. At that point, we wanted to discuss further actions with the community.
Sadly, it turned out that this plan is not as easy as we hoped. Newer versions of Spring Security do not work well with our OSGi stack, and just updating even the core is not possible. Options we are now evaluating are investigating versions picked up by the Eclipse Gemini and Apache ServiceMix projects, which still provide supported versions but not the latest versions, and the possibility of support within Karaf itself which has been hinted at for the next major version but has not yet been confirmed.
Due to the not yet finalized statements about the Karaf roadmap, we decided to focus on the other tasks first, leaving this as the last potential task to tackle. The exact form of how we can/will tackle this problem and if we can completely fix this in this crowdfunding is still to be determined. We will make sure to start an open discussion about this once we have collected all information.
Questions; Next Steps
If you have any questions or want to discuss any of these tasks, don’t hesitate to bring this to the development mailing list, the Matrix chat or bring it up in the weekly technical meetings. Furthermore, if you want to help, consider reviewing any of the open pull requests linked above.
We will post again, once we have reached a new major milestone. Additionally, we will submit a session about the state of the crowdfunding at the upcoming conference. Join us there for a discussion, if you are interested.
A while ago, Opencast started including a new stand-alone video editor meant for inclusion via learning management systems, portals and other integrations.
While we started its development as a project separate from Opencast to kick-start development and get it off the ground quickly, we feel like it’s now mature enough to bring it in again and put it under the umbrella of the Opencast organization.
That is why, from now on, you can find the project at:
We decided to keep this part of Opencast as a separate repository to make development easier. Despite that, we would like to have this project adhere to the same rules and development practices we are used to for Opencast’s main repository.