Umbraco – a CMS to bring designers and developers together – by Andrew McCaughan, Web Developer
Like a lot of young developers, my misspent youth involved learning to program and build websites. Once I heard of the concept of the Content Management System (CMS) I knew that I could bring these skills together and that I would make my fortune.
Alas, this was not meant to be. Of course I made the CMS. It was really good. You could add new pages, write blogs, add photos and you could even define the meta tags on each page. Many incarnations of my personal website were powered by that wonderful little CMS but the time to develop it into a product was something that I did not have, or more accurately, I just didn’t want to spend the time developing it. So, looking back at the subversion repository my last commit was 31st August 2007 at 3:40am. It hasn’t been touched since.
Some people, though, had the intention to develop their CMS further. In the world of .NET, there have been a number of successful CMS projects. The bigger names come to mind – DotNetNuke (DNN) and Kentico. These projects have been praised for their power but both projects have their drawbacks.
DotNetNuke has been praised for its power, its wealth of add-ons and the community that supports it are some of the smartest in the business but the experience for a web designer in DotNetNuke leaves a lot to be desired.
Kentico also has the power, the add-ons and the really talented people behind it. It even bridges the gap between designer and developer but it can cost anything between £1299 and £9700. They do have small business licence options if you call them and request a quote.
Since joining Aurion Learning, I have been challenged with finding the best CMS to deliver online learning and development.
For me, the best all round CMS built on .NET is Umbraco [http://www.umbraco.com]. Umbraco is the simplest, most powerful .NET CMS I have come across. It’s also open source which means no additional licence costs other than the Windows Server it will run on. One downside of course is the lack of support structure that you get from DNN and Kentico, however, the community that uses Umbraco is all you will ever need. The developers are active in the community and there are plenty of local user groups starting to pop up all around the world.
Designers have the freedom to define their templates the way they want to. They are not restricted by content areas defined by Umbraco, but can define the content area themselves. CSS and images can be easily uploaded and managed within the CMS admin. Our designers have remarked that Umbraco is as easy to use as WordPress but is more powerful. Even non-technical staff, can maintain and update content easily.
Umbraco is highly extensible. It comes with an API that allows you to develop your own features. Before you decide to do this however, check the add-ons section on the ‘Our Umbraco’ community site [http://our.umbraco.org/projects]. There’s everything from blog modules to form generation plug-ins.
The results of building a website in Umbraco can be seen across the web. Wired UK, Peugeot and Microsoft all rely on Umbraco for delivering content. Aurion Learning have used it for our own website and for our customers. This past year we have developed two learning portals for the NHS Education for Scotland using Umbraco; Palliative Care in Practice and Advanced Anticipatory Care and we have a few more in the pipeline for other customers. We are also using it for our new Intranet and so far, it’s looking good.
In short, I definitely recommend considering Umbraco for websites and particularly for delivering educational content. If you need some more convincing, take a look at this useful whitepaper: http://umbraco.com/media/197460/umbraco%20convince%20your%20boss.pdf
In future blog posts, we will look at Umbraco further and provide some useful tips in how to get the best out of this fantastic CMS, particularly for e-learning.