At Subtext, we often are involved in the process of selecting an appropriate content management system (CMS) based on the specific needs of our clients. Much of the time, WordPress is a great CMS solution because of its flexibility and administrative ease-of-use. However, WordPress is not always the right solution for every client.
Being Platform Agnostic
As an agency, it is important to be agnostic when it comes to platforms, including email service providers, ecommerce platforms, and CMS’s. Each option has their pros and cons and being able to work within any platform definitely has its advantages.
We recently found ourselves considering .NET solutions due to the server requirements of one of our clients. After spending time weighing the options we decided to go with Umbraco, an open-source solution that allows for ultimate flexibility and has support from a community of developers. On top of that, it looked like a whole lot of fun to explore.
Getting Started with Umbraco
The initial setup was fairly straight forward, assuming you are familiar with Microsoft environments. One area of concern was the fact that we had to make modifications to security policies in order to allow the application to run properly. Because of this, we had to layer in some additional security measures to ensure the safety of the server.
Once the server is set up and Umbraco installation can begin, choose between a blank install vs. a starter kit. Admittedly, we were curious about the starter kits but ultimately decided to begin with a blank install to keep the code clean.
Support for Umbraco
As with any open-source platform, the best way to learn is from the documentation and community. Umbraco offers a video series called Umbraco.tv. Unfortunately, it costs money to access the materials. The written documentation had just enough information to get going despite some content that was missing or outdated.
Initially, the community backing seemed to be robust, but finding deeper, specific information was a challenge. Thankfully, Stack Overflow was able to fill in the gaps.
Differences and Similarities
Umbraco is very different from other CMS platforms, it does not come with many out-of-the-box solutions and requires customization before content can be stored or edited. Once document types, templates, and pages are created, you can begin creating your website and adding content.
An important part of any website is the ability to add custom fields. I was pleased to find that Umbraco offered several field types and allowed for those fields to be customized per document type. For example, you can create a field for a WYSIWYG editor and select which tools will be available, add custom style types, and adjust the height of each specific field depending on which document type you are viewing.
Code vs. Database
This might be my biggest gripe with Umbraco: it is difficult to keep code under version control. The Umbraco admin allows for you to add Document Types, and make other modifications that simultaneously create new files. For a developer, there are steps that can be taken to ensure all code changes are tracked. However, for the client, it limits their ability to do certain actions within the admin. Luckily, most clients don’t need this sort of control, so it hasn’t been a major issue. This may not always be the case for all of our clients.
I love to customize admin experiences, making it as easy as possible for non-technical people to deal with content entry. I found that Umbraco allowed for the ability to customize the admin (or, ‘Back Office’ as Umbraco calls it) interface at a granular level based on each individual user, or user type. This is much more control than WordPress offers (and something WordPress should look to improve).
Umbraco has a fairly steep learning curve and will require the use of a developer to get you up and running. Once the system is setup and architecture is in place, it is very simple to work with. In the end, the website turned out great, looks beautiful, is lightning fast, and easy for our client to maintain.