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6 Jun 2011

What do our developers really think of Sitecore as a Content Management System?

by Lawrence Wagerfield

Our trip to Sitecore's London office provided great insight into their critically acclaimed product. The trip also left our egos fully-bloated, as we departed on Friday being the only qualifying delegates on the entire course. Bragging rights aside, here's what we really thought:

Our first impression was the user interface, and how it resembled nothing we had ever seen before (in a good way). When in full-screen mode the experience was analogous to a remote-desktop session; the interface had in fact been modeled so strongly around Windows that it even had a 'Start' button. At one point I actually found myself trying to shutdown via Sitecore, but then sanity settled in.

We were also very impressed with 'sublayouts': a feature which allows users to add both content and structure into a page. Each sublayout may in-turn have additional sublayouts placed within it, and so on. This concept overcomes a problem present in many other CMSs, whereby developers have to be involved when new layouts are required.

Sitecore Lawrence blog

On a more technical note, it's worth mentioning that the application's architecture is highly generic, although probably more so than you'd actually want. Simply put, the core architecture has few known truths: everything is an object, objects sit in a tree, ...and that's about it. There is no strict concept of types or constraints, which sits in contrast to more statically-typed systems like Umbraco. The CMS is in fact so dynamic that most of Sitecore is actually written on Sitecore (think Inception).

Whilst my colleague and I both concurred this is very clever, we also agreed it isn't necessarily smart. You have to ask: How dynamic is too dynamic?  In the realms of enterprise application architecture, we need to make strong assertions about the state of a system to reduce the likelihood of errors. This is difficult with systems which are too dynamic, so it's going to be difficult with Sitecore. The oddity here is that the languages used to interface with Sitecore are statically-typed, but Sitecore's API promotes dynamic-typing: thus leaving us with two conflicting principals. There's almost a contradiction with how Sitecore claims to devote themselves to Microsoft technologies, but avert from embracing the statically-typed nature of their key languages.

However, for all of the following merits I'm willing to overlook this slight complexity, so let us conclude with the pros:

  • Frequent upgrades. Sitecore has a fast-paced development team whom appear to concentrate most of their efforts into new functionality; a refreshing change from overly-cautious vendors. That said, we did notice several bugs in Beta, so let’s just hope they have regression testing nailed for RTM.
  • Lively community. Despite being a commercial CMS, Sitecore has a sizeable following of users who are willing to share their code for free.
  • Outstanding user interface. Because Sitecore's GUI was written on XAML, the interface has an uncanny resemblance to Microsoft Windows. 
  • Incredibly flexible layouts. Sitecore allows you to modify pages quite significantly without having to consult a developer. The whole process is very intuitive as changes can be performed in-situ. 
  • Support for Windows Azure. Sitecore informed us that considerable time was spent at the Microsoft Campus to integrate with this behemoth; a great example of their strong relationship with the software giant. 
  • Loads of generic CMS functionality: most of it useful (e.g. workflow), but with the odd 'peer-pressure' feature thrown in for good measure (e.g. Office integration - don't get me started).

All in all a fantastic CMS which is unparalleled to anything we've ever seen. Here's to innovation.

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