Windows-Live-Writer_Why-CodeGarden_C005_7185909969_2da81cec33_b_2.jpg - Simon Antony Web Design Manchester and Stockport, UK

Umbraco UK Festival - Friday 26th October 2012

For some ungodly reason I  surfaced from my bed at 5am this morning to make the 6am train from Stockport down to London Euston then the tube over to Blackfrairs to get to the stunning Mermaid Centre in Puddle Duck - was it really worth it I asked myself after around 4 hours sleep the night before? 

Oh yes, read on to find out why….

What is the Umbraco UK Festival?

Basically it's a gathering of like minded Umbracians in a large conference room arranged by Umbraco Partner Cog Works. The aim is to get the community up to speed with what is new and allow a way for us all to network together and discuss all that is cool with Umbraco.

OK, so what were the topics?

Topics were wide and varied:

  • Project Belle - The new UI prototype
  • uComponents
  • Contributing to the Umbraco Core
  • Umbraco Load Balancing Workshop
  • This is automation Sparta
  • Examiness (Hints and tips from the trenches)
  • uCommerce 3.0
  • TeaCommerce 2.0
  • Relationships and communities
  • SCRUM at The Cogworks
  • uSiteBuilder a crash course
  • Hackathon

*the italic ones are those I personally attended and will comment on below 

Project Belle - The new UI prototype

This is the one most of interest to me as this will define the future interface of Umbraco for our end clients (i.e. you reading this) and how you will actually interface with your website 

Neils (Umbraco creator) went on to explain the history about how the Umbraco UI was originally conceived back in 2003 when he originally got the idea to build his own CMS.

Back in 2003, the browser of choice was Internet Explorer 6, there was no web 2.0, in fact web was not even a proven model for business applications so there were very little in the way of User Interface ideas to work with.

Running forwards to 2012 and we still have the same basic layout as back in 2003 although with some prettier icons and a lick of paint. However there are flaws. In Neil's words, 'Umbraco 4.9 is basically a skinned version of the version from 2003' - time to move on. 

So around 12/18 months ago, Umbraco engaged Mark Boulton design in Wales, UK to go about looking at the UI, how it was currently being used and what should be done to bring it up to date. 

The codename for this project was (and still is) Project Belle - not sure why but I guess some twisted reason for it somewhere along the line J

Today we were shown the first prototypes of the new Umbraco UI design and layout and how it could well end up looking in the future, and the very near future too - Neils is talking about have this ready for release by Spring 2013!

  • New login screen - note the minimal Umbraco branding
  • Once logged in, the settings, developer, content etc. sections are now tucked away to the left hand side of the screen - also this area allows for more sections to be available to the user (i.e. custom sections us developers create for our clients)
  • The content area is compacted and much simpler for the user to add content
  • The content treeview on the left is loaded as required and is mega fast. In fact you will notice that the tree child items now load on the right hand side in a grid view - this means that the backend loading is a lot faster and the content is easier to get to for the user
  • The right click context menu is much simplified and a lot of items not needed have been moved out. In fact one of the items removed is the Create option - strange that you ask why this is good, the reason it's good is that this is one of the most used options so they have moved it to the right hand side in the editor.
  • The editor toolbar buttons have also been simplified - nowadays, younger members of the audience would never have seen a floppy disk let alone know what the button with a floppy means (it means Save btw) so again, with a core used function, make it more visible and prominent on the page and tell people what it does.
  • Tabs are now collected together at the top of the editor, no longer will you see multiple tabs shown for a page, instead they are hidden away but easy to access for you - this results in a clean interface with the focus on the content you need to do your job
  •  Notifications have been vastly improved upon and now make sense!
  • Search is a big feature now. The search box at the top of the screen will now search the entire site and all it's files, much like what operating system searches do nowadays. This is a big time saver from a developers perspective as they can quickly get to the files they need very easily.
  • One major advantage of the new UI, is that it's using Twitter Bootstrap as it's underlying framework. Whilst this does not mean much unless you are a developer, what it does mean is that you will have the benefit of a proven stable platform that is regularly updated to keep in line with the latest web trends - this is a really good thing!
  • Lastly, Umbraco will now work on an iPad!! Whey hey!

uComponents

For those that do not know, uComponents is a suite of what are known as DataTypes that Umbraco uses to display content controls to you the editor in the backend of Umbraco.

If you look at the fields you use to edit your content i.e. Body Text, Page Title etc. - these are all DataTypes.  uComponents is an open source project that provides a very large collection of complex but very useful types that are designed to make your life easier.

Some of the new exciting ones we now have include:

  • Elastic Textbox - a text control that expands as you type to fit your content lengthways
  • A file picker that can be used to select specific files i.e. StyleSheets etc.
  • Incremental checkboxes - a control with a simple up/down incrementer for numeric fields
  • Togglebox - if you have seen the standard Umbraco Checkbox, you will love this - a replacement nice GUI toggle switch, no more ugly tick box to enable a feature
  • & many more

Umbraco Load Balancing Workshop

I was looking forward to this talk but unfortunately I've got to say it was pretty lacking in detail.

Tim from Cogworks talked about Load Balancing at a very high level, what it is and how conceptually it has worked for them. However what he failed to do was to actually back it up and show us how to actually implement a basic load balancing site - the people I spoke too all thought the same, we want to know how to do it, not that you have done it!

This is automation Sparta

This was interesting in as far as when we develop websites with Umbraco, we often have a number of repetitive tasks we need to perform to get to the point where we can start to actually do some work.

Some examples are:

  • Creating a database for the Umbraco Website
  • Setting up users and permissions
  • Configuration files
  • Umbraco files
  • Setting up the web server
  • Setting up DNS settings
  • Any build servers i.e. Team City or Cruise Control

And so on….

What Anthony Dang from Cogworks went on to describe was the sort of things we can do to automate a lot of these tasks by using scripts and code to do all this for us.

He went on to show us a demo (a little long winded but humorous, especially the cat stuck in the ball video!) where he ran a few scripts which setup all the above and more in around 15 minutes and all he had to do was to run a few batch files.

Impressive stuff and shows what can be done to save time!

uSiteBuilder a crash course

This was of particular interest to me as I am a Microsoft Dotnet Developer and a lot of the work I do is within Visual Studio.

uSitebuilder is a set of tools that allows a developer to create the sites Document Types in code, upload a compiled module (dll) and when the site first runs, the Umbraco Website automatically updates with the latest types and job is done.

Where this is particularly useful is that a key part of the Umbraco Datatype process can now be put under source control - this means changes can be tracked, version controlled and many of the other nice benefits that this gives us 

Some of the nasties that were present a year ago have now been cleverly rectified which now makes it a much safer option for those of us that previously shied away from it (myself included). 

One downside to this approach is that it's very important that nobody uses the Document Types section in the Umbraco settings area, this can cause major issues and confuse uSiteBuilder, however in Umbraco 4.9, it's possible to remove this tree item so the users/developers etc. cannot see it.

I think I need to give it a go and see how it can be driven.

Hackathon

The day prior to the festival, Cogworks organized a hackathon where 18 members of the community, some from the core team, some Umbraco members all got together around a table to discuss fixing some of the bugs in the core application.

The goal was to get 5 bugs nailed by the end of the day. The members arranged themselves into teams as they saw fit, grabbed the code and started hacking away. 

The end result was 31 bugs were fixed with at least 10 of those making it into the 4.10 beta release that was announced today!

A miracle result and excellent work done by all - just goes to show what can be done when the community get together! Well done team! 

Summary 

Some of the other talks I  either did not have time to see (clashed with the ones I did see) or were not relevant to what we do as a business. All the videos will be available online over the next few weeks so I can always pick them up at that point.

A good day overall and great to meet some of my friends and colleagues in Umbraco land - greetings go out to the following people (in no particular order) and forgive me if your name is not mentioned, not intentional!

Tony, Brendan, Ian, Ismail, Pete, Stephen, Tim, Drew, Anders, Doug, Sebasstien, Simon, Matthew, Julian, Adam, Anthony, Benjamin and many more

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