Many people look at web applications as magic. WOW!! That site can do that? How can I get a web site to do all that stuff and wait a minute, its easy to modify the text or a graphic? I don’t need to know HTML or any of that techie stuff?
Web Designers, Web Developers and everyone else will love this new wave of maintaining your new web sites (or your site re-designs). Using this newly released Open Source Content Management System called Concrete 5, you can easily have a web site up and running with Web 2.0 functionalities in literally minutes. There are no funky complicated rules or ways to do things. The installation is done through your favorite browser but works best using Gecko or Mozilla browsers. Designers like it because they can create custom themes very easily. Developers like it because the php used is straight forward and uses the MVC architecture.
Let’s start this review on why I think it is an important addition to the Content Management System arena. Why not just use Drupal or Joomla? A couple of reasons. 1. Drupal and Joomla are really well developed and community supported. Nothing wrong with that, but both of these CMS’s have become bloated. (Lots of code and it is heavy) 2. Support from the core team is nominal. Granted the support forums and documents are far more developed than Concrete 5 is at the moment but that is improving. 3. A plethora of add-ons that are not completely checked to ensure it runs well with current versions of software. 4. Some add-ons for Drupal and Joomla are tedious and you have to understand the back-end administrative area just to install it and then, in some cases, configure it. Now with those reasons stated, web savvy developers and designers normally have very little problem doing these things but a site owner (from my observation) has a very hard time with it. They even have a much more difficult time of just modifying a page, adding a new page or updating information that takes a designer a few minutes (and the money to have them do it) where as most site owners would prefer to do it themselves. Document management is not as easy as they say. Changing images are not easy either.
(I must say this. Before judging this system (if you have problems), you must must must, take a look at the tutorials and help section of Concrete 5. The forums also answer many questions new users have. I will be the first to say that searching the documents and forum can sometimes be frustrating but most of the answers are there if you take the time to look. This holds true with any system, including Drupal and Joomla. I would say the number one asked question about installation problems is actually caused by the hosting platform. The system is not integrally made for a MS server, it is designed out of the box to be run on a Linux server. So please, review the available videos and documents on the Concrete 5 site before saying you can’t do something.)
Now for my new found love of Concrete 5. There are less than 10 steps to set up a site driven by Concrete 5 and it is so easy. Here they are (I am assuming you have either a development server or a hosting plan somewhere):
- Download source from SourceForge.
- Unzip to local drive
- Create a database on your server. (remember to write down or cut and paste, the db name, the db server, the db user and the db password)
- Open your ftp software and upload the Concrete 5 folder to your server. (it can be at the root or anyplace on your web accessible area of your domain)
- Open your favorite browser and navigate to domainname/concrete5location
- A page will open with a check list of information. Also, there will be a form for your database information. The check list will have green (for OK to install) or red (you need to change permissions or check your configuration) icons. If they are all green, enter your database data and hit the next button and VOILA, Concrete 5 is installed.
The new installation is using the default theme. There are various add-ons installed initially. Most of these are used for site content and are very easy to use. There are a total of three themes installed at installation. Two are ready to use and one is standing by so it can be installed by the site owner as an example of how easy it is to update or install a new theme.
One of the great things about new users learning Concrete 5 is the use of video tutorials that Concrete 5 uses. They are short and reflect the ease of use of installing and using add-ons and themes for Concrete 5. The written installation guides and theme/add-on creation documents are slowly coming together by volunteers and the core team. If a developer creates an add-on, the Concrete 5 core team painstakingly quality checks those add-ons and themes before they are available to the community via the Marketplace (Concrete 5′s add-on and theme repository). You can also find themes and some add-ons at community members web sites.
The ease of use of this CMS is amazing. I first used Concrete 5 in February of 2009. I have now created more than 5 themes. When the Concrete 5 site said it was a designers paradise in creating an easy to use CMS they weren’t kidding. Now granted, since I am not a developer, it took me awhile to figure out what the minimal PHP code is used for in each theme, but once that clicked, it was off to the races. All themes are controlled by the theme CSS and a minimal amount of PHP. If you download one, they are easy to read and modify. If your creating your own, follow the Concrete 5 guidelines for Themes and Add-ons. Some CSS files are for the core of the system. Before you start changing those however, it would be a good idea to search the forums or go to the IRC channel to ensure your not going to break something. Any core CSS or php changes should be done with extreme care. But for the savvy designer, themes will be a snap. PSD comps to the client, splice that PSD and save those snippets as a PNG or JPG file and your off. A good idea is also to make sure that the graphic artist (if it isn’t the designer) supplies the HEX codes for colors.
Administration of the CMS is done using their custom DASHBOARD. When you log into the site to edit it or add functionalities, you land on the Dashboard. Take some time here. Navigate through the options and you will see that everything you would need to administer a site is there. Adding functionality is easy and with the newest version (5.3.2), getting new add-ons is a snap with an integrated connection to the Concrete 5 Marketplace. Get a free demo for 15 days here.
User permissions are a snap. Easy to understand and modifications and additions are easy to do. There is a great interface in the administrative panel that allows user accounts and permissions to be added/modified and deleted very easily. For changing permissions per page, just go to the page in which you want to edit and go into edit mode and select the permissions button. It is pretty intuitive.
Concrete 5 has a growing community of PHP developers. They are talented professionals (along with non-professionals). They like it for the minimal PHP and database requirements. (Yes I know, I am understating this a little bit.) The core team of Concrete 5 developers consist of 3 or 4 very talented people and then there is the dynamic CEO. Concrete 5 is located in Portland, Oregon, USA and have been in business for over 10 years. The Concrete CMS was originally a paid for CMS developed by the Concrete 5 team. The full history of the CMS’s transition from for-profit to Open Source can be found here. Themes and add-ons are available for free and for cost. There is a brand new integrated Blog Add-on that is wonderful and very easy for a site owner to use. A few others of mention to get your taste buds going are the Galleria Image Gallery, the Voting Contest and the Testimonial’s.
A designer or developer wanting a client to have an easy to update web site would greatly benefit taking Concrete 5 for a spin. It is easy, lightweight but extremely powerful. The most powerful feature, it is PHP driven with a MySQL database. PHP developers will love this system. It uses Jquery along with a smattering of JSON. It also uses the MVC architecture. Designers will love the ease of creating themes for this CMS since very little PHP knowledge is required. The designer should know CSS well.
A business with a limited technical staff or web designer will benefit greatly learning more about Concrete 5. Hiring someone to get the custom theme created and the system installed and running will normally cost between $750 – $1500. This is an estimate not a quote!! Of course the more work and changes a business wants the more they will pay. While taking advantage of Open Source software, the business migrating to a content management system will benefit and their marketing dollars will be well spent. Small businesses will benefit for spending less than $2000 and getting a fully functional site that they themselves can edit the content without a large learning curve.
About the Author
Bill Carone, independent web designer located in North Carolina. Bill started web design work in 1998 and have done Web Technology Project Management all the way down to design work. Someone who really enjoy doing design and working with the graphic artists to make a business dreams come alive. Bill can be reached at http://www.carolinageek.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.