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Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites

I'd like to share a bit about the tools I recently used to build a new travel website, MuchaCostaRica.Com I launched this week with two partners. Actually, this entire post is a thinly veiled attempt at getting some Google juice over there, but if you're interested in building websites and better tooling, read on.

The obvious analogy when mentioning tooling is to building construction, and it's spot on.  I'm in the middle of some home renovations, and one tool I've purchased is a Paslode nailer, and it can never be overstated.. Having the right tools for the right job will turn a tedious job into a joy. Hammering nails is about the worst jobs I can imagine, especially if you have to do a lot of them. You dent the wood, hit your finger, bend the nails over.  After a lot of swearing you get the job done, but it's hardly a joy to complete.  Enter the Paslode nailer.  I completed a staircase recently, and the job was a joy to finish.  In fact, it's so fun to use, I often wander my house looking for things to nail.

Choosing The CMS

When I sat down to look at my options for building this new travel site, the first thing I did was look at Open Source CMS tools.  I've had a lot of experience with DotNetNuke, Joomla, and other CMSs, and the prospect of deploying using these tools was not something I was looking forward to.

Joomla (sorry to any fans out there) is just not at all a tool I like working with, and I'll leave it at that.  Besides, I'm not a huge PHP person, and should I need to get into the guts of the app, I'd be struggling. 

DotNetNuke, while always holding a dear place in my heart, was not for this site.  I've recommended it in the past, deployed many sites using it, and probably will use it again in the future, but I wasn't comfortable jumping into development of this site with it.  I needed a CMS without limitations, and DNN is limited in some areas.

Enter Umbraco

James Avery first turned me onto this CMS, and at first blush, I was a bit skeptical.. Umbraco is an ASP.NET / SQL Server based CMS, which uses XSLT for it's rendering of content. I wasn't sure I liked having to learn some XSLT but after using Umbraco for the past few months, I'm completely sold on using XSLT for site skinning.

Umbraco is UBER extensible.   Every piece of content you create is based on a document type that you setup.  Need a new field for adding a video to a page?  Simply add it to your document type. Need to render a page slightly differently?  Add a new document template.  Need to do something even more complicated, such as adding some sort of conditional layout?  Add some XSLT and you're done. The separation of content from rendering within the CMS is a thing of beauty.

Umbraco is an absolute JOY to work with.  XSLT is is not all that easy to learn and debug, but once you see what you can do with it, you quickly realize it is the absolute perfect tool for shaping HTML.  This flexibility allows you to implement your design exactly as your designer envisioned, and quickly add new features and respond to business requests. During this entire site building process, I was asked for a hundred odd UI implementations from my partners, Rayna and Marina, and each and every time, my response was "sure I can add that" and a half hour later I was done.   In the past, using other CMSs, I would have been writing ASCX user controls, or hunting for a component somewhere, just to add something simple.  With Umbraco, it's a breeze.

So, now, like my experience with the Paslode, I'm completely charged about building web sites now. I used to groan when facing a new web project, bug when you have the right tool, it's a joy.

Other Tools

jQuery

Umbraco only really provides the content, most of the skinning is left to you.  This. in fact. is what you want from your CMS.   You dont' want your CMS providing UI elements, you want the UI separated from the content engine so you're free to mold your content as you see fit.  So, when it came to the UI, I made heavy use of JQuery. Many of you are familiar with jQuery already, but if not, head over to jquery.com and don't ever hand code a web UI element again.  For photos and sideshows, I've used the jQuery Lightbox Plugin (balupton edition) and for content carousels, i've used jCarousel.  When it comes to needing some more complicated AJAX or other browers scripting components, I'll have my choice of adding any of the myriad jQuery plugins available.  If you do web work and you haven't checked out jQuery, you owe it to yourself to take a day and explore what jQuery has to offer.

Viddler

Viddler was the perfect video hosting platform for us.  Not only do they host your video, you can brand your content, and there's tagging and commenting and a customizable player.  What's not to like?

Disqus

Comments are always a pain to implement properly. Disqus fixes all that and sets up in minutes:

Disqus, pronounced "discuss", is a service and tool for web comments and discussions. The Disqus comment system can be plugged into any website, blog, or application. Disqus makes commenting easier and more interactive, while connecting websites and commenters across a thriving discussion community.

Google

We used Google Translate, Google Docs, Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Ah thank you mother Google.  I think it's worth mentioning that these tools are free, and do what they're supposed to do really well. 

So, overall, developing MuchaCostaRica.Com was a joy (so is going to Costa Rica, BTW, and if you want a deal on travel, visit us and use the promo code "DEVLICIOUS").

As they say in Costa Rica,  Pura Vida!


Posted 09-25-2008 6:11 AM by Brendan Tompkins
Filed under: ,

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Comments

Rayna wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-25-2008 11:35 AM
I wanted to comment to the true ease of using Umbraco from the UI side-- I'm not a programmer, nor do i know too terribly much about much of what Brendan said above,but I DO KNOW how easy it has been for me to learn Umbraco and do everything i need to do to get information and images published to our website www.muchacostarica.com... Everything in Umbraco is basically controled with the right click button (create, delete, sort, move, copy, etc) AND every little thing I've asked Brendan to do, his answer has always been "SURE, i can do that" I, unlike Brendan, am a fan of Joomla from the UI side, but it had its limitations (well, many actually). So if you (the programmer) have a client you support constantly, Umbraco is a great way to go.
sergiopereira wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-25-2008 12:37 PM
What a beautiful site. Makes me want to visit it. Great to learn about this CMS too.
Jak Charlton wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-26-2008 2:45 AM

Quick heads up ... turn on debugging in IE and you will see your pages are throwing a javascript error ...   apart from that nice post

2008 September 25 - Links for today « My (almost) Daily Links wrote 2008 September 25 - Links for today « My (almost) Daily Links
on 09-26-2008 4:57 AM

Pingback from  2008 September 25 - Links for today « My (almost) Daily Links

Ruben Verborgh wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-26-2008 4:59 AM

Wow, that is some really great advertising for Umbraco. Thanks!

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us in the forum.

Ismail Mayat wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-26-2008 5:12 AM

Brendan,

Great post! One thing with opensource is the community is the life blood. I have been using umbraco since 2006 and am still  amazed by the helpfulness of the umbraco community.

Ismail

Akshay Sura wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-26-2008 9:13 AM
great site. love the speed.
Brendan Tompkins wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-26-2008 3:51 PM

Thanks Everyone!  

Ruben,

I've spent some time spelunking around the forums.. Just haven't posted yet.  Hopefully I'll be able to give back by posting more about Umbraco in the future.  If we can do anything to help you out here or at CodeBetter.Com, please let me know!

Gabe Sumner wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-26-2008 5:17 PM

Great article!  The web site looks really great too.

Ruben Verborgh wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-27-2008 5:59 AM

Hi Brendan,

Maybe you could do a post about the new features when version 4 comes out. I'll keep you updated!

Ruben

Tim Geyssens wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-27-2008 7:56 AM
That's the wonderfull world of umbraco , extremely extensible, no design limitations, ... .And then there's version 4, be sure to test that out, it has so much improvements !
Esdee wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-28-2008 9:35 PM

the site looks very nice indeed, but when i click any picture i see in the right corner

"jQuery Lightbox Plugin (balupton edition)"

is this by design, or just a small buggie?

(that in firefox 3.x)

Brendan Tompkins wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 09-30-2008 10:12 AM

Ruben,

Sure, NO PROBLEM!  Let me know what you guys need.  I'm a fanboy now.

GB Shankar wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 10-31-2008 1:14 PM

As you wrote "DotNetNuke, while always holding a dear place in my heart, was not for this site.  I've recommended it in the past, deployed many sites using it, and probably will use it again in the future, but I wasn't comfortable jumping into development of this site with it.  I needed a CMS without limitations, and DNN is limited in some areas"

Can you please explain the limitations in detail please...

Shared Tutorials » Blog Archive » Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites wrote Shared Tutorials » Blog Archive » Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 01-11-2009 10:46 AM

Pingback from  Shared Tutorials  » Blog Archive   » Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites

Steve D. wrote re: Umbraco or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Web Sites
on 06-20-2009 6:34 PM

Great article!  I am a begining programmer and I am trying ot figure out how to do a site for my wife.

I have some .Net experience, played with RoR and spent the afternoon looking into PHP.

RoR does not have any good portals, I don't think I like the PHP language, and there are were several .Net portals to choose from.

This article has convinced me to try Umbraco over DNN, Rainbow, or Mojo.

Thanks!

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