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17/04/2013 | Webreality

How I learned to stop worrying and love open source - part 2

We started using Umbraco at version 4.5.1. It was a good, solid platform, and although its primary rendering engine was XSLT, it didn’t matter, as all the tools were there. And we could write user controls if necessary.

It had a decent templating engine, a good meta data engine and it worked. Well. The admin UI looked a little dated, but it was functional and our clients needed minimal training to use it.

So, we built a couple of example sites, proving that it was as flexible as we had hoped, and made the move. Active development of version 3 of Rewrite, our proprietary CMS, stopped there and then. And I began to get some sleep.

30 months later, and Umbraco is our primary platform. We have migrated 90% of our existing client “content” sites to Umbraco, and no longer have any Rewrite v1 and just a couple of complex Rewrite v2 sites running. There are a handful of Rewrite v3s, but most of these have been very heavily customised and are more “hybrids” now.

Umbraco is king-of-the-hill, and continues to impress.

It hasn’t been a completely accident-free ride though.

We like to have a “standard build” of Umbraco that we use as a base for our clients’ sites, with all our favourite plugins installed and configured. We had a build of Umbraco 4.7.2 that we were using quite happily (it even had a Razor view engine now, which made us all breathe sighs of relief, as XSLT can be hard work), when it appeared as if the Umbraco core team dropped off the face of the Earth. They didn’t... they were all in a basement, working on the ill-fated version 5. So, six months passed, and 5 was released. Then it was killed. It had been over-engineered (just like my middle baby), and if there were more than fifty or so pages to a site, it crawled to a halt.

Had I made the worst decision in our company’s history, backing an open source CMS that was heading the way of the dodo? I was worried, I won’t lie.

Thankfully, we had only built one site on 5 - our own - so I hastily retrograded and rebuilt in 4.7.2. So our exposure was minimalised, but I chose Umbraco because I liked where it was heading; the roadmap appeared sound.

Thankfully, Niels made a brave decision. Kill 5, make 4 bombproof and work on 6. And make sure 6 isn’t the behemoth that 5 became. How? Well, ask the tens of thousands of developers that use Umbraco, and, rather than hide in a room, sit in the sunshine and be completely open about the development process. Niels puts it best. “We made a mistake, took full responsibility and learned from it and have come out stronger. Much stronger.”

So, we are now using the best version of Umbraco yet (at the time of writing), Version 6.0.3. It has full MVC support, an all-new (properly named) API and is a pleasure to develop with. It serves as the basis of all types of websites, from basic 5-pagers to online award entry processes, to integrated auction sites.

We’ve tweaked the admin to make it a bit more visually appealing.

We’ve written a small app called “Umbraclone” that lets us copy an existing site in minutes, meaning that we can take our default build and create a client site from it very quickly.

Our sites are fast and lean, and without the focus on core development (although we try to help where we can) we can focus on making our clients’ sites funky and sexy, using as many of the latest and greatest user interface technologies as we can. We can focus on surpassing our clients’ expectations, rather than just meeting them.

Support is now less about making sure your website works, and more about making sure your business has the best support from your website. There are a few challenges still, like having multiple versions of a system running concurrently, but we approach upgrades pragmatically. If you need one, you get one, no questions asked (and no money taken).

We think our clients love Umbraco almost as much as we do. Roll on 7, and the new “Belle” interface. And my colleague Giles is heading to Webreality’s first Codegarden, to geek out with the core team and the fabulous Umbraco community.

We fully intend to become more active in core development and write more plug-ins for general consumption.

I love Umbraco, it’s official.

Love Umbraco