Kentico 7 has been released and is running rampant throughout our office (Ektron is still sulking by the water cooler). New installs, upgrades, client demos and developer tinkering have allowed us to form an early impression of this shiny new version of the popular CMS. There are some really exciting features, some much needed UI enhancements (no more pop-ups, thank heavens), and some additions that have us scratching our head a little. In order to keep this blog post to a reasonable size, and to facilitate a catchy title, we have limited our praise to what we feel are the top 7 features. There are MANY more things to be found in version 7.
The "Oh my word, how did we ever live without this" features include:
1. Advanced workflow
Kentico has developed a seriously impressive workflow engine. This engine can automate not just content but also marketing tasks and translation services. Using new visual workflow designer, an editor can create bespoke workflow scenarios. Workflows now feature conditions, logic branches, user choice and my personal favourite: custom actions that allow our developers to go even further. Perhaps we can build the Kentico version of IFTTT. Once I get a little R&D time I want to see what custom processes we can wrap this workflow designer around.
2. Macro rule designer
In previous versions of Kentico macros were written in "raw" code format -- pretty impossible for clients to understand and use. Version 7 has fixed this with a visual macro builder. Developers can create complex reusable macros and have these expressed in plain English. Content editors, marketers, etc. can then select and edit these macros in -- you guessed it -- plain English. With both parties speaking the same language, everything becomes a whole lot easier.
3. Translation services
As a Canadian company we regularly develop domestic sites for our two National languages: English and French. Given building multilingual sites is the norm, we were really excited when we heard about the new translation services in Kentico CMS 7. Content editors can now get a pretty decent "first version" of their content using services such as Google Translate. Content can also be exported into XLIFF which is a format professional translators work with. We recently launched a project that features 6 languages and this feature would have really helped the initial translation effort.
4. Online marketing
The Kentico EMS V 7 Online Marketing Solution has been enhanced with automation, built in geolocation with MaxMind and also new connectors for services such as Salesforce and Data.com. Whereas EMS felt a little unfinished in version 6, in version 7 it is a seriously impressive tool for marketers.
5. Device layouts
We've been doing a lot of responsive web design over the past year. One slightly annoying aspect of responsive is the need to deliver all of the markup to every single device. Kentico provides better support for server side device detection alongside rather nifty options for dynamic and conditional templates specific to each end user device. We can use a responsive design at the core of our solution but, when required to do so, throw in a little device specific goodness. Another great addition for content editors is the ability to preview pages at the media size of the target device. We can also create and register additional devices when new ones come out.
6. Web farm synchronization
OK, so these last two features are pretty much for the geeks. I haven't kicked the tires of the new web farm setup yet but on paper it is pretty exciting. We have rolled out many gigs that operate in a web farm. We also use the web farm model for local team development (no one wants to check in media library files). Configuring the web farm in previous versions was a bit of a pain. The new approach to have the synchronization operate via the database is just a smart idea.
7. Progressive caching
This is another smart idea. There are times when caching is off. It could be in development, or, although infrequent, it could be a production site where up to date data is required all the time. Kentico has introduced a nice feature whereby although caching is disabled, queries for data are cached between active threads on a code block.
7.1 eCommerce updates
I couldn't end the list without mentioning the fantastic update to the ecommerce website template. The new look and features will really help with selling Kentico 7 as an ecommerce solution. The CMS Desk has been updated to make product management a lot simpler.
The [scratches head] "not sure this really works for us, probably some other folks will get a kick out of this" features include:
Frankly, the implementation of wireframes in Kentico CMS 7 is a little too basic and a little inconsistent with how most UX specialists either create wireframes or generate useful demos/specifications from them. Before I get a barrage of angry emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) let me explain where I am coming from with this. Wireframing is the cornerstone of our specification phase, they are the common dialogue between the client and our team. We develop interactive wireframes and from these we generate functional, technical and content specifications. At present a tool such as Axure makes more sense for our team. We will certainly keep our eyes on this feature and are interested to see where Kentico takes it.