Friday, August 5, 2005

Plone Live Review

I have been reading Plone Live by Michel Pelletier and Munwar Shariff of CIGNEX Technologies and I highly recommend it. Plone Live is one of several professionally published books on Plone. Other books include Andy McKay's The Definitive Guide to Plone, Julie Meloni's Plone Content Management Essentials, and Cameron Cooper's Building Websites With Plone. Plone Live fits into this existing ecosystem by providing information for more advanced Plone developers ready to take Plone to the next level to build highly customized, performant applications.

The introductory sections are noticeably thin but I think that is OK because books like Plone Content Management Essentials and The Definitive Guide to Plone deliver pretty well in this area. You might have seen an earlier blog entry where I was critical of the choice of chapters selected for preview on Amazon. After reading the book, I feel even stronger about that point because these sections are not representative of the book's quality and usefulness. In fact, I would consider donating those chapters as Wiki articles on Plone.org so that the community can maintain and enhance them.

Plone Live starts to deliver its value beginning midway through chapter 2 with a road map of what is where in the Zope Management Interface (ZMI). Because Plone is so customizable and the ZMI is not specifically designed to manage a Plone site, it is easy to get disoriented with all the folders and other objects that need to be manipulated in order to customize and extend Plone.

The best parts of Plone Live are the sections where it discusses security and the comparative benefits of File Based vs. Through the Web (TTW) development. While most books focus primarily on TTW development, Plone Live's authors make the point that this customization method is primarily for rapid prototyping and is no way to build a robust application because of performance and deployment considerations.

The PloneLive website was built as a file based Plone Product and is available for download. There are a number of other downloadable example products available on the website as well. I would like to see a little more information on best practices for developing and debugging File Based applications such as when you need to restart Zope and when you don't, how a team of Plone developers should work together on a Plone project (source control, etc.). However, this is a good start with advice about using Selenium as a function testing tool and other best practices.

Plone Live also covers common integrations such as relational databases, LDAP, Apache, and using WebDAV and XML-RPC to integrate with other architectures. For each of these topics, Plone Live provides step by step instructions that are easy to follow.

Plone Live contains many references to other good resources including books, websites, and extensions. The book is written in a very "open source" way in that it recognizes the value of the community and is inclusive of rather than competitive with other resources. Plone Live also leverages is the open source concept of frequent releases. Plone Live is a Live Book published by Source Beat. For $29.95, you can subscribe to Plone Live for a year and get access to a constantly updated version of the book.

The critical area where Plone Live lacks is in the A to Z index. Plone Live does not have one. If you subscribe to the Plone Live book, I am sure this is not a problem since there is probably search. However, I think it is an issue with the paper version. This is the first Source Beat book that I have read so this might be a format constraint imposed by the publisher.

Based on all this, if you have been playing around with Plone or have been using it for a small work group solution, and you want to get serious, pick up Plone Live. You will be glad you did.