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Where content meets technology

Jan 13, 2012

Legacy reports available

If you read Content Here through RSS or just follow links to individual articles, you may have missed my new publications page. In addition to listing some articles that I have published on other sites, the publications page now includes reports that I used to sell here at Content Here. I have not kept these reports up to date with the technologies that they cover but the background information and selection strategies are still very relevant. They are posted up on Scribd where they are free to read. You may find the following reports particularly interesting.

  • Open Source Web Content Management in Java

    This was Content Here's first report. It reviewed 7 open source Java web content management systems (Alfresco, Apache Lenya, Daisy, Hippo, Jahia, Magnolia, and OpenCms). While the individual product reviews are all out of date, the first 20 pages of the 173 page report contain useful information on the rise of open source content management and how evaluating open source platforms is different from commercial platforms

  • Open Source Web Content Management in Alfresco

    This is the Alfresco review from Open Source Web Content Management in Java but updated to version 3.1 which was released in April of 2009.

  • Drupal for Publishers

    This is my most recent report. It was published in 2009 and covers Drupal 6.10. The interesting thing about this format is that it reviewed Drupal from the perspective of a publisher. The report is broken up into 3 sections: "what the publisher needs to know," "what the editor needs to know," and "what the developer needs to know." I think that much of the general commentary is still very relevant.

Mar 29, 2010

Hippo's New Version Compare Functionality

Arjé Cahn recently screencasted a demonstration of the new version compare functionality that will be released in Hippo CMS version 7.4 (due June 2010). While (as Arjé concedes) versioning and version compare are nothing new, the Hippo team has added a subtle twist that I think makes a vast improvement.

When an approver is reviewing a change to a previously approved asset, Hippo CMS defaults to a version compare view. Adds, changes, and deletes are highlighted by color and strikethrough (see screenshot).

The concept reminds me of source code control system commit emails that highlight changes to code whenever anyone checks anything in (click on screenshot for a larger view). I do a lot of web development team mentorship and I have come to rely commit emails.

SVN Commit Example

They allow me to quickly determine if there are any material changes that I need to dig into and saves me loads of time (in the case of the screenshot example, no important changes have been made). I am wondering if the Hippo implementation adds excerpts of changes in their workflow notification emails. That would be convenient.

I really like the Hippo team's pragmatic approach to enhancing Hippo CMS. Rather than adding lots of a new "checklist" features (that make the product more complicated), they tend to focus on refining and streamlining functionality that customers probably already use. It is that "make it suck less" philosophy that makes software continuously better for the users but tends not to get recognized by most analysts and buyers.

Keep up the good work Hippo!

Aug 07, 2009

Hippo CMS 7's New Content Type Editor

Arjé Cahn posted a short video demonstrating the Hippo CMS 7's new content type editor. The process is all GUI driven and looks very slick. It is difficult to know whether this is as flexible as the old Hippo CMS 6 system of editing layout and xsd files but it certainly appears easier. It is also nice to see that Hippo CMS 7 maintains the ability to control the layout of the entry form. Most CMS products only let you control the widgets used, their order, and, in some cases, what tab they appear on. Hippo gives the developer control over the layout of the whole form.

Jul 09, 2009

Apache Software License, Hippo, and BlueNog

When I first got interested in open source software there was a lot of talk about the restrictions and liberties of various licenses and the risk that free-riders posed to the system. I have to admit that I never found these topics very interesting and usually referred the conversation to my colleague Stephen Walli (who is way more qualified in this area than I am — lawyers even listen to him!). For the most part, these (as well as the whole indemnification and SCO hysteria) have turned into non-issues, particularly for my clients who are users of the software and will probably never read a license anyway. Things tend to work themselves out.

But every once in a while, something interesting in the topic of licenses does pop up. You may remember I wrote a post describing how Bluenog took Hippo CMS, slapped their logo on it and sold it as commercial software. Well, they are still at it and they have even gone further as to remove any acknowledgement that they are repackaging someone else's software. The Apache Software License, which Hippo CMS uses, is very permissive and only requires that redistributions of the software contain a notice file giving credit to the original developers. Bluenog isn't even doing this. And, as you would probably expect they are not contributing back to Hippo either.

Bluenog is clearly in violation of Hippo's licensing terms so it may not matter what license Hippo is distributed under, but it did get me thinking about licenses again. The Apache Software License has been used very successfully for infrastructural components like the famous Apache HTTP Server and all those great Java frameworks and components. The key benefit there is achieving broad adoption. The terms are so generous that there is virtually no downside to including an Apache licensed component in your software. Adoption is a good thing for frameworks and components because lots of users help find bugs and help the project move forward. Even if a very small percentage of developers contribute back, the scale of the user base translates into a lot of support. This low barrier to adoption is particularly good for reference implementations of standards. Tomcat, Slide, and JackRabbit were all critical to the success of the standards they promoted.

As good as the ASL is for components and frameworks, I question its efficacy for business applications. Business applications, like Hippo, compete in a different market than infrastructure. They are going after a smaller (higher touch) install base and they are more actively competing against other products. Business applications need to innovate and differentiate from their competitors while infrastructure wants to be stable and standard. The potential for free-riders to undermine your investment to be unique is too great. This is why most other CMS on the market are licensed under the GPL or a similar license.

From a consumer perspective, it feels like Bluenog customers are getting ripped off. They are buying a software application that should be free. Customers are essentially paying Bluenog to ask questions on the Hippo mailing list that Hippo and the community are answering for free. It feels like Bluenog's refusal to acknowledge Hippo is an attempt to protect this arbitrage. Had customers worked directly with Hippo, they would not only save money, they would also know that Hippo has an entirely new product: Hippo CMS 7 that is a ground up rewrite from the 6.x series that Bluenog forked. I do think that this issue will eventually be worked out. Bluenog will probably not be able to continue practicing business in this manner: even if lawyers don't get involved. But, as you can probably tell, this drama does rankle my developer and open source sensibilities.

Jan 26, 2009

Hippo Launches Hippo CMS 7.0

It's official. Version 7, a near-total rewrite of Hippo CMS, is now GA. Hippo CMS 7, formerly called ECM 1.0, is based on newer technologies Apache Wicket and JackRabbit. This new architecture gets Hippo off of the complicated, difficult to learn Cocoon framework and the retired Apache Slide project.

One thing that I particularly like is that they have achieved a compromise between the JCR's inherent hierarchical organization and a more free form faceted navigation. Hippo CMS 7 is designed for high content volume websites and shows a lot of thinking in this area. The faceted filters can be used at the API level by developers building websites on the platform. Unfortunately, this functionality has not yet been surfaced in the user interface.

As with earlier versions of Hippo, version 7's architecture has a clean separation between the repository, the management application and the front end delivery tier. Hippo CMS 7 gives developers a bit more of a starting point for building a front end website by shipping with a JSP tag library refers to display components managed in the CMS. Developers are still free to roll their own delivery tier using whatever display technology they choose. The standards-based Java Content Repository, plus frameworks like Sling, will make custom Hippo powered websites easier to build.

Hippo CMS 7 has a plugins framework that facilitates adding new functionality to the platform. There Hippo Forge site will be a place for the community to share their components and tools. These plugins surface on the dashboard and in other areas of UI and are better encapsulated than Hippo 6.x customizations.


On the UI side, Hippo CMS 7 shares some basic concepts with earlier versions of the platform. Version 6.x users will recognize the stateful tabs but will appreciate a new three column layout that allows a user to browse the repository and edit multiple content items at once (see screenshot). There are several other AJAX-enabled goodies like type-ahead search and linking and image placement through drag and drop. If you have seen Day's new CQ5 UI, there are some similarities there. In fact, an alpha of Hippo CMS 7 won second place in the Web Idol demo competition at the jboye08 conference last November. Hippo has plans to create specialized versions of the user interface to optimize the usability for specific user segments. For example, they are working on a user interface view that is optimized for power users on wide-screen displays that will maximize the use of the multi-column layout.

Being a new product, there only 2 customers live on Hippo CMS 7. Two more implementations are in progress. The documentation is not going to win Pulitzer but I have found the mailing lists to be very helpful. If you like what you see, I would recommend setting up some kind of arrangement with the Hippo team where they work closely with your implementation and they can submit fixes/improvements back into the core. Current 6.x customers will be supported by a dedicated V6 team who will maintain the platform with fixes and minor enhancements. No new support contracts will be sold for V6.

This is a big release for Hippo CMS. Usability-wise, there are significant improvements - particularly for power users managing large content repositories. Architecturally, CMS 7 offers a more modern technology stack that flattens the learning curve and enables more efficient development of the product. With a couple of successful implementations on the 7.x series, Hippo CMS may get it some deserved attention (particularly in North America where it is not widely known).