Taking Umbraco V4 alpha for a test drive | Wibeck on Web - About Web Publishing, User Experience and Software

Taking Umbraco V4 alpha for a test drive

A week ago we could all read that Umbraco V4 had been announced at CodeGraden08 in Copenhagen, great for them I thought, since at that time there were no links anywhere to be found, not even a screen capture image.

But since then more information have gradually found it’s way out from the Core Team’s Secret Hide-out ; ) Codeplex is updated with some new releases, Umbraco’s nightly build server has been revealed (http://nightly.umbraco.org) and the whitepapers on V4 has also been published.

First I must say that I really love the nightly builds, not because they are super-stable, but because it makes testing the work-in-progress so much easier, no need to start Visual Studio just for a quick test. Kudos for the nightlies!

I’ve downloaded the nightly dated 2008-06-18 for this test drive, everything I’ve found might have been fixed in a later nightly build…

The list of improvements is quite long, I’m just going to cover some of them in this article…

Support for Masterpages

 
The new masterpages editor a.k.a template editor

I upgraded a local 3.0.5 site to V4 to be able to test in a site with many pages. The installation went very smooth and all of my 28 templates were converted into masterpages automagically, very nice feature that’s easy to love!

The first issue I encountered here was that I had a div with a umbraco-getitem to set a css class, the auto-conversion made it like this:

<div id="content"<umbraco:Item runat="server" field="CSSclass" 
insertTextBefore="class="" insertTextAfter="""/>>

This caused a "content"error. This was due to the missing whitespaces around the element, I just added these whitespaces and it worked fine. Since the present version of this element, the good old UMBRACO_GETITEM works fine without these whitespaces this will cause some issues.
If you’re using UMBRACO_GETITEM to add text to imageGen.aspx to create a graphic headline, the added whitespace will make headline start with a whitespace as well…probably not what you, or your designer, had expected…

The second issue I faced was due to file encoding. Some of my templates contained Unicode characters that showed up very strange since the converted masterpages was saved with ANSI encoding instead of UTF-8, I just had to open these files in a editor and save them as UTF-8 and all was fine, maybe a default UTF-8 encoding would be a good idea for the masterpages?

I have to say that I’m impressed by this auto-conversion-to-masterpages-feature, it works very good with just a few outstanding issues to fix… nothing big for an alpha. Support for folder structures would also be very handy for sites with many templates / masterpages.

The improved User Interface

The new slicker interface seems so far to mostly consist of new icons, less shadow-effects and updated AJAX controls for the tree and search field.
And it sure looks cleaner than the UI that have been mostly unchanged since the first OSS version of Umbraco; version 2.0 that was released in early 2004.

The first thing I noticed here was that the icons lost their position in level three and below probably only an adjustment issue.
 
The icons has lost their position at level three

The context menus are lightning fast thanks to that all the images has been replaced with css sprites – great improvement!
The new icons is also an improvement and they all feels more up-to-date. But what happened to the baby-blue section icons? Why not show them some mercy as well and give them a nice “vista-ish” look-and-fell, and while you’re at it; Remove the text labels from the images so translation might be applied in the sections menu as well.

   
Comparison of the new (left) and the old (right) GUI design, notice the removed shadows in the left image that’s Umbraco 4

When it comes to the new AutoSuggest search-box I’m not overwhelmed, it sure looks nicer, but it also feels less responsive and it entirely misses many of my pages. Unless I have missed an important configuration somewhere, it seems to me that it doesn’t find nearly everything it should find. And even more strange is the fact that it finds ‘new’, ‘newer’ & ‘newest’ if I type “ne”, but it finds none of them if i add a ‘w’ so that the searchbox contains ‘new’, hmm, weird one…  Anyway, this new search isn’t a favorite of mine yet, it needs to mature a bit first…and I’m sure it will, this is only an early alpha you know ; )

    
Comparison of the new (left) and the old (right) AutoSuggest search boxes

CSS files from the filesystem instead of database

Yes! Finally, the filesystem is the master source for stylesheets as well, and it works like a charm, just put a file in the css folder and it shows up in the Styles node immediately. Good one!

While playing around I also noticed that support for folders had been added for XSLT-files! I was amazed to see this, since it isn’t mentioned in the whitepaper… A bit more research showed that it has been around at least since 3.0.5…

How on earth did I miss that one? Guess I’ve been a bit a sleep this spring ; ). Anyway, to create a file in an existing XSLT folder all you need to do is to specify the name of a new file as “MyFolder/MyXSLTFile” and voilá! You have a new file in your prepared XSLT folder! I love it even though I’m to late to that release party ; ) A final improvement would be to add the folder via the GUI as well ; )

Full Firefox support

Nah, not yet… the nodepicker still doesn’t work, I’ve reported this since the 3.0.5 beta and it still doesn’t work in Firefox 2.0 and the issue is  still closed in CodePlex so I guess that some modifications were made to it, it might just have been lost “somewhere” in the process…

Dictonary overview

Very nice addition! One image says it all ; )

Summary

Overall this is a great new version with a lot of good intentions, there’s still some work to do, of course, but this will surely make Umbraco a perfect match for even more developers and organizations out there, kudos to the core team for all work done so far as well as all work left ; )

Unfortunately I still miss my favourite GUI feature – DeepLinking! Deep Linking is when the URL to an AJAX (or Flash etc..) application contains info about the state of the application, this is very easy to handle if you dare to use SP1 Beta for .Net 3.5, this beta contains “support for managing browser history”, in reality this also means deep-linking since every defined state of the application is transferred to the URL without a page reload, I’ve tried it and it works just perfect. For umbraco this might mean that you can copy the URL and paste in another browser, and it may open up in members under letter “Q” for example…

I would also like to see some sort of check-out / click-to-edit feature to avoid that two editors makes modifications in the same document…

I will revisit this post later and make a follow up on how things evolve as times goes by….

(Sorry, comments are still not possible due to my laziness ;)

 

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