Telerik SiteFinity - first impression

At the We Are Microsoft charity event last weekend, our team decided to implement a solution using a CMS product so they easily would be able to update the content. We decided to use Telerik SiteFinity based on the repution of Telerik and the fact that they had developer training the first day. Perhaps not the strongest reasons to pick a product but in our case we did not regret picking SiteFinity. The Web CMS Report have categorized the most well known CMS products, SiteFinity is categorized "Mid Market Challengers" which from what I can tell is an accurate categorization.

We used SiteFinity version 3.5 SP 1. The intial setup was a bit painful because the MSI installer didn't work too well on my Vista laptop but thankfully evengalist Gabe Sumner pointed out during the training that you can download a SiteFinity Visual Studio solution from . The solution file is a Visual Studio Web Site template, I would have preferred a Web Application Project but I assume it's easy enough to change if you really want to change it.

SiteFinity plugs into the regular VS template pretty nicely. You will without a doubt want to add your own master page and the good news is that you just add it like you would in a normal ASP.NET web site. You need to add a script manager in the markup though like this:

You also need to add a theme to the App_Themes folder. This is where you put your css files and images that you use in the header/body/footer via your master page. Once you restart your worker process or the web server if you use Cassini, both the master page (template) and your theme should be visible once you edit a page. If you select a the template and the theme you created earlier, you should get the look and feel your expecting.

This is the basics to set it up, I will go into more detail after adding more functionality.

What I like about SiteFinity so far:

  • WSIWYI Editor for editing content.
  • Very easy for non-technical people to learn to use with a little training. Of course, you still need to know some basic HTML to make it look right.
  • Workflow enginge in the Standard version, which is nice to have. I haven't had a chance to use it yet though.
  • User controls hooks into SiteFinity in a nicely, allowing drag-and-drop in the GUI. You do have to add an entry into the web.config file though.
  • It's relatively inexpensive, I don't think $899 is much money for a commercial organization for a CMS product where you get support.
What I don't like:
  • All pages appear to use ViewState by default, whether it's static text only or a form. I think ViewState in general is way overused in ASP.NET web forms in general, I wish Telerik didn't fall into this trap as well but perhaps there's a good reason.
  • I really don't understand why even images must use an Httphandler ASHX but perhaps it's not as heavy handed as it seems to be.
  • Error handling seems a little sparse. Both during the setup and if it can't find the database when you run it, you get uncaught exceptions.
  • ASP.NET 3.5 has been out for a good while now, you expect products to use 3.5 instead of 2.0 by now.
All in all, I really like this product and I'm glad I got a chance to try it out. The road map for version 4 looks pretty interesting. I wish they would have mentioned using the ASP.NET MVC framework instead of the ASP.NET Web Forms though.

We-Are-Microsoft charity event - wrap-up

I just got back from the charity event We Are Microsoft hosted in Dallas. It was a wonderful event, so many charities that all were worthwhile causes. I met a bunch of wonderful people, it is amazing that so many people were willing to give up a full weekend away from their families. I think the final tally was over 170 people including developers, designers, charities and event staff. It was very exhausting weekend of coding and little sleep but great to see that all charities actually received a fully working web site. Chris Koenig and Toi Wright put together a really great event plus all the volunteers.

Our team built a web site for the shelter New Beginning Center using Telerik Sitefinity as the CMS of choice. The new website isn't quite ready yet but will hopefully be up in the next few weeks as we're working on the finishing touches.

None of the guys on our team had any prior experience using SiteFinity but thankfully it was relatively easy to use. Telerik also had two great developer evengalists, Gabe Sumner and Todd Anglin who really knew the product well and were great at providing feedback. I will post later this week what I liked and disliked about SiteFinity.

ASP.NET MVC - StoreFront

Like so many others in the .Net community, I've been looking at the ASP.NET MVC framework lately which as of this writing is currently in beta. I really like what I've seen so far but YMMV. It seems like many developers that have experience using MonoRail have raised quite a few concerns. Obviously, MonoRail has been around for quite a while and have a lot more features and some of the design decisions may make MonoRail more extensible than ASP.NET MVC ever will be.

I've used the User Interface Process (UIP) Application Block previously in some projects and ASP.NET MVC is quite impressive compared to UIP :-). I really like that you can replace the view engine and that the aspx pages are so much more lightweight compared to Web Forms.

One of the more fascinating sample applications that I have seen come from Microsoft as long as I can remember is the MVC StoreFront by Rob Conery. It is so refreshing to finally see a sample application that has some complexity. It takes quite a bit of time to go through all the video's but is well worth it where Rob goes through using ASP.NET MVC and concepts like Dependency Injection, TDD, Mocking and even Domain Driven Design. It's a little bit confusing that the first 23 video's are at ASP.NET / MVC while also all the previous and new episodes (25 and forward) with topics like Domain Driven Design is at Rob's blog. There are a ton of good comments at his blog so that's the best place to go to.

The MVC StoreFront is just a tremendous learning experience using a variety of frameworks that may be useful in your projects. Extra plus that Rob doesn't just "pimp" Microsoft solutions and educate the use of some OSS frameworks.