Mark Boulton Design Blog

MBD & Umbraco

Posted on by Alex

I’ve just returned from a packed and hectic week over in Copenhagen having attended the Umbraco annual developer conference. We were in attendance to announce our new relationship with Umbraco HQ to work on the ongoing and future User Experience for the Umbraco CMS platform.

codegarden 2011

So what’s an Umbraco?

Umbraco is a free open source CMS based on a Microsoft stack of server, database and infrastructure. That might sound scary for those of us more familiar with LAMP based solutions, but the software is written in such a way you really don’t need to touch the code at all unless you want to implement something pretty complex – at which point a tame developer could jump in and help you out. For designers especially, the separation of dynamic content and markup is pretty much absolute, save for a few simple tags so you can work in a way that you’re already comfortable with.

The other big surprise is that it’s free. Umbraco’s enigmatic founder Niels Hartvig doesn’t seem to like sticking with convention and decided that he’d go against the grain by making the project both open source and completely free. Those are two words you don’t often hear in relation to MS based projects. But having hand rolled his own CMS and finding that clients and other developers enjoyed using it, he did what is pretty rare in the Microsoft ecosystem and decided to open source the project.

the benevolent dictator

Umbraco runs on what Niels like to call  a “benevolent dictatorship”. Basically the guys at Umbraco HQ hold the keys to the core of the system. It’s still open source and anyone can take the source and do what they want with it, but the stuff that makes it into releases is decided and curated by Niels and the team. And that means that’s there’s always a steady hand at the tiller, steering the ship and ensuring quality, making sure the engine is always running smoothly.

Growing up fast

Umbraco has grown fast over the last couple of years and attracted a burgeoning community of super smart developers and contributors from all over the world, contributing projects and packages to extend the functionality of the system and provide support to newcomers getting into Umbraco. Not only that but there’s now a full-time staff of 10 working solely on the project to support clients, develop new functionality and maintain the current codebase. Any commercial gains from Umbraco’s support services or paid-for add-ons are being fed straight back into the project by hiring the best in the business and supporting the community.

The yearly developer conference in Copenhagen is something to behold too – a heady mixture of really useful practical sessions along with the added bonus of a female kazoo marching band playing ACDC and a midget elvis that helped close the event this year. Properly bizarre but the most fun i’ve ever had a developer conference for sure :)

elvis and adam from cog works

Momentum seems to be picking up daily with sites like Vogue, Wired and hundreds of other huge sites now running off Umbraco.

When we were demo’ed the software by Niels earlier in the year, we were seriously impressed with the amount of flexibility you get with the system, but also with the level of finite control you have over markup. We’re forever banging our heads with developers during integrations with other systems to maintain the quality and faithful reproduction of our HTML. Umbraco leaves your markup alone, and where they supply small helpers for injecting things like lists for navigation into a page, you can easily customise the output so it’s exacty as you need it. The templating system is also really smart too, so site builds come together incredibly quickly once the markup is in place.

We’re really excited about getting started on the project. We’ll be working across all aspects of the UX from initial contact with the Umbraco site, through to enhancing community tools and onto a full scale evolution of the current admin and editorial tools.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress as we go.

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