Comparing Plone to WebGui – Part 1

As a long time “user” and “integrator” of Plone I wanted to evaluate the difference between two Open Source cms communities as I have the opportunity to work with Plone and WebGui on two projects simultaneously.

Initial differences (I could be mistaken on some of these points, so please correct me if something has changed):

  • Plone is written in Python, WebGUI is based on Perl
  • Plone uses the Zope Application Server, WebGUI uses WRE (WebGUI Runtime Environment)
  • Plone has both a browser interface (Zope Management Interface) and filesystem access, WebGUI has a browser based interface for customization and development.
  • Plone has multiple third-party products for things like blogs, forums, ecommerce that are developed by multiple authors (examples, GetPaid, EasyShop Quills, CoreBlog, Scrawl), WebGUI has one blog, one ecommerce offering, one forum offering, all included in the core, all worked on by the core development team (I’m planning an entire blog post about this particular topic). Add-ons for WebGUI are feature enhancements and themes.
  • It’s easier to install Plone for testing and development (thanks to the unified installer), WebGUI has a VMWare image but I wasn’t able to get it installed, my very technical boyfriend had to set up an instance for me.
  • Plone is supported by the Plone Foundation, WebGUI is supported by Plain Black, Inc.

According to ohloh.net Plone has a much more active community but the WebGUI project is in the top 10% of javascript projects for their commenting practices .

Initial similarities:

Plone and WebGUI cannot be hosted on $8.00 a month environments (WebGUI requires root access to stop and start mod_perl, apache, mySQL, etc, although you can restart them through the WRE browser interface too after you get everything setup)
Plone and WebGUI can be installed on any OS
Plone and WebGUI both have a high learning curve (we purchased 4 WebGUI books just to get started, which we are still waiting for, hoping we get them next week)
Plone and WebGUI are being used in University and Government projects
Plone and WebGUI have been around for a long time (both went official in 2001)

Plone as a community is much larger than WebGUI. WebGUI appears to be a core group of developers, very tightly knit and controlled. No questions like..”Who is maintaining project x?”. I haven’t decided yet which is better, we will see as I get further into actual integration. So far the WebGUI guys (and gals) have been very accepting of a couple of Plonista’s encroaching on their channel. They know I am a long-time Plone integrator and yet they are extremely helpful.

Next article – Comparing Plone to WebGUI – Part 2
Quality vs Quantity: Comparing offering multiple “third-party” products to including core products that have been tested

Response to Andy McKay

Andy McKay responded to my post on his own blog, something I appreciate because much of what he said is right in line with where my head is at right now. I’m finding myself moving away from recommending Plone to clients, even in a situation where Plone’s features are exactly what they need.

A large number of competent and happy integrators is key to Plone, without them it will wither at either end as it slips into the domain of more and more technical obscurity know only to a few. They are one of the key bridges between the techies and customers.

Andy, I’d say this comment is spot on:

Donna (and please correct me here if I’m wrong) runs a small consultancy producing web sites for customers. She doesn’t have a huge army of technical programmers behind her. She focuses on finding a solution for a client mostly using existing tools that can be customised to her user. At the Planning sprint we she was placed in a category called “integrators”.

A year ago (before we had our summit in February) I started whining about the changes to the theming process (got into a discussion between core developers and integrators who deal with clients on a day-to-day basis). When I left the summit I felt a bit better (though I pretty much got p0wned -as my kids call it – by a 14 year old theming wizard)

Now, over 9 months later I’ve created a dozen skins (or so) in Plone 3. I’m much more comfortable in the command line and I know my way around a virtualenv (and love it) Still can’t code python to save my life, but I can create a skin and deploy it!

Here is where I worry? I’m the exception (not the rule) as are Veda and Matthew Wilkes and Rob Porter and Denis (spliter). We’ve put in extra time and because of our connection to the community are willing to deal with the pain just to get really good at theming Plone sites. For some of us, we work for companies that deploy Plone sites, for others we work at a company that has a Plone site or sites that need maintaining. As I mentioned in my post after Linux World, Plone is not as well-known as it should be after nearly 10 years in existence (2011 will be 10 years).  Hopefully World Plone Day will help and the Evangelism team, led by Nate is lighting a fire under our collective behinds to get the word out about Plone.

It’s difficult really, trying to “please all of the people all of the time”, but that is not what we are looking at here. Trust me, as a mom who has raised six human beings with entirely different personalities I know that there has to be some sacrifice made by someone. We can’t all have what we want, all the time.

At the same time, as a professional who has daily interaction with a wide range of “customer” types from the mom&pop shop to the client with 500+ employees looking to streamline business processes online I’m getting to the point where I’m second guessing my recommendation to use Plone. It’s not fair to the client to pay way more than they should in development time because the “easiest” aspect of site creation  has crept into the programming side. We say that Plone separates content, programming and design. It has taken many of us years to get where we are and as new designers/integrators approach Plone with an eye on it’s features they are bug-eyed and shaking by the time we explain exactly what it takes to skin a Plone site. I witnessed that today as Veda tried to explain to a newcomer just what it would take to skin their newly loaded Plone site.

That said, what can we do as a community to fix this? In IRC today, Rob mentioned that Joel has created a sweet little “through-the-web” paster form. Love it, where was that when I was learning how to create themes with ZopeSkel?! A move in the right direction. Someone in channel(catherine-w) brought up a great point , ‘if you are new to Plone you won’t understand what this means’. So we need to stop “assuming” that because we understand it that  new adopters of Plone will understand at the same level we do. We need to continue to look at ways we can make adoption a much more positive experience! We have a terrific helpful community (Joanna, Veda, Darci, Alex, MatthewWilkes, et al) and Plone’s core feature-set is unrivalled (I’ve been doing a lot of testing/experimenting with various cms’s – ModX and WebGui being the most recent) so let’s keep this move towards improving the integrators experience moving towards the most user-friendly cms, it’s already the most featureful!

(cue six-million-dollar-man theme – doo doo doo doo)

Plone CMS
A cms clinging to life
People, we can enhance it
We have the technology
We have the capability to build the world’s friendliest cms
Plone will be that toolkit (product?)
We can make Plone even better than it was before
Better. Stronger. Faster

And on that note I shall go eat spaghetti that I cooked for the family. Lots of garlic and onion *exhale*

Comparing Plone to WebGui

We are moving one of our Plone clients to WebGui. After extensive evaluation of all the other CMS’s out there, WebGui scored the highest based on the clients requirements and plans for expansion. WebGui is as “big” as Plone in that it’s definitely overkill for your standard brochure-ware site.

I am tasked with creating the “theme” for this new WebGui website. After some initial reading and talking to the WebGui guys I’m left with the feeling that we (Plone) are making skinning sites way too difficult. The primary culprit? Viewlets. When one of our star programmers has to create a third-party product (GloWorm) just to allow designers to change a footer or header in the site we need to rethink the way we are approaching this whole theming scenario. Deliverance is great, but really guys, how many of you really believe someone who is focused on the “visual” aspect of a site is going to learn xslt? It’s easier, but it still isn’t easy enough to attract more designers. We have less than a dozen individuals in our community of over 400 (guessing here) who actually can take a .psd and convert it to a Plone 3 theme (and most of us are still struggling, I’m not the only one). Look at our paltry offering of themes available now,? The OOTB theming group is working really hard to get as many out as possible.  We need to step up theme creation but that is not going to happen if there is not a dramatic change to the process of theming. It’s too painful. I do have to say though that buildout and eggs rock! I just hate viewlets (ok there I said it). As someone who works directly with clients in determining their requirements, there hasn’t been a single theme that we’ve done that didn’t require extensive changes to the viewlets (including different banners on inside sections and changes to drop downs in horizontal nav based on where you are located, etc etc). The fact that we have to turn off viewlets first, then add the new one and have to change at least 4 files to do that?? configure.zcml, viewlets.xml, viewlets.py and umm there was one more.

Now back to the WebGui theming. I’m just getting started and I’ve already ran into one thing that Plone really does right. Filesystem skin development rocks. WebGui does not offer filesystem skin development, yet. All “theming” has to be done in the browser (or offline in Dreamweaver and then pasted into the browser). They are working on this but as someone who has been doing file system development for a few years now, it’s something I’ll miss.

I have a large Plone project starting next week along with this WebGui project. I will write about the difference, what I really like and what bugs the heck out of me.