Open source CMSes prove well worth the price

We look at five free offerings boasting solid Web publishing features that challenge their commercial competitors

Plone does one thing -- Web content management -- and does it with aplomb. That's why you'll find well-known US and international organizations in most industries running their Web sites, internets, and extranets with Plone.

This CMS has outstanding multilingual content management (with localized workflow), a powerful page editor, and flexible navigation. Version 3.0 introduces an inline editor, link checking, a portlets engine (for including content from other Web sites), and versioning, supports the search engine Sitemap protocol and wiki markup, and has full-text indexing of Word and PDF documents.

Setting up and customizing Plone isn't taxing. By following the well-done documentation and tutorials, I updated the visual design of my test Plone site in a few hours, all accomplished using the Web Developer Extension for Firefox along with an excellent Plone download, DIYPloneStyle. It's also relatively easy to add more advanced functionality (such as having navigation sections that are automatically generated from the contents of a folder) with a few style sheet changes.

On the administration side, Plone provides a range of enterprise-friendly functions, from authentication using OpenID, Active Directory, or LDAP to granular permissions for groups, roles, and workflows. All this is controlled from the Zope Management Interface, though I wish it was integrated into the rest of the system. That said, individuals can easily control who can view, edit, and approve their content -- without going through an administrator.

With design done, my testing moved to managing content. Again, Plone doesn't demand any extraordinary skills. For example, the folder view and AJAX-based drag-and-drop let me quickly reorder content, which was then reflected in the site's navigation. Site maps are automatically generated and updated. What's more, any collection (a grouping of content that developers create without writing code) or search result can be turned into an RSS feed.

The desktop-style page editor (based on the Kupu editor) is notable for converting Microsoft's text markup into clean XHTML and also for a great asset browser that previews images and links. Plone 3.0's inline editing was a big help for quick updates because you don't have to open a separate interface: Just click on the text area requiring revisions.

This CMS has lots of multilingual features. Besides more than 25 user interface languages, it's one of the few to support right-to-left languages (such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian). I also admired the split-screen editor, which assisted in translations. Plus, an add-on handles standard XLIFF content export and import, which is important when working with translation agencies.

Underlying power
Beneath Plone 3.0 there's a catalog of features that check the integrity of your sites and deliver a pleasant publishing experience. Link checking automatically alerted me when I tried to delete a page that other sites referenced. Further, I employed the automatically generated table of contents, which created and linked to chapters based on the headers in a long document.

Rules and versioning don't quite match Alfresco but are nonetheless useful. For instance, I defined a rule to move a file from one location to another for archiving after a certain time. The workflow system alerted users when something was changed, such as document revisions that required approval. And I appreciated this application's automatic locking and unlocking, which ensures two people don't overwrite each other's changes.

Plone 3.0 doesn't have a wiki.The software, however, allows wiki markup in any type of content (including Word and PDF documents that are transformed into Web pages), which eliminated the need to manually create links to other content. Plus, you can apply access control to these documents, just as with any standard Plone page.

With this release, Plone 3.0 adds important CMS capabilities such as versioning, inline editing, workflows, and OpenID support. It's true that some of these features require add-on modules that might consume server resources. Still, with a caching proxy (the organization's CacheFu project ships with Plone) there's very little else to criticize.

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