New releases, Sitecore

Looking forward to Sitecore in 2010

2009 has brought some really nice features and enhancement to Sitecore and has in my point of view really moved Sitecore succesfully to the Enterprise segment. 2009 has also been a year with great focus on feature richness and business value in the product, e.g. by targeting marketing divisions even more. From a developer point of view, 2009 has been a more meager year, although OMS and the rules engine are interesting additions. Below, I have compiled a list of topics, where I would love Sitecore to make headway in 2010. The list is nowhere near complete and is as always my personal opinion. Sadly I have no crystal ball to tell me what Sitecore really focused on.

The maturing OMS

The Online Marketing Suite is a great addition to Sitecore, and has some very cool features and a lot of potential for enhancing all of our solutions in the future. The product has some shortcomings and parts which could need enhancing, though. From a developer point of view, the documentation is limited, and there is no API for extracting data in a summarized or aggregated way – which leaves us to extract data directly from the SQL database using LINQ, SQL or stored procedures. But from my point of view, the most urgent need is best practices and tools for hosting the system. Switching the Analytics.Enabled to true in an out-of-the-box OMS will quickly generate a fairly large (huge) database, and sets some requirements on the hosting servers. Therefore, tools for administrators to handle databases (monitoring, truncating, etc.) as well as documentation for our hosting partners is looked forward to. There is a lot of focus from Sitecore and the community’s side on OMS, so I am confident that the already great product will make quantum leaps in 2010.

Scalable editor environment

One of the most anticipated enhancements of Sitecore has been the possibility to scale the backend/master server. This will allow not only better performance and active failover in the editor environment, but scaling of solutions running directly on the master database without publishing. An example of this type of solution is the Sitecore Intranet Portal. We have had customers requesting this possibility since version 4, and Sitecore codename “Twin Peaks” which introduced this feature, was on the Sitecore 2009 roadmap. Maybe 2010 will be the lucky year.

Enhanced presentation content

With Sitecore 6, the concept of a Page Designer was introduced. This makes it possible for editors or administrators to visually add or rearrange content on a page as well as edit properties on layout elements in a structured manner via property pages – cool features and great selling points. The problem with these features is that it touches upon one of the cornerstones of the Sitecore CMS architecture: The separation of content and presentation. By allowing property pages which saves content on the presentation layer, and allowing editors to change and save layouts directly on individual items, Sitecore has introduced a feature which makes it vital for developers to draw an exact line between content and presentation, and potentially pushes an rather large support burden on to the partners. We look forward to Sitecore best practices and tools to help us with this.

Greater testability

The close relationship between Sitecore and .NET has made it possible to transfer a lot of knowledge, methodology and design principles between the two platforms. Time has shown that not only Sitecore has adopted new.NET patterns, but also that .NET has implemented some of Sitecores (Just think of ASP.NET master pages in .NET 2). One of the great problems with both traditional ASP.NET and Sitecore is the support for unit testing and mocking. .NET has introduced ASP.NET MVC – which in many ways aligns with the content/presentation paradigm in Sitecore – and with this, enhancing support for unit testing. I’m sure many Sitecore developers look forward to a similar push from Sitecore in 2010.

Dreamcore conference

2010 has already introduced the Dreamcore conference – a three day conference hosted by Sitecore North America with developer and business tracks. Arranging this kind of conference on a regional basis, is not only a testimony to the success of Sitecore but fills a growing need in the community for Sitecore to communicate best practices and examples. Especially the developer part of the conference has been desired for some years, and rumors say that a similar conference is under way on our side of the pond. Now let us just hope that the conference brings real world examples and industry best practices instead of more Sitecore sales pitches. 2010 will tell.

No matter what 2010 brings, I am confident it will give us a lot of new cool Sitecore stuff.

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.NET, New releases, Sitecore

Will dynamics in .NET 4 change the way we do Sitecore?

I am spending my time these days walking the halls of Berlin Messe at the Microsoft TechEd 2009. One of the interesting upcoming features of .NET 4 is the introduction of dynamic language support in the .NET Language Runtime. This does not only mean that you can write your .NET code in dynamic languages such as Python (IronPython) and Ruby (IronRuby), but also that you can use some of the dynamic features from C#. With the introduction of the dynamic type keyword, method calls and member access can be evaluated at runtime instead of at compile time (previously known as late-binding). This does not mean that C# is no longer a type safe language, it merely means that the language now provides a more “syntax correct” way of accessing those dynamic types of data, we previously used to access via strings, invokation, reflection etc. Examples of dynamic data models includes COM, the HTML DOM and XML.

Another one of the dynamic types of data we all works with each day, is Sitecore. The structure, i.e. templates and fields, we are coding up against changes constantly, and Sitecore provides a string based way to access specific items and fields and values in fields. Some of these dynamic types are exposed via classes in the Sitecore API, e.g. the fields type classes in the Sitecore.Data.Fields namespace. In Pentia we have a concept we call Sitecore wrapper classes, i.e. classes which we custom write to provide a proper interface to items of a given template. Writing these classes are tedious and potentially error-prone, which is why we are working on code generator for generating these classes (similar to e.g. LINQ to SQL). But with dynamics in .NET 4, we have a way of eliminating these classes completely, while still maintaining a proper syntax – and hopefully Sitecore will implement this to our common advantage. Here is an example of how code from the current version could look in a future version of Sitecore:


//BEFORE: .NET 3.5 Framework, Sitecore 6
public string GetContextItemDocumentImage() {
  Item item = Sitecore.Context.Item;
  ImageField field = ((ImageField)item.Fields["DocumentImage"]);
  return field.Src;
}

//AFTER .NET 4 Framework, Sitecore 7?
public string GetContextItemDocumentImage()
{
  dynamic item = Sitecore.Context.Item;
  return item.DocumentImage.Src;
}

Note that although the syntax differs, the actual functionality executed in both example would be the same. So, what does it require from Sitecore to do this? The secret lies in the System.Dynamics. IDynamicMetaObjectProvider interface or more easily, the DynamicObject class. This interface and class allows the derived class to provide its own resolving to e.g. members access and method calls via a number of virtual methods. The methods are Try based, which means that you should return false if the functionality is not supported, or e.g. a method with an invalid method is called. Some of the most important virtual methods which can be implemented via DynamicObject are:

TryConvert

A cast is attempted, trying to convert the dynamic type to a static.

TryGetIndex

An indexer is called, trying to get a value with a given id or index.

TryGetMember

There is an attempt to get the value of a named member (e.g. a field or property)

TryInvokeMember

A method with a given name and parameters is invoked.

TrySetIndex

There is an attempt to set the value in an indexer with the given id or index.

TrySetMember

There is an attempt to get the value of a named member (e.g. a field or property)

 

An example of the above Sitecore 7 (:-)) implementation could therefore be:

namespace Sitecore.Data.Items
{
  public class Item : DynamicObject //...and other interfaces
  {
    //...
    public override bool TryGetMember(GetMemberBinder binder, out object result)
    {
      dynamic field = Fields[binder.Name];
      if (field != null) {
        result = field;
        return true;
      }
     	return base.TryGetMember(binder, out result);
    }
    //...
  }
}

Let this be an inspiration to Sitecore for the next version – I for one truly hope we see something like this in the product.

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New releases, Sitecore

Why can’t I download the latest version of Sitecore?

I have earlier questioned Sitecores way of releasing new versions. You can read the full discussion here: http://sdn.sitecore.net/SDN5/Forum/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=17750. The whole notion of Sitecore having “recommended” and “not recommended” releases are to me rather strange. Especially considering the frequency of when new versions gets to the “recommended” level. For instance it is at the moment not possible to use a recommended version of Sitecore which supports Sitecore OMS!

In Pentia we finally got to that point, where we just decided to ignore the recommended label and upgrade and use the latest released version, as it seems rather arbitrary whether a version is recommended or not. This means that I wanted to download the latest version of Sitecore… But guess what. That is not possible. You have to download the release 090630; install it and then afterward download and install two updates.

So I couldn’t help but wonder… Why can’t I download a package containing the latest release of Sitecore?

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.NET, Documentation, New releases, Sitecore

Sitecore learning portal launched

My cooworker Jimmi Lyhne Andersen and I are glad to announce that we have finally finished a project we have been working on for quite a while now; a complete learning site for Sitecore. Check it out at http://learnsitecore.cmsuniverse.net/

 

So what is it all about? Well we have been working with Sitecore for quite a while now, and we found that documentation was somewhat limited. Documentation revolves around SDN which is great as a reference (especially if the search functionality worked probably) and blog post by enthusiastic Sitecore developers. This leaves quite a gap, as there are no in depth article base and nowhere to go, if you want to start learning about Sitecore. Further there is only limited documentation for editors, server administrators and architects.

Therefore our vision was to create a site, which matches these target groups and goes in depth with the topics. Our mission is not to compete with SDN, as it is quite resourceful for snippets and references. Our mission is neither to compete with the blogs, as these are quite resourceful when you want biased opinions on Sitecore or new and interesting tweaks.

So in short learnsitecore.com is the place to go if you want to learn Sitecore or read in depth articles on different technologies which Sitecore uses. Right now there are a limited number of articles, but we hope to get some contributors and of cause write a lot of articles our self.

 

We hope you’ll find it resourceful and that you might be motivated to write an article or two.

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New releases, Sitecore

Sitecore Roadmap

I just attended an official Sitecore 6 presentation held here in Copenhagen by Sitecore Denmark (Presentations here –in Danish). The Sitecore 6 content was mildly entertaining, but can all be read on the SDN. What was really interesting though, was the presented roadmap for future Sitecore versions – one of the first I’ve ever seen for the Sitecore product.

The next release will be Q1 2009 and is codenamed “Twin Peaks”. According to Sitecore, this will be a minor release primarily focused on scalability, i.e. clustering of the master/editing servers and transactional publish. This will allow Sitecore to run live mode (no publishing) on a scaled environment as well as allowing partial clearing of the caches. These features are super important for the Sitecore product and something I’m personally looking very much forward to.

After “Twin Peaks” comes “Everest” – Q2 2009. As I see it, a version which is primarily defined by the marketing division of Sitecore. It is planned to include personalization, analytics and reporting features – nice features, but not something I as developer and architect is going to lie sleepless in anticipation over. That said, I’m sure we’ll all experience more user driven and personalized websites in the future which means that Sitecore is delivering.

Not included in the roadmap was “Massif”, which rumor says is going to contain database and content scaling – the ability to have thousands of items on one leaf in the hierarchy. For me this is the big one – imagine not having to force one hierarchical view on to parts of your data. For example, in current versions of Sitecore we are forced to group the news data of a solution after date, category or something other. But then if the date on the news item changes, we have to move the item to another folder or what if news can have multiple categories… Hopefully “Massif” will help us out on this, allowing items to be created in one big pile and extracted using indexing.

Conclusion: Good job, Sitecore – please bring more roadmaps in the future!

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New releases, Sitecore

Crestone Beta

If you didn’t know it, Crestone is the “codename” for the next version of Sitecore, and today I noticed you could sign up for the Crestone Beta Program. You can be a Crestone beta tester, that is!

Well I signed up and hope to be selected for the program. Exciting to see what the developers have come up with. Especially Im looking forward to have a look at the new security engine. Further it’s very nice that the next version of Sitecore has an actual beta fase. Hopefully this will ensure, that most bugs are handled before an actual release.

One thing though… You have to sign up via fax! What?!? Cutting edge technology CMS vendor Sitecore couldn’t make an online sign up form? Well it made me laugh. 🙂

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