Preface: this Concrete5 Version 5.7 Review is a WIP (work in progress) and I’m updating it as I continue to explore C5.7.
By my count there are currently 115 C5 addons in the Concrete5 addon marketplace for 5.7. The 5.7 marketplace for both addons and themes is entirely new. C5 is now basically 5.6 and below, and a completely new CMS system for 5.7 and above. None of the 5.6 C5 themes or addons are compatible with the 5.7+ version.
In comparison the addon marketplace for 5.6 has an estimated 930+ addons based on a reporting of that number from C5 founder Franz Maruna in June of 2014. This significant divide between addon availability is sure to mean that 5.6 is to remain the choice of developers for new C5 sites for quite some time to come. After all building a site today is often just as much or more about what you can integrate or add to the CMS foundation as it is about the CMS system itself. Without significant coverage of common requirements for a wide variety of sites, what happens is that nearly every candidate to use the system finds some form of blockage due to lack of addons. This is a problem that will never be found in WordPress.
As somebody whose view of the CMS world focuses mainly on WP, Drupal and C5 I see this unveiling of Concrete5 version 5.7 as being something more similar to Drupal’s approach than WordPress. Drupal is notorious for it’s policy of launching completely different and largely incompatible versions at every major release. Put D6 modules into a D7 site? Of course not. Use anything from Drupal 5 in Drupal 6, no way. The sheer cost of constant full upgrades involving lots of manual work and requiring countless development hours, is almost like a Drupal make-work project for the community of developers. All at a huge cost to Drupal site owners of course, who I have to say I now pity despite my years as a Drupal developer.
C5 has promised that this fully new version 5.7 is a one-time occurrence, or at least we will not see a repeat of this approach for a minimum of 6-years. That’s a reasonable amount of certainty I think for theme and addon developers to begin building for 5.7 safe in the knowledge their work will stand some of the test of time. After all getting a return on these investments does often take 2-years or more. Perhaps another reason we don’t see as much of a marketplace within Drupal (among other factors) for premium modules.
First notable difference is the cPanel QuickInstall that I have in my demo hosting account does not have the C5.7 version available. Hopefully that will change in the future. While for a real project with a full site build I would generally be in favor of a manual install, I do like having an automated install to use for demos or when testing an addon or theme. Whatever differences occur in the install are not important enough to me to warrant the time of setting up my database and especially uploading the files to the server. Speaking of which I should check if this version of C5 installs easily on local machines using WAMP, something I found C5.6 often had troubles with for various reasons.
The install process for 5.7 seemed to be the same as I remember it. After install I see a screen that shows the getting started with C5.7 video. Nice video, but I’ve already seen it thanks! I am automatically logged in with the user I added as the admin. So far so good, install worked and took only a couple of minutes most of which went into the file upload and database setup.
Concrete 5.7 Responsive Content Slider
The first thing I notice after install is that my site actually looks like a polished, working website with placeholder content but nonetheless it works. I like it. The responsive slider stands out. I test it’s responsiveness right away and find yes, it’s very responsive! And it’s not just a slider for images, it’s a true content slider evidenced by the content it has already loaded up in the dummy content.
I put the page in edit mode and go to edit the slider. What I find is the slides can be changed with a simple form that offers me an image selector, title, body and optional link. I would seem I must have an image so it’s still more an image slider than a content slider. Once concern I have is if your slider has 10 images, that’s 10 different forms listed in a big long column. It could get really annoying to scroll through to find the image you want to edit. I feel like with this type of content maybe a list of the images would be a better interface approach.
Like any C5 block this image slider can have custom templates, and that’s an exciting prospect given that customizing sliders in other CMS systems is often quite a pain. I can imagine here we can make a custom template, and between that and some CSS we could create nearly any slider layout or design that we wanted. Definitely loving the general concept of the C5.7 responsive image slider.
When I went to try to edit the sidebar I found the notice “This block is an alias of Page Defaults. Editing it here will “disconnect” it so changes to Page Defaults will no longer affect this block.”. I haven’t used C5 in awhile so I’m somewhat hazy on how Page Defaults work but generally I think this notice means it’s like a template area used throughout the site. If I change it on 1 page, that version is then no longer part of the template. Can you follow that logic? Hope so because this is the kind of issue that might still make C5 a challenge for the brand newbie. I could see people not understanding this, or making changes then being surprised by the results. As much as the “in-context editing” that Concrete5 CMS has is a key selling point, it can at times come with it’s own challenges and complexity. For managing sidebars for example, I’d still have to argue that relatively old-fashioned WordPress with it’s widgets system is faster and more intuitive. Not that it’s an apples to apples comparison because really the whole concept of site editing is so different.
Text Block Editing
Instead of the familiar popover Text Blocks can be edited inline. This is a really nice enhancement of the editing interface. Upon clicking edit block, the Redactor editor appears above the block of text. It hovers there and remains in view during scrolling. Works well even when editing long text blocks.
The Mystery of Adding New Blocks in C5.7
Well my first major hurdle in testing out C5.7 is adding new blocks. I click on the big plus symbol in the C5 edit menu, it turns into a throbbing blue dot. Looks good, but then when I anywhere on the page, I still see the menus applicable to editing. Click a block and I see the block editing options. Click a page region, I see customization options. I don’t see a way to put a block into the page and there is no instructions in sight. I suppose a trip to the C5.7 editors guide would solve this, but I’m more of the bash my desk with my fist until the answer appears type. Seriously though, how could something this simple be not totally obvious to me?
I eventually solved this by switching out of edit page mode, then click directly on the add button. At that point the block options appeared as a side menu which is what is supposed to happen. Not sure if I discovered a bug or oddity, but for some reason when I had been playing around in edit mode clicking add content did NOT open the block menu, which meant that there were no blocks to choose from.