March 25, 2017

Book Review – CMS Made Simple Development Cookbook by Samuel Goldstein

PACKT Publishing recently released the book, CMS Made Simple Development Cookbook by Samuel Goldstein. The author states that the book “gets you started building feature-rich sites quickly, regardless of your experience level.” I might add that as long as your experience level isn’t that of beginner and as long as you a good familiarity with PHP, SQL and HTML the book may prove to be helpful. Beginners will be frustrated and therefore I would not recommend this book to them. Likewise, if you are a designer as opposed to a developer, this book is not for you because it is dealing with coding, not design, per se.

“Cookbook” style books generally provide targeted examples of features or methods you can add to extend the capabilities of an existing “thing” in this case the CMS, CMS Made Simple. By using recipes (code snippets) provided by the author, you are presumably able to add tags, user-defined tags and extensions to your installation of CMS Made Simple to give you functionality not present in the default installation. In my opinion, a recipe should  be able to stand on it’s own with minimal customization to be truly valuable. If you cannot simply paste in the code of a recipe to achieve immediate additional functionality, then the value of that recipe and in fact the entire book, is diminished. Thankfully you are able to obtain the code examples from the website after you register your book.

The books’ 10 chapters takes a good look at the various ways that CMS Made Simple allows a user to add capabilities. In Chapter 1, the author describes the differences between tags, user-defined tags and modules and in what circumstances you would choose one over the other.

Chapter 2 introduces the reader to Smarty, the templating engine that powers CMS Made Simple and various recipes are introduced to show you how to use Smarty variables to alter colors, do math in your stylesheet to enable you to change the layout of your site while retaining proportions and more. For instance you are shown how to embed JavaScript in your template (something that is generally discouraged) in a way that prevents Smarty from generating errors.

Chapter 3 dives into Tags and User-Defined Tags. Some of the recipes here show you how to add the ability to display a User’s IP address for a user-defined tag, display a stock price from Yahoo, or how to add a Registered Trademark symbol to a name automatically.

Chapter 4 is where you will learn about Modules. The file structure of a module is discussed then tips on how to create a framework for a new module are presented.  There is also discussion about a tie-in with Smarty that enables you to make the output of your module as flexible as the rest of the CMS system.

When you create a module that is intended to manage data, you will need to make decisions about how best to handle that in the database. If a module is deleted, do you want the corresponding data and tables in the database to be deleted? These and other  Database API questions are looked at in Chapters 5, 6 and 7.

Chapter 8 deals with Admin Panels and provides recipes that enable you to create an admin panel for a module, deal with permissions for the module’s administration, and much more.

Chapter 9 looks at handling and using Events. For instance,  if a user is searching for keywords on your site, you might want to know not only what keywords they searched for, but  how many results they got. A recipe for attaching a User-Defined Tag to an event is shown to accomplish something like that.

Chapter 10 presents tricks to help with additional module-related features and touches on some tSearch Engine Optimization tricks.

This is not easy stuff if you are not a developer or programmer. But assuming you have the skill set needed, the chapters provide a consistent and  good flow in the way that the material is presented. Although the book is written in a direct, no-nonesense style some of the recipies are not going to be too helpful to many people. The demonstration of building the recipes and discussion of the concepts involved should give the competent programmer all that he or she would need to get pointed in the right direction and should prove to be valuable.

CMS Made Simple Development Cookbook can be purchased from Amazon as well as from Packt Publishing.

Book review coming… CMS Made Simple Development Cookbook by Samuel Goldstein. Packt Publishing.

I have just placed an order for the book CMS Made Simple Development Cookbook by Samuel Goldstein and published by Packt Publishing. I’ll be reviewing it here once I’ve had a chance to work through it. Check back to read the complete review. In the meantime the book can be purchased from Amazon as well as directly from Packt Publishing.

Review: WordPress 3 Site Blueprints by Heather R. Wallace. Packt Publishing

The recently published book, WordPress 3 Site Blueprints by Heather R. Wallace and published by Packt Publishing is an ambitious project that belies the slim volume that it is.

According to the author, the book is primarily geared to a “self-learner” or a “WordPress consultant” who is “interested in exploring all that this open source software has to offer…” The book’s premise is to provide a “blueprint” in the design of 9 different types of WordPress websites. Each blueprint or chapter walks you through the process of configuring a sspecific WordPress Theme. The types of sites  (blueprints) discussed are:

1.Migrating a Static site to WordPress
2.Building a Community Portal
3.Building an E-Commerce Website
4.Building a Local Classified Ads Website
5.Building a Consumer Reivew Website
6.Building a Job Board Website
7.Building a Micro blogging Website
8.Building a Local Business Directory
9.Building a Membership Website

In addition to the 9 blueprints, there is an appendix that presents several WordPress plugins that the author feels may be of value such as WP-DB-Backup, Akismet and several others. Another appendix provides a guide to installing WordPress Themes and plugins.

I found the first two chapters to be very helpful. Chapter 1 describes the process of migrating a static HTML site to a dynamic WordPress site. Although the author does not provide specific instruction as how to actually install WordPress, she does direct you to online resources to accomplish that task. A concise discussion gives you the information you need to add appropriate WordPress specific code to your HTML files to turn them into a working WordPress “theme.” Resources are also provided for free and premium ($) themes.

Chapter 2 shows you how to integrate bbPress, BuddyPress and WordPress to enable you to create a community portal site. bbPress provides a forum component, while BuddyPress enables users to interact in a facebook-like manner. The basics are covered but novices may require additional hand-holding to undertake such an ambitious project.

The other blueprints are covered in a similar concise fashion, providing the basic information you would need to get the specific type of site up and running. Each  blueprint presents a suggested way of configuring settings and adding specific plugins suited to the particular blueprint.
This slim volume covers a lot of ground. The author provides a lot of additional online resources which is helpful.

What I found most disappointing was that several of the blueprints require “premium” themes or plugins that cost real money. In some cases the plugins or themes are relatively pricey and this may diminish the ability for some people to carry-out the projects.

Overall, WordPress 3 Site Blueprints gives the reader a good idea of where WordPress can take you. It abolishes the notion that WordPress is only for blogging. In fact, WordPress is fast becoming a viable platform for just about any type of CMS site you can imagine. All it takes is the right combination of themes and plugins.

I do wonder whether the book is going to satisfy the inevitable quesitons that a novice will have while the more adept user may desire a deeper exploration of the mechanics of WordPress and plugins.

Review of CMS Made Simple 1.6 by Sofia Hauschildt

I’ve been absorbing the most excellent book on CMS Made Simple published by Packt Publishing. Written by Sofia Hauschildt, a tutor, consultant and programmer, CMS Made Simple 1.6 is a beginners guide to learning the basics and so much more of CMS Made Simple, an open-source, content management application.

I first started using CMS Made Simple to build web sites about 5 years ago. I have also used WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, RapidWeaver and hand-coding to build websites. But CMS Made Simple is one of my favorite tools to use because you can get started with it very easily and produce a great website without knowing much about what goes on behind the scenes. Documentation has always been hard to come by though. The wiki and user forums are the best places to visit to glean information and ask questions. But the developers have clearly stated that CMS Made Simple is geared to web developers and not so much to neophytes who need a lot of hand-holding and who need relatively basic questions answered.

CMS Made Simple 1.6 is the book that neophytes need. It takes a very measured and slowly paced approach in presenting small doses of information to enable almost anyone to get the CMS installed and operating in no time at all. This is done as a ‘case study” whereby you build a CMS Made Simple website with a capable tutor by your side… Sofia Haushildt.

The methodology used in this book is straightforward and effective. You are told what you will be doing, you are guided through the process of doing it, then you are told what you just did. It is this repetition of information that facilitates the learning process, especially for block-heads like me. I learn best when I am able to observe someone doing something then doing it myself. That is exactly what this book does… it teaches you by doing. There are ample screenshots at every step of the journey to further illuminate the tasks. Furthermore, there are quizzes that test your comprehension of the material covered. If you diligently follow through in a linear fashion, you will learn all the basics and so much more of how CMS Made Simple can be used to build a great web site.

I was particularly impressed with the aplomb in which Sofia approached Smarty. Smarty is the template engine used by CMS Made Simple. Without an understanding of what Smarty is and how it works in your templates and pages, you would be at a huge disadvantage when approaching a web design project. Her treatment of the subject leaves you with a very good understanding how Smarty functions and gives you many ideas of how you can use Smarty tags to simplify site design by harnessing the power of Smarty.

As you continue through the book you are gently guided into more advanced topics and taught how to incorporate various features into your website such as form pages, inserting YouTube videos onto pages, learning how menus and sub-menus work and are displayed and so much more.

There is an excellent discussion of how just about any web template can be converted to work with CMS Made Simple and it is surprisingly easy when you apply what you learned about Smarty tags to that task. You also learn how to build a template from scratch as well as how to import templates obtained from other sources.

Many code snippets are presented in the book. Unfortunately the book does not include a CD containing code snippets by chapter. But the publishers website has all the code available for download in a zip file so that is a big help since it obviates the need to tediously type error free code from the book.

If you want to learn CMS Made Simple, get this book. It’s as simple as that. What you learn in these pages will save you hours of frustration and question asking in forums. This is arguably the best introduction to CMS Made Simple that you will find. The book is not just for beginners either. People who have been developing web sites with CMS Made Simple already may likely find valuable tips and information that they did not previously know. This book is not a reference book on CMS Made Simple however, so if you are looking for a comprehensive reference book, this will not satisfy that need. In spite of that though it actually is quite comprehensive in that it does cover every important area of using CMS Made Simple in a really well written way. Sofia writes clearly and in a very straightforward, uncomplicated way. I have shelves of computer books and this is what I would consider a top-shelf book.

I’d like to give a plug to CMS Made Simple as well. I know that WordPress is all the rage. I build many sites using WordPress myself. But if you are not building a blog-centric site, WordPress is not always the best way to approach building a page-based website. CMS Made Simple is a worthy consideration. It is very easy to learn and use. It is under continual development and has an active user forum. I like it a lot and it is so much easier to get your head around than Joomla, Drupal and other CMS’s. Check it out and see for yourself.

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I need to try and persuade Sofia Hauschildt into writing a book about Magento

Preview of CMS Made Simple 1.6 – Beginners Guide

I’ve just received the book, CMS Made Simple 1.6 – Beginners Guide and will be doing a full review of it soon. In the meantime I just wanted to give a brief overview of the book, of which I have high expectations. I’ve been using CMS Made Simple to make web sites for over 4 years. It is very competent CMS but there has been a real lack of documentation. Even the CMS Made Simple website lacks complete documentation so I was very happy to hear that a beginner’s guide had recently been published.

The book takes a “case study” approach which is actually a very good way to present the information you would need to build a site using CMS Made Simple. I’ve only skimmed through the book but have already gained a fairly good appreciation for the approach the author takes.

Stay tuned for my complete review that will be forthcoming.

You may also visit the Packt Publishing website to see more of this book including a sample chapter.