Monday, 13 June 2005

Grappling with Plone

After spending quite some time setting up the previous version of my web pages, I decided that it made more sense to use an off-the-shelf solution for my new version. This would allow me to save a lot of time, while also presumably achieving a more polished result.

The software I decided to try out is called Quills. It is a product designed for the Content Management System Plone. Plone, in turn, is built for the Web Application Server Zope.

This software includes some impressive features. Zope's mechanism of acquisition is quite powerful, allowing configuration to be made in an intuitive manner across as much or as little of the site as is appropriate. The out-of-the-box Plone setup is highly useful as is. All would have been wonderful if I had been happy with the set-up as it stood.

However, being one of the many unhappy perfectionists, I couldn't settle for that. I wanted the site to work the way I had imagined it. In particular, I wanted a more blog-like setup. Plone on its own makes it very easy to update content on the site, but I chose to use Quills anyway. This provides automatic archiving, commenting, trackback, syndication and other features. I had some difficulty with the last part: after a great deal of debugging I found out that for some reason the version of the python expat xml parser that this server had installed was taking a strict line on some of the xml namespaces that zope uses for page templates. I was forced to jimmy in a namespace declaration for i18n on the rss feed template. It seems to work now (fingers crossed).

This reflects the major issue I have with Zope et al. They are big and powerful, with active developer bases, which means that the code base is quite large and not exactly a walk in the park. Trying to fix a few issues I had was not easy. The code makes use of some of the more 'magic' features of Python, which is great, but needs to be documented in the code so saps like me can wade through it.

Never the less, it seems to have come up reasonably well. One other excellent feature of the setup, (which only benefits me, however), is Epoz. Epoz is a WYSIWIG editor for Plone content (I am using it to type this entry). It uses Javascript and a rich text control that is available on newer Gecko and IE based browsers (so pretty much everyone). It makes formatting text basically as easy as using Word.

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