1 Oct 2010 zanee   » (Journeyer)

Plone 3 Intranets Review

Plone 3 Intranets

Víctor Fernandez de Alba

When Packt asked me to review this book I have to honestly say that I wasn't looking forward to it. Plone as a product has a notorious track record for what I believe to be not the friendliest or most accessible documentation. Regardless of it's technical superiority and usability, it's a glaring deficiency. This is getting better with time but there is still a lot of work to do. Unfortunately my apprehension was filled with curiosity and I agreed to do so at one of the busiest times for me. That and the fact that instead of going on another tirade about documentation it would probably be useful to use my own guidelines in reviewing the book. <h2>Nutshell for the impatient.</h2>

For those of you that cannot wait, have ADD, or TLDR syndrome here's a short summary. Actually, this may come as a shock but I really enjoyed the book. My initial wanton and disregard was primarily for Chapter 8 but clearly it was simply due to context. Packt should really not use that as a sample chapter for this book, it's a complete turn off for several reasons. I will pass that gripe along. That said, there are some tidbits in this book that really make it a good reference manual and a keeper for at least a little while. In regard to technical documentation that means it's something you probably want on your shelf if you're doing anything with Plone and intranets in the forseeable future. Quite frankly the book should be updated in minor fashion with a subsequent release for Plone 4 as not much has changed and it will help to get the book in hands of more new administrators and users of Plone. With some very minor changes this book could be called Plone 4 Intranets. This issue was most likely do to time constraints as Plone 4 has only recently been released. The intended audience for this book is administrators or new users who tend to do their own administration and I think it's successful in reaching that audience. That said on a scale of 1 - 10 I give the book a strong 7. <h2>Chapter 1</h2>

The introduction gives a good general background to Plone and how it came into existence. Discussing the excellent security track record of the CMS and it's general history up until present. It then begins to segue into the more complicated but powerful features of Plone. Workflow, States and Transitions. This chapter also covers and introduces Python and ZODB (Zope Object Database) and why they are useful not only to Plone but to the entire content management space. It's short-and-sweet providing just enough information and background to make it useful to the reader.  There is also a nice overview of the Plone community which introduces the reader to the entire community with a great handshake and welcome that is actually quite refreshing. An introduction on the fine line between extranet and intranets and how the spaces merge in some use case is a great cap for this chapter. <h2>Chapter 2</h2>

Some introduction to the ZMI (Zope Management Interface) and a discussion of blob file types with no background was a bit too early I believe. The issue is that blob file types are native to Plone 4 and not Plone 3. It's again an issue of time constraint and it must of been difficult for Victor to find the right balance between the two versions but I just don't think the mention of the information was relevant here. Also even though ZMI is explained in detail it will be a little hard for non-technical users to fully grasp. The installation of Plone is shown with the Buildout system instead of the unified installer as a first option which I felt was a little hard to swallow as well. For non Plone users this will all seem foreign extremely early on in the book. However the book shines in guides for installing with the unified installer on the major operating systems environments. This really should have been outlined before the buildout instruction but even there the documentation is precise. The explanation of buildout and how it functions is really good and it takes you down into the specific sections for each buildout configuration which is quite handy. If you don't know how to install Plone or have been having trouble you can follow along step-by-step with these instruction.

All in all Chapter 2 feels a little abbreviated and some of the concepts I felt should have been introduced through a relevant example in using them. If you are well versed in Plone it may seem rote here but will make good printed reference material for buildout. Otherwise this chapter maybe slighty confusing to a completely new administrator of Plone. If as a new user you aren't readily thrown off by Buildout introduction you've survived one of the more difficult chapters. Also there is no dire need to use buildout. If you are confused then I recommend reading the sections for the unified installer specified for your operating system and it should help you along digesting some of the concepts. <h2>Chapter 3</h2>

The chapter starts off with creating a Plone site named "intranet". That one example would of been wholly useful as a step through from Chapter 2. That said this chapter gives a great overview of the breakdown of the default Plone theme installed with Plone 3. This has since been replaced in Plone 4 but that is pointed out in the chapter. We also get a well versed overview of the Plone user interface and how one can go about navigating it. As well as a few good examples on adding some of Plones default content types. This includes a walk-through and breakdown of the content structure and default hierarchy of a Plone site. The Dublin Core Metadata specification and good coverage of creating content in Plone is discussed. Including setting up content with some of the default content views. This chapter will certainly help the intended audience in navigation and use of Plone's interface and it succeeds in a comprehensive overview here. <h2>Chapter 4</h2>

In this chapter we deal with the configuration of Plone through it's configlets. They are identified, explained and then broken down into a detailed explanation of usage. Good coverage of ZODB (Zope Object Database) packing via the maintenance configlet and the issues and concerns wrapped around that. There is also a section specifically page 65 which discusses the fact that Plone 4 has its own UI for site creation that simply feels a little out of place. The mention of this should have been in Chapter 3. Otherwise this chapter gives a great overview of the power of the ZMI (Zope Management Interface) and how it can affect site health if administered incorrectly. A valid and perfect apt warning as we delve deeper into the ZMI. For anyone well versed in Plone this is simply a fantastic overview of the ZMI and all of the objects related to Plone. Adding new products is also discussed in the two- way fashion. Meaning the old style products and the new standard de facto recommended procedure of using buildout and eggs (like zip files). The example given for eggs is really a poor one I believe. TinyMCE is native to Plone 4 and even though this book is specifically for Plone 3 one has to suspect that some users will just grab the latest package of Plone which will cause problems. Other than that this is a great chapter that begins to show you the power of Plone and the ZMI. <h2>Chapter 5</h2>

This chapter begins one of the most important series of chapters in regards to Plone. Managing users and groups. The discussion on roles in Plone as well as the entire overview of the security system is excellent coverage of the topic that simply doesn't get much mention at all. Even experienced Plone administrators or developers get confused about the setup from time to time. So for instance, the fact that roles are isolated so an editor who may have the rights to edit content may not have rights to explicitly read that content. For that you'd need to be granted the reader role. This chapter also covers how to create and manage a new user or group. There is also more coverage of administration through the ZMI to create user and groups. The author even clears up some common misconceptions that a new administrator to Plone may have such as confusing Plone PAS with the Zope PAS module. This is a solid meat and potatoes chapter. <h2>Chapter 6</h2>

Next in this important series of chapters is Managing Workflows. This is probably one of the most critical and useful topics covered in this book. So far and up until this point there haven't been many visual diagrams and explanations for the most part. With the exception of stepping through commands we don't get much visual aid. This begins to change here as it begins to become necessary. There is great overview of workflows and what they are comprised of. Including coverage on out of the box workflows related with Plone. The difference between a state and a transition and what you can do with each specific action. There is also light discussion on tales/tal which exposes the lack of documentation on topics like ZPT (Zope Page Templates). The book does it's best to provide a link but no coverage is giving there. Quite frankly one should be able to pickup another manual on ZPT or the likes but a comprehensive manual doesn't really exist here.  We also talk about some third party add-on products for Plone primarily  collective.workflowed, collective.wtf and DcWorkflowGraph which simply is a requirement if you are going to be doing anything with workflows. I really wish one tool was chosen instead a discussion of the three. Having the three divergent paths even though useful in the context of choice may confuse a new user should one of those paths fail. Otherwise this was an excellent chapter and worth the read even if you are an experienced Plone user, administrator or developer. This chapter along with the previous one make this book worth keeping as a reference manual. <h2>Chapter 7</h2>

Security is important and this chapter covers securing the intranet. Concentrating primarily on permissions and workflows the chapter goes into great detail on converging what we have learned up until now in the previous chapters. The differences between Global and Local roles is great. I feel the discussion on Anonymous, Owner and Authenticated functional roles was a bit brief and needed much more detailed explanation. The coverage on actually creating and implementing a policy is pretty good. From outlining requirements, building an example intranet workflow, creating a private section for your intranet and even taking into account third party addon products security and settings you will be well versed towards this chapters end on security. This is also the chapter where we start to see a bit of python code that quite frankly is ok. There is a note, noting that basic product development will take place in Chapter 10. New users to Plone will most likely have to skip to this chapter to ramp up and immediately cover that background if they would like to continue following in earnest but it's not absolutely necessary. There is also a discussion on collective.sharingroles at the end which nicely caps the chapter. I'm not sure if it's absolutely required, but it's a decent addition to the overall chapter. <h2>Chapter 8</h2>

Using a content type effectively. This chapter in the context of reading the book is completely useful. Otherwise in the context of simply a sample chapter it's useless. Quite frankly, there is nothing in this chapter that isn't already on Plone.org in some fashion. This doesn't exactly entice one to buy the book, as I read this as a sample chapter I said to myself, I have already read this stuff many a time over. Sans this one gripe in this chapter you'll learn about creating collections and querying the ZODB (Zope Object Database). We also learn about the useful features of other out-of-the-box Plone content types. Other than that there is not much to say about this chapter. I wouldn't have necessarily called it useful outside of the context of the book and even in context it's more of a standard straight forward chapter. <h2>Chapter 9</h2>

This is a nice progression from the previous chapter as it discusses external content-types and products that can be used with Plone. Most of these products are primarily for intranet purposes obviously and a good over view is given of each product. You have calendar, events, blog, survey, poll, document management and form generation products. In specific the form generation product covered is PloneFormGen and I'm pleased that this was the only thing covered on the topic of form generation. There are actually other different ways to create a form but the author picks one and sticks with it. An experienced user or administrator of Plone would be able to branch off where necessary. Also the discussion on the document management products is really quite useful for intranet settings. This chapter is great in introducing these add-on products that most intranets will need to use and gives a good overview of each different type of product. <h2>Chapter 10</h2>

This chapters goal is to introduce the readers to the basics of Plone product development and I think it succeeds in that regard. It steps through the basics of creating and building a completely useful product it's not as comprehensive as my own documentation on the topic but it's very comprehensive and readable. GenericSetup the tool used to manage some of the major tool objects in Plone is broken down in detail and explained including a matrix of all the relevant xml and it's subsequent description. There is even an example of cloning a content type with GenericSetup through the ZMI (Zope Management Interface).  The only issue with this chapter is any mention of Dexterity. Dexterity is on track to be a replacement/sister for Archetypes. Unfortunately there are some sacrifices that will be made and  incompatibility with the previous Archetype system is unavoidable. Quite frankly Archetypes will be around for sometime to come and there is nothing useful to be had by even mentioning it in any context at this point in the book. <h2>Chapter 11</h2>

Content rules are triggered based on Zope event handlers and this coverage is pretty decent you'll learn how to create rules and have them triggered based on specific event. You'll also learn how to create syndicated feeds from folderish content type objects. However the most important piece in this chapter will have to go to versioning. Versioning is an absolute requirement for any content management system and Plone has a simple and straight-forward way it handles changes to content. This chapter will give a great overview of how to use the versioning system as well as managing version policy. The WebDAV and External Editor coverage is also useful. <h2>Chapter 12</h2>

Chapter 12 starts with the pronouncement "Theming -- what a huge subject in Plone!" This is quite right as Plone and theming opens all avenue of possibility I was surprised to see this chapter in this book. After reading it and with the prior knowledge that there are numerous other manuals, reference material and books on the topic of Plone theming this chapter is in my opinion superfluous. All that stated the chapter does give a decent overview of theming Plone. Changing logos, managing viewlets describing the page render process and useful tools like Gloworm it makes itself a chapter of bonus material. Viewed in that context this again makes the book a solid and useful reference manual. <h2>Chapter 13</h2>

This is simply a great chapter that discusses proper deployment of Plone for three different types of deployments. Victor goes into useful detail on site deployment describing it as a continuous process there are many different options and implementations but breaking the process down into 3 different deployment sizes is reachable. We have small 1-50, medium 50-100 and large 100+ every essential process for a working deployment is covered from backing up, restoring and packing the database to rotating log files, scheduling, virtual hosting, load balancing between ZEO clients for redundancy, caching and even externally authenticating against LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol). Each process has enough coverage to get any of your deployments off of the ground. The only thing that I think is missing from this chapter is a way to assess and manage performance which I would have easily given up chapter 12 for. All in all however the final chapter in this book is yet another solid and useful chapter in what has turned out to be a great and useful manual. <h2>Recommendation</h2>

All things considered this book in so far as a technical manual is great coverage of the topic of Plone and Intranets. The author does an excellent job in conveying the material and even if you aren't doing anything with intranets there are several solid chapters on Plone deployment, theming and others that make the book a solid purchase for anyone planning to use Plone for almost any application. I give the author my congrats and highly recommend it as a solid buy.

Syndicated 2010-10-01 02:18:36 from Christopher Warner » Advogato

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