High-end Content Management
By Anand Narayanaswamy
Content Management Systems can, to a large extent, simplify Web site development by providing intuitive navigation and user-friendly wizards. However, selecting a powerful system and the one that is right for you is one of the most crucial and challenging tasks for a Webmaster. This is because it is difficult to transfer data from one server to another at a later point in time. Hence, a wise decision must be made at the initial stage of site development. There are many applications available for different levels of customers. While some of them, such as mojoPortal and umbraco, are completely available as open source, other applications are available as free and commercial versions by hiding certain features in the free version.
Germany-based Axinom GmbH (http://en.axinom.com) has developed AxCMS.net, a powerful and open source multilingual application based on .NET Framework 2.0 that enables you to build AJAX-powered Web sites by utilizing a wide range of functionalities. AxCMS.net is available in a 100% open source version (http://www.axcms.net/en_axcms_registrierung.AxCMS) and a premium edition, which contains advanced modules.
AxCMS.net is shipped as a Visual Studio project separated in different folders with complete source code, which enables you to modify the application as you wish. The free edition contains a limited set of modules, but you can obtain other modules and templates in the premium edition.
Figure 1: The Administration home page.
Unfortunately, I must mention that the product was difficult to install; there were many steps to follow, including running an executable file for generating sample content. This step alone will prevent customers from using the application in a shared hosting environment. However, the vendor provides a four-week hosted trial of the product (http://en.axasp.net/en_axasp_hosting_demo.AxCMS?ActiveID=6324), which will help you gauge the rich set of features available. I think once you get experience using the product, you ll then feel comfortable enough to install it either on your local system or on a remote Web server.
The product enables you to create an unlimited number of users, editors, and administrators. While users can access content, editors and administrators can manage the system in the background. An interesting feature of the product is that you can separate layout, content, navigation, and sites. The product comes with built-in support for Microsoft SharePoint, Integrated Document Management with uploading functionality, and Active Directory. These features help you take advantage of versioning and single sign-on to access the different parts of the site.
All the pages created using the application are based on templates, which can be predefined after setting the desired dimensions and areas. I hope this will simplify the Web development task to a great extent. However, the look and feel of templates is solely dependent upon the imagination of the user. The vendor should provide news-based templates similar to that of the CNN Web site so users can simply plug in a template to change the look and feel of their site. It would be great if a Web 2.0 template is made available by the vendor. The product comes with integrated search functionality, but you have to enable Index Service on the server to use this feature.
Some of the other features of the product are role-based rights and user management, personalized working view, context-sensitive menu, WYSIWYG editor with CSS support, meta tag management, shared access control, integrated validity check for HTML tags, management of tag-attributes, creation of personalized newsletter, integrated forum, and RSS syndication. The product includes support for XML Web services and personalization, and is compatible with C#, Visual Basic, and J-Sharp. I noticed some of the instructions in the Administration page are provided in German, which may cause confusion among some users. I suggest the vendor build separate packs for each language so users can use the desired language according to their requirements.
A core feature of the product is that you can integrate Microsoft s MapPoint Framework to generate maps and routes. You can also create content for mobile devices, such as PDAs. I haven t seen any other content management application that contains these features.
Figure 2: Managing pages.
Axinom provides comprehensive online documentation about the product, targeting end users and developers (http://en.help.axinom.de). They also maintain an online forum to provide support for customers (http://en.axcms.net/Forum_AxCMS_EN.AxCMS). Moreover, a series of videos can be downloaded from the company Web site (http://www.axcms.net/en_axcms_video_overview.AxCMS?ActiveID=11460); these should help customers learn more about the product.
Axinom has given great importance to security by implementing a range of unique features, such as Check In/Out. With the help of this feature, a document or page is blocked while it is being edited by an editor or administrator. Moreover, the product has been developed by inheriting all the security features of Microsoft s .NET Framework. While the free edition ships with Site Search, Sitemap Generator, List Generator, Flexible Table, and Breadcrumbs modules, the premium edition includes modules such as Upload, Survey Generator, Newsletter, Language Switch, Image Rotation, E-Cards, Banner Campaign, Links, and others. The product includes a centralized meta tag management system, which will help you produce pages optimized for search engines. A comprehensive list of all the included features is available at http://www.axcms.net/en_axcms_products_features.AxCMS?ActiveID=5791, along with relevant screen captures.
I would like to see Axinom simplify the installation process by implementing a system similar to that of other content management systems (such as DotNetNuke), so users can install the product easily with minimum effort. I also would like to see the implementation of tags and search-engine-friendly URLs in the next edition.
Figure 3: Managing links.
I don t recommend AxCMS.net for beginners because of the complexity involved in the installation phase. Moreover, it is not feasible to use some of the features such as SharePoint, Index Services in a shared hosting environment, as many hosting providers don t provide support for them. Users will also need to run an .EXE file on the remote server in order for some features to work properly, and, hence, they either need to contact their host or purchase their own Virtual Private Server (VPS) or a dedicated server (which likely will be beyond the budget for independent developers). If the vendor provides an automated Web-based installation module, beginners will be able to create Web sites by making use of some of the basic features.
From my point of view, only companies will be able to invest in the premium edition, as it may be prohibitively expensive for individuals. I suggest customers try the free edition so they can determine if the product meets their needs and expectations. Advanced developers and companies should be able to use the product to build cutting-edge AJAX-powered Web sites by taking advantage of all the features included with AxCMS.net.
Anand Narayanaswamy, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), works as an independent consultant and runs NetAns Technologies (http://www.netans.com), which provides Web hosting services based in Trivandrum, India. Anand also works as a technical editor lead for http://ASPAlliance.com. He runs http://www.Learnxpress.com, http://Dotnetalbum.com, and http://Csharpfaq.com. Anand is the author of Community Server Quickly (Packt Publishing). You can explore more information about the book at http://www.communityserverbook.com. Find out more about him at http://www.visualanand.net or e-mail him at mailto:[email protected]m.
Web Site: http://www.axcms.net
Price: Standard Edition, free; Premium Edition, US$1,295