Digitalus CMS 1.8

For boutique content management vendors like Digitalus CMS (news, site), flexibility comes comparatively easily. There are no multiple corporate hoops to jump though, and development cycles seem to be moving a bit faster (which can also turn into a double-edged sword).

Not long ago, we looked (in detail and with a fair portion of constructive criticism) at Digitalus 1.5. The vendor informs us that they've heard us and made templating changes in the newest version of the product -- Digitalus CMS 1.8.

It seems the chances of breaking the entire front end are now minimized.

Starting With a New Backend

You may not see it, but it is there. Digitalus has upgraded to the most recent version of the Zend Framework 1.8.2. Digitalus CMS tries to stay in line with Zend upgrades, so it would be fair to say we’re now actually talking about Digitalus CMS 1.8.2.

A good deal of the core code base has also been cleaned up and optimized. Some of the Zend’s application functionality (which as Digitalus’ Forrest Lyman says, can be a victim of its own flexibility) has been streamlined.

Templating in Digitalus CMS 1.8

As we mentioned before, the template structure and templating tasks weren’t the easiest in v1.5. It was clunky and, quite frankly, dangerous. Pretty much anyone working with Digitalus 1.5 templating could very easily break the entire front end of the site.

While the v1.5 approach could’ve been a good way to follow traditional/default structure of the Zend framework, it was a pain for designers having to work in multiple various directories in the CMS.

Digitalus says that the design section and content templates that were added in v1.5, did not make it into v 1.8 in an attempt to alleviate confusion. Will that work better for designers and editors? Will they feel like there's less freedom now?

This is what the template structure looks like now:

digitalus template structure.png

Digitalus CMS 1.8 Template Structure

Digitalus has removed all content templates (except for one default one), allowing designers and developers to add content controls directly to the layout itself.

Another major change is that now you no longer have to build a design in the CMS. Instead, create a page file (XML file) that points to the right layout and CSS to be loaded. Users can also import style sheets from another location that is outside their template folders.

Adding dynamic content to your templates can be accomplished using one of the following:

  • PHP
  • Zend View Helpers (and the Digitalus View Helpers)
  • Digitalus Tags

Digitalus CMS as a Hosted CMS

New templating approach is not the only piece of news from Digitalus. Very recently, Digitalus started offering its content management system as a hosted option on their own servers managed by HostGator. The offering is called Digitalus Platform, and sounds almost like a SaaS CMS product.

The difference is that in a traditional SaaS scenario, customers wouldn’t have much access to the core CMS code. Digitalus, on the other hand, aims to create a more extensible CMS for custom projects with more flexibility (and, potentially, more maintenance efforts).

Fiddling with the code is, thus, allowed. When the next version upgrade time comes, Digitalus says it will use Subversion for automated sync-up procedures and will merge customized code changes when possible.

But if there’s a conflict, um, well… That’s a separate discussion between you and Digitalus.

There are plans to eventually give Amazon cloud a try with this a-la SaaS offering, but not at this point.

Where is Digitalus CMS Going?

While Digitalus still stays in its niche of providing customized CMS implementations to its approximately 15 customers (mainly, SMBs, hi-eds and non-profits), there is a chance the vendor may grow beyond that.

Both the Micro CMS and the Web CMS markets are very competitive, especially in the PHP space, but the fact that Digitalus reports anywhere from 40, 000 to 50,000 (the numbers are conflicting in different pages of the Digitalus site) downloads to date, seems to be an optimistic indication.

In the meantime, Digitalus (with its approximately 8 contributors) continues to focus on customizations and Zend development tools, rather than investing in R&D for new CMS functionality development, which could be just the right path for an emerging CMS vendor.