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ExpressionEngine 2.1 CMS Review, Part 1

Perhaps the "2" stood for 2 years.

On July 12, EllisLab finally released EE2.1, the first non-beta version of ExpressionEngine 2, a massive change from the EE 1.x line that changes all the underlying code of the software itself, adds an impressive array of new features both large and small, and (EE developers hope) brings to an end a long plateau in the evolution of ExpressionEngine.

Back in February of 2008, EllisLab, the Oregon-based makers of ExpressionEngine, announced they would be showing off a demo of ExpressionEngine 2 at SXSW, and that it was scheduled to arrive in the summer of 2008. But that deadline passed — "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by," as Douglas Adams once said — and it wasn't until mid-2009 that anything more than "we're still working on it" was heard of the next-generation tool.

In December 2009, the company finally released a public beta called ExpressionEngine 2.0, which was, unlike some "beta"-labeled products these days, a true beta; change notes for versions between 2.0 and 2.1 use the phrase "fixed a bug" more than 500 times.

Now, with the full release of EE 2.1 in clients' hands, EllisLab hopes it has iterated a version of the product that will continue to please and support those who rely on ExpressionEngine, while offering a new technological base for (we can hope) more rapid growth of tools and development once adoption of EE 2 ramps up.

ee_21_installation.png

Here, then, is a look at the massive changes that EE 2 brings.

LOOK AND FEEL

We could start by talking about the code changes, but really, when you renovate your house, is it the paint or the pipes that people notice first?

The new control panel was designed by Dutch Belgian designer Veerle Pieters, and features a hot-pink accent color that, while a big change at first, helps to draw your eye to what's important. You'll like it, and you'll need to: there are no other themes by default (though there are two extra themes available from the downloads page: corporate and fruit).

Gone from the home page are the lists of most recent comments and entries; this may eliminate clutter but also removes a quick path to the most recent content you might want to work with; it's much less likely that someone will want to edit a template group regularly from the control panel home page, for example, than a recent entry.

ee_21_home_screen.png

The control panel seems to be ready for wider monitors, with a visible right-side sidebar. The sidebar that has a Flickr-photo-style editing system, where you simply click on the notepad text to switch to editing mode. Here you can leave notes to yourself that follow you around the control panel.

There are also a series of quicklinks here that seem to be, essentially, a poor man's bookmark menu. The search box searches EE's own functions and third-party add-ons to help you navigate the administrative interface. Perhaps third-party developers will add the abilityt to search your own content or the documentation.

NAVIGATION

The new top navigation is:
"Content, Design, Add-Ons, Members, Admin, Tools, Help"
instead of the old:
"Publish, Edit, Templates, Communicate, Modules, My Account, Admin"

This shorter list groups related concepts together much better. Finally, access to the various kinds of templates is all listed together — though the actual member templates, error templates, email templates, forum templates and wiki templates remain separate silos and don't draw on common elements. However, the member pages are now parsed through the main template parser, which gives you access to much greater functionality than EE 1.x offered.

An instantly useful feature is that the Help link is context sensitive. Clicking it will likely take you directly to the most relevant help page in EllisLab's well-loved documentation — though the link should open a new window but currently loads in place.

FILE UPLOADER

EllisLab is rightfully extremely proud of their File Manager. It's featured highly in promotional material, and it represents a great deal of new code in EE 2. In the new Content menu, it's given equal status with Publish and Edit.

 

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