Thursday, December 18, 2008

Showing Sitecore how to improve...

A while back, Alex De Groot invited to an open debate on areas where Sitecore could improve. This post is my response.

Readers of this blog will have noticed, I often take a somewhat critical stance to Sitecore. What may not be so obvious at a first glance however is, my beef is not so much with the product itself, but rather Sitecore as the company behind the product. The issues that come from working with the product ultimately comes down to the practices that are in place in the company that creates it. Sure, a particular bug might be annoying but it's just the smoke - not the fire itself.

So I won't be requesting features, in short. In fact, if anything, I will request "no new features" at all; but instead point out that good solid project management practices, quality assurance, usability studies and whatnot make up a very important (if not the most important) part of any ongoing software development endeveaour. Even if I couldn't spell that right... ;-) But then - it is also obviously very easy for me to just sit here and say "hey guys, manage your stuff - how hard can it be?!". I've been doing software development for many years now, and if anything I've come to realise that perfection is more a direction than a goal in itself.

I've seen improvements in the way Sitecore has been working, especially over the last year or so. Documentation for instance, has always been a weakness when working with Sitecore. So I was very pleased to find, that documentation is taking on a whole new level with The Sitecore 6 Documentation Package - while far from covering everything there is to say about working with Sitecore, it's certainly a step in the right direction. Through Sitecore Support I've had the priviledge of looking at some of the other documents still being drafted, and I'm glad to see that this new trend is taking on. Documentation would have been top of my list still, as the first thing to improve. It doesn't matter that you have a good product, if noone knows about it. With that said however, for crying out loud guys will you fix and consolidate your online information already? Per Bering from Codehouse pointed this out as well as a comment to Alex' post. Your site search is absolute bollox and there is not a single other thing to say about it :P "Did you mean.. xsl rendering xsls rendering xslext rendering exslt rendering xslt rederings xslt renderingid xslt renderingitem xslt renderendtag " ... :P

Right now, the only way I am staying "on top" (if that's what I am, I don't know) of current Sitecore technical information is, by subscribing to roughly 20 Sitecore related blogs, chatting with people who work for Sitecore, chatting with other consultants who work for Sitecore partners and then as the last resort - the ultimate Sitecore tool; Reflector. I've even seen Sitecore support personnel themselves point developers in the direction of Reflector as a source for information. And while it's a great tool, I can't really believe this is how it is meant to be. Notice btw, how I deliberately didn't include SDN5 as a common source of information for me. While I go there, it's very rare that I am able to successfully find what I'm looking for there - so the fallback option is Sitecore Support. Fortunately I find Sitecore Support very good, at least :-) Enough about documentation however.

The second thing I would ask for, is for Sitecore to start eating their own dogfood. If it's not good enough for you to run your own site on, it's certainly not good enough for the very large developer base out here who has very limited access to documentation on the product. Update notes and changelogs don't really tell a useful story as I think most who work with the product will know. I've never seen a changelog saying that the "admin" user no longer comes with Danish locale as default in a blank Sitecore 6 - and that this breaks the way some fields work in Sitecore - nor have I seen a note that it was fixed. It might exist somewhere; see "searching" above ;-) Or what about Page Editor acting up and throwing exceptions if you happen to run Sitecore in a non "en" language context? Or breaks if you don't set a layout for the Print device? I would much rather wait an additional 3 months for any Sitecore release, if it means it has been fully implemented throughout the Sitecore organisation before being released to the general public. This will not cover all usage scenarios of Sitecore as a product - but it WILL get rid of "all those little annoyances" that are so very hard to explain to our customers. "Why does my image links break, if I do it this way instead of that way?" and so on. Fortunately, level 1 support is behind me - but then.. should we accept these kinds of issues at all?

Finally, and just for good measure, I will throw in a product feature comment. The Page Editor. Brilliant, but hugely underestimated right now. Find a good way to solve the problems of configurable controls (a.la SharePoint WebParts) getting easily added to layouts - and come up with some form of layout or rendering inheritance as pointed out by another commentator. Not necessarily saying the suggested approach is the best one (although it very well might be), but it certainly is something that I would like to see addressed and solved. In summary:

  1. Document. Love your developer base, please ;-) Take a look at what the competition is doing, maybe expecting a new MSDN is asking too much after all ;-)
  2. Eat it yourselves. First.
  3. Keep evolving the Page Editor, which I honestly believe can be one of the absolute killer features and opens up a lot of opportunities for new development areas.

That's not asking for much is it? ;-) We were invited however.

1 comment:

Darren Guarnaccia said...

Thanks for the feedback Mark, and we know you comment and criticize because you care. You'll be happy to note, that we're actually in the process of loading the next release on Sitecore.net this week, and we are in fact eating the dogfood, or petting the horse, as the Dane's say. We've also done beta tests as you know, which helped Sitecore 6 be one of the most bugfree releases in Sitecore's history, though we know if software development there is no such thing as 100% bug free, yet we try.

We're contantly trying to be better, and our documentation is improving and evolving. We're highy committed to this, as we're constantly bringing on more staff to enable us to do more in this area.

Good suggestions on the page editor as well. We're going to be constantly improving it as well. Noone can afford to stand still in this marketplace, and Sitecore certainly isn't. We're bringing a whole host of improvements in our next release next year, but first things first, we're taking the time to make sure it's the right set of things, and for that, we've got a big ole bowl of dogfood in front of us!