I have just finished working on my first concrete5 project! For those of you who do not know, concrete5 is a fairly new Open Source CMS (Content Management System), like Joomla or Dupral. I decided to use concrete5 for my latest website design project after stumbling across some very promising reviews on the net. I used version 5.4.1 which was released on Oct 4th 2010.

What impressed me the most about concrete5 was it’s end user interface. It was so simple to use; user’s can login to the system and edit site content directly from the page rather than using an administrative interface. Editable blocks are highlighted within the page and once clicked on provide the user with options to add/edit/or delete content.¬† This method of updating web pages makes the CMS easy to use for most clients even with a minimum of technical skills. Another core feature of concrete5 is its integrated server caching system that stores frequently accessed data so it can be more quickly retrieved. You can also have full page caching which should lighten the load on the server and speed up the website in high traffic situations.

Concrete5 also has a variety of ‘addons’ available on the concrete5 market place – some free, and some require a small charge. However for the majority of projects, that don’t require e-commerce or bespoke features, I would imagine the free ‘addons’ would suffice. Free addons that I used or came across included integration with google maps (and most other Google related products!), a very nice sortable image gallery that used the Fancybox jQuery plugin, a FAQ system, and a Flickr gallery. There are loads of addons availble but those where the ones I looked at for this project.

Creating themes for concrete5 was fairly easy, and not very time consuming. Like Joomla, in concrete5 you can apply different themes for different pages and each theme can support different page types; a left sidebar, right sidebar, a default theme, a home theme and a ‘view’ theme. The view theme is used when you make your own bespoke pages, known as single pages in concrete5 (I’ll come back to this later). Concrete5 automatically calls the jQuery library, so you do not need to call it anywhere in your design.

The concrete5 code is based on Model-View-Controller architecture and object-oriented programming, which as a developer I found a little daunting and difficult to get my head round at first, and the tutorials and some of the documentation on the concrete5 website is not very helpful. I spent ages trying to access a file from the database using a function that didn’t work as expected in version 5.4.1! If your a developer you might want to checkout the concrete5 developer API and the ER Diagrams, as support on the forums currently isn’t strong as the Joomla or Dupral website design communities. If you plan on making your own bespoke pages or ‘single pages’, you are going to need to understand this architecture if you want to interact with the back end database running concrete5.

Remember, concrete5 is still fairly young, and developer support should improve as more website designers adopt the system. I will be looking to run this CMS purely for it’s fantastic end user experience alone!

If you are looking for a quality CMS and somewhere reliable to host, then 42WebDesign.co.uk are offering¬† concrete5 available as a ‘one click install ‘ with their Platinum, and Gold hosting packages.