Concrete5 Review

Content Management Systems (CMSs) strive to make maintaining a web site simple; they generally are focused on allowing one person or many people to effectively contribute and edit content, change the overall appearance (without needing to re-enter content), produce reports, etc.

Many CMSs have a fairly steep learning curve before a user can build and deploy or even manage a site.

Concrete5 is different.

Concrete5 makes the task of managing a small to medium size web site as easy as using a WYSIWYG editor.  I installed the software and had it running in less than ten minutes.  The administrative interface was straight forward enough that I really didn’t need to refer to any documentation at all to use the product to publish content, change content, and add pages.

Downloading themes required me to register for the Concrete5 Market Place (registration is free, and many of the downloads are free, but some of them are not).

Concrete5 core is open source, and free; some of the add-ons for Concrete5 are free, some are not.  Concrete5 actually started as a closed source, commercial CMS, which recently became an open source (and free) product.  Concrete5 software can be downloaded and installed on your web site / server, or you can run a hosted site on Concrete5.

Concrete5 includes a RSS/ATOM feed add-on (I actually wrote one that’s a great deal more flexible for use on my web site, but you get this for free with no work) which makes it easy to provide live content on your web site.  Additionally there are free Flash, Google Maps (you need a Google Maps API key to use it), YouTube, and several other free add-ons as well.

One great feature of Concrete5 is that it keeps page revisions, so it’s easy to roll back to a previous version of a page; or to just see what’s changed (I do this on web sites I author from scratch using a source control system — and many CMSs provide this ability, but not as cleanly and as simply as Concrete5).

Overall, Concrete5 is simple, and will likely handle the vast majority of user’s needs — though a two page boiler-plate web site will handle the vast majority of user’s needs, so that’s not a high mark.

Snippy remarks aside…

If you can use a WYSIWYG editor, and you understand simple drag-and-drop paradigms and you’re comfortable using a web application and moving through menus you can maintain a web site.  You might need help setting up the web site, and you likely will need help installing the software — but even those are straight forward and something you could learn in less time than it would take to do simple tasks in a more sophisticated CMS.

The short of it, Concrete5 has a very low learning curve (almost no learning curve indeed); and will allow most any user to build and maintain their own web site with [virtually] no training.

The number of add-ons available for Concrete5 is small; but it appears from reading the information on their site and several other reviews that the add-ons all work, and work together (which isn’t necessarily the case with other CMSs).  Though as I’ve already enumerated, many useful add-ons are available and free.

For users who understand CSS, HTML, PHP it’s very straight forward to build your own themes; and actually extending Concrete5 would not be a daunting task.

What I like about Concrete5…

It’s easy to install, easy to use, and provides most basic functionality that a CMS should provide — and the core is free.  It does not overly abstract core parts of a web site (no doubt that’s where it get’s it’s name).  Concrete5 has a lot of potential.

What I don’t like about Concrete5…

The web site goes out of it’s way to criticize other content management systems (and that to me is ridiculous; both Joomla and Drupal are capable of being used to build more sophisticated sites — but both of those are much harder to use to build a simple site); it doesn’t support tables prefixes (which means each instance of Concrete5 needs it’s own database, and it’s dangerous to try and share a database between Concrete5 and any other software (this is significant because some hosting plans greatly limit the number of databases you are allowed); it’s a relatively new “community” project, and thus does not have a large body of people working on it or eyes reviewing it (which means it’s more likely to have security issues than some of the more mature CMSs).

I’m neutral on the fact that parts of Concrete5 are offered free, and parts are offered at a (generally) modest price.  I agree that developers are entitled to make a living off their software, and as long as it doesn’t become a razor/razor-blade type model I’m fine with it; but success often breeds greed (like familiarity breeds contempt).

One thing to keep in mind:  always select the right tool for the job.

What Concrete5 does it does well; but decide what it is you want to do before you select the tool.

Originally posted 2010-04-03 02:00:42.