Umbraco comes to Manchester: an evening with Niels Hartvig

The fact that 75 developers turned out on a windy Wednesday night for this event just proves the level of enthusiasm within the developer community for Umbraco (and its founder Niels Hartvig). There might not have been the 'live coding' type of meet up that some of us are more used to, but the inspiring talk saw Niels provide us with an in-depth insight into the heart and soul of Umbraco, the people that build it, and where they plan to take it next.

Umbraco has developed from a classic asp app built out of necessity to a CMS that supports over 185,000 sites and a community of over 70,000 developers. Niels gave us an overview of the history of the platform and defining decisions he's made along the way, from separating content and presentation with xslt and choosing dotnet, to the decision to go open source and start a community.

Niels is fully aware that some mistakes have been made along the way, but, by remembering their original values (and occasionally going off to get drunk in a castle), he and his team have built a platform like no other.

Defining Umbraco

Niels started by outlining a few of the things that make Umbraco what it is:

Simplicity -- making it as easy as possible for users

A good CMS needs to take account of how editors and developers will want to use the platform and look for opportunities to make it easier for them. Allowing users to file an issue, send an email, or put in a pull request enables those working on the core to constantly improve the experience.

Mobility -- always accessible

Niels realised early on how important it was for Umbraco to be entirely accessible through the web, and not rely on anything being installed. As our expectations of what we should be able to do on mobile and other devices grow, this is proving a wise move.

Transparency -- open by default

Often, companies and people start from a position of 'closed by default'; Umbraco instead starts from a position of 'open', allowing developers to lock it down only if they need to.

Platform -- a simple framework to build on

Providing a simple platform that encourages people to add or build their own features encourages innovation. Niels believes wholeheartedly that a solution created by a team of talented creatives and developers building on top of a simple framework themselves is far better than anything you could ever buy out of the box.

What next?

There's a lot of new stuff going on now that version 6 is out (and tipping over the 50,000 installs mark) -- here are a few highlights:

Umbraco Belle (V7) -- alpha release now available

A rewrite of the Umbraco back office system. There is lots of info on this on the Umbraco site; even better, you can download v7 and start playing right now.

Umbraco as a service -- coming soon makes it as simple as possible to get an Umbraco site up and running. Aimed at less technical users more familiar with, it will be possible to create a test site and deploy changes between environments in a click.

The mechanism for will be quite different, based on GIT and courier; for this reason, it won't be for everyone, but for a certain type of user and project it sounds genius.

There are a lot of other ideas proposed including simpler querying, a better package experience, starter kits and OSX support. Another interesting idea discussed was for a grid view control for Umbraco, using your existing CSS grid framework with data attributes. The beauty of Umbraco is that if there's something you particularly need as a developer, you can suggest a change to make it happen.

There doesn't seem a better way to finish that with Niels' own closing words... Be part of it. Share simplicity.

Thanks to Simon Antony for the pictures (find more on his Flickr page)

Mobile multi-tasking