Concrete5 as an Alternative to WordPress

Concrete5.orgI’ve been testing Concrete5, a content management system (CMS) being touted as an alternative to WordPress.  I’m more impressed that I thought I would be, especially with the front-end editing.

Installing Concrete5

Installation for testing was on my home WAMP server and was seamless.  All you really need to do is create a MySQL database, download the ZIP file from the Concrete5 website, unzip and upload the files onto your site.  Full documentation for installation is here. I didn’t experience any problems, though it was a little slow installing.  I strongly suggest you choose the installation with dummy content already in place.  You’ll just need to edit what is there to have a functioning site.

The Selling Feature: Editing Pages

There is no “back-end” to the site.  Once you log in you navigate you site as normal, but an editing header is added.  By clicking options on the header you can edit the page, edit your SEO information, add pages, and view your site structure.  All of this is done right on the page, so you can immediately see how your changes look.

Concrete5 Editing Header and an image block highlighted for editing.

Concrete5 Editing Header and an image block highlighted for editing.

Both text and image editing was smooth and very intuitive.  The learning curve is very low and it feels like I could sit a moderately computer savvy person down and they could edit a site with only a little training.

Editing a text block in Concrete5.  Notice the standard editing buttons.

Editing a text block in Concrete5. Notice the standard editing buttons.

All of the blocks, or areas on the page are draggable, so it is easy to move a text block to be half width, with an image block next to it, or set up columns of text.  Once done editing the page a save box automatically appears and you have the option of writing a short note about the changes you made.  Version control!  This means that you can find old versions and bring them back if you don’t like your changes!  Another use would be changing your page for a special occasion – say 4th of July.  After the 4th you could easily reinstate the old version of the page.

Themes, Plugins and Add-Ons

The Concrete5 community isn’t as big as WordPress and the plugins/add-ons are more limited, but there is an eCommerce solution, some form solutions (and a form solution is included in the base install), and some other features, though some of them are not free.  The themes are limited, but the instructions for creating a theme from an HTML design (or a WordPress template) are very clear.  If you’ve worked with a PHP MVC framework like Slim or Laravel it is going to feel familiar.

So, Better Than WordPress?

Not necessarily better.  It really depends upon the needs of the client.  For a straight-forward, text- and image-heavy site that the client wants to be able to manage themselves it might be somewhat easier to edit content.  The problem is, it may allow the client too much freedom and pages could end up in disarray if they move things around too much.

I also didn’t like the image management feature.  I wanted to be able to use a very large image, but only show part of it in a header, but there wasn’t a way to limit it that I could see.  In WordPress I’d do it using CSS, but the drag and drop features in Concrete5 made me thing I should be able to crop or at least choose what part of the image should show, on the fly.

Overall, I expected Concrete5 to be harder to get my mind around, being such a user of WordPress.  Instead it was easy and I found myself wishing for a front-end editing system for WordPress.  I may even suggest it for some of my clients.

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