Wednesday, August 6, 2008

First Look: NetCommunity v5.5

We upgraded our test environment to v5.5 the other day. It’s still early and I haven’t had a chance to jump into all the new features in any depth but I wanted to highlight some of the new features that I have had a chance to review. These aren’t in any particular order and I have left a few of the major features out, like Social Networking. I'm hoping to put out two more blog posts, one covering Social Networking specfically and another outlining the significant changes to the API.

One thing of note for those of you that have custom parts is that v5.5 uses a new version of the AJAXControlToolkit and BBNCExtensions in NetCommunity. Chances are that your existing custom parts probably use those DLLs so you’ll need to make sure you update your references, rebuild and redeploy your custom parts so they use the new DLLs when you upgrade.

So what will I touch on in this first look?
• Revamped administration pages

• Friendly URLS
• reCaptcha
• Site Tracking Code

Administration Pages

The revamp of the administration page includes a new cleaner look as well as some pretty nice flow changes. You can now edit the stylesheets for a page or template and easily apply those changes right to the page. In previous versions you need to actually save and close before refreshing to view the changes made. They also moved the custom tags to the top which is the most logical place for it I think. Another notable change is FireFox support for the admin pages. I’m an avid FireFox user and only switch over to IE when necessary so this is a nice change for me. Lastly, the “remember me” functionality seems to be working properly now. I logged in last night and choose “remember me” and this morning I was still logged in. That’s a nice feature for administrators that are using the system on a regular basis.

Friendly URLs
A friendly url is a web address that is simplified like that redirects to any other url specified. In v5.5 native support for friendly or vanity urls has been added. This is great news for us because we have a custom solution we used to accomplish this. It's always good when a custom part can be retired because it's supported in the core product. One less application I need to support.

For those that are unfamiliar with reCaptcha you can learn more here. A Captcha is a application that helps to ensure that individual filling out a form is in fact a real person and not a scripted bot. That is accomplished by forcing the user to decipher a series of characters and enter them into a text box before the form can be submitted. In v5.5 this feature is supported for most of the sensitive forms within NetCommunity. It can be turned off and on by each client so you aren't forced to enable it if you don't want to. If you choose to you'll need to setup an account and enter in two keys provided by reCaptcha into the NetCommunity admin.

Site Tracking Code
Since we started using NetCommunity we have used Google Analytics for stats tracking. This was typically accomplished by putting the tracking code some place on the layout pages your site used. This was a bit cumbersome if you had multiple layouts and if you created a new layout and forgot to add the code you were no longer getting accurate site traffic data. v5.5 adds native support for any site tracking code. In the admin you can simply enter in the code and it's automatically applied to all the pages on your site.

So that's it for this one. As I said before I'm hoping to put out another post shortly covering the Social Networking piece added in v5.5 followed by one covering the API changes.

As always if you have any questions please feel free to contact me on twitter


Peter Gulka said...

great synopsis. Really looking forward to a review and screens of the Wave platform.

Brent Maxwell said...

My organization LOVES NC 5.5. Most of our web development people use firefox, and we HATED the IE requirement for the old interface.

The one new feature that we REALLY wanted was friendly URLs. While it's nice to have it, one thing that hasn't been taken care of (or at least we haven't figured out how) is to use the friendly url's on links within the web site. For SEO, search indexing, and such, it's preferable to have links within the page utilize those friendly URLs. While we can manually change some links, those that are generated by parts can't always be changed.

Overall, I agree with your assesment of NC 5.5 While there are still some places for improvement, Blackbaud is definately on the right track, and we're looking forward to the next release!