Umbraco 8 was launched in February this year and provides a significant set of updates both from a technical perspective as well as for editors.

Features

Backend layout

The first thing you will notice is the streamlined backend layout, the main menu (sections) have moved to the top of page and content is no longer divided into tabs, but shown in a continuous, scrollable page.

There has been much protest at the removal of the tabs in the Umbraco community. After all, this is how content has always been done with Umbraco from the very beginning (or as far as I can remember back to version 4) and tabs are seen as the fundamental building blocks of page content. Normal web usability guides would tell you that tabs are better to get at content quickly than scrolling long pages. However, to get around this, Umbraco has a neat drop-down menu that lets you quickly jump to each section in the page.

My first impressions were that this was a step backwards. On the other hand, Alex preferred it immediately and I must admit that I’ve now warmed to it and actually prefer working in the Umbraco 8 backend.

Infinite Editing

The idea here is to make editing frictionless for the content editor, so they have to think less about the user interface and more on creating their content. For example, when adding a news article, you will write the article text, upload a photo, preview the page, tweak the content, switch between the Content and Media sections to edit the text and the image crop. With Infinite Editing, you stay focussed on the news page and can edit the photo crop without having to navigate away to the Media section. This saves a huge amount of time and makes content creation and editing much more pleasurable.

Content Apps

Not a great name, and perhaps a little misleading. Content Apps are basically non-editable additions to the backend that give editors information to support them. Examples would include:

  • Analytics data from Google or your Ecommerce site.
  • Analysis of content – say you had to write 4 news articles a month, it could alert you.
  • Contextual help topics.
  • Work flow support tools.

We are free to build whatever we can imagine here so it’s going to be very interesting to see how we use this as part of the process of solving business problems.

Language variants

This is a huge improvement in managing multilingual websites. Setting up different language sites is very easy and managing the different versions of the content is all done in one place, the content tree.

  • Side-by-side editing lets you edit 2 different languages at the same time. Imagine having to translate an English page into Swedish – side-by-side editing is convenient and very quick.
  • You can easily switch between languages in preview mode
  • Mandatory languages let you define which languages must be place before you can publish. This ensures important content is always up to date in all languages.
  • Control over each language variant means you can choose to publish one, some or all of your websites at different times.

Main benefits

Leaner codebase

Umbraco 8 says goodbye to a ton of legacy code which has enabled them to simplify the codebase, making it easier (and more logical) to work with the backend and programming the APIs.

Speed

The result of the leaner codebase also shows in the performance with pages being quicker to load.

Challenges

Upgrade

Upgrading any version of Umbraco is always a challenge. It’s not just a case of pushing a button and watch the magic happen. You need to make a backup of all your code, copy configuration files, run the upgrade, analyse and merge configuration files and then test thoroughly. With Umbraco 8 however, there is no upgrade path. This is because there are major changes to the features and the removal of lots of legacy code that was just there to handle backward compatibility with older packages implementations.

So, what can we do? The answer is to migrate. This basically involves creating a new Umbraco 8 website from scratch, recreating your content structure, gradually bringing in your custom code and updating it where required and finally importing your existing content and media. These last 2 steps can be very time consuming depending on the size and complexity of your Umbraco website.

Documentation

Umbraco are getting much better at developer documentation, thanks to the community who have been charged with the task. However, much is missing at the time of writing but, with a thriving Umbraco community, it won't be long before this is all in place.

Conclusion

Is Umbraco 8 ready?

Yes, for simple sites that don’t require too much backend customisation. We’ve used it on a few new projects now and it has been a joy to work with and it is definitely faster. We are treading carefully though and take a considered view when deciding whether a new site is suitable for Umbraco 8, but I would say most of them are.

The biggest challenges are for the developers. For the content editors, the experience is improved, intuitive and a giant leap forward (as we’re celebrating the moon landing this month).

What about Umbraco 7?

Umbraco 7 is still relevant and recommended for more complex websites. Umbraco have committed to maintaining and improving version 7 so we are still using it, after all it’s an extremely robust and well proven product. Any version will eventually come to its natural end of life, but that’s a long way off for Umbraco 7 and when it does come, the migration paths will be better understood and easier to perform.

If you would like to find out more, or schedule a demo of Umbraco 8, just get in touch with us using the email us button below.