Wild Apricot Software News - May 2011

Dmitriy Buterin 31 May 2011 4 comments

Version 4.2 is out!

Version 4.2 was published on May 19th as announced earlier. This upgrade went smoothly, though we did hit a last minute snag as we had to install the latest service patch for Microsoft SQL Server and the system did not properly restart after that - delaying the upgrade by about 90 minutes. 

As always, we have published an updated version of online help, including a summary of key changes in version 4.2 - see release history.

It has not been that long since we published the new version so we are still dealing with some small bugs (do contact support@wildapricot.com if you notice anything out of order with your account after the upgrade. We are maintaining full backups of all data pre-upgrade and should be able to track down any inconsistencies quickly).

New architecture of Wild Apricot website CMS

First of all, many thanks to all designers who participated in our new CMS architecture technical preview and provided their comments - much appreciated! 

I have already mentioned the changes we have made in Wild Apricot CMS - but this has far-reaching consequences - so I decided to expand a bit more on this.

Let me run through the basics quickly (and if you are a techie, please don't laugh at me :-) ).

Wild Apricot software contains a number of modules, one of them is website CMS (Content Management System). You can think of a CMS as having three key aspects:

  1. For starters, there are various templates and settings which define consistent look and feel for each website.
  2. Then there is a database of your content - text, pictures, formatting. CMS provides you with so-called WYIWYG interface, aka web page editor, which even non-technical people can use to update web pages without having to mess around with geeky HTMLcode. 
  3. Finally, there part of the CMS usually called Template Engine (TE) which takes the content you have entered, merges it with the overall site templates and settings - and generates web pages on the fly, which are served to your website visitors.

Here's a crude diagram I have created to illustrate this:

Conceptual model of Content Management System (CMS)

So what we did in version 4.2 was to rewrite from scratch the heart of Wild Apricot CMS - Template Engine.

Here's why:

In prior versions, the HTML template for every single website running on Wild Apricot was the same. Taking the analogy with houses, it meant that under all the fancy paneling and painting, the foundation and overall structure of each house was the same.

Mind you, each website could still be customized to have a pretty unique look and feel - and we have plenty of clients who have done exactly that. This was achieved through CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) technology - but it was not easy at all. To ensure the customization flexibility, standard HTML template of Wild Apricot websites had to be really really complex.( For techies: 9 nested layers of DIVs!)

Many web designers used to being able to edit HTML code of web pages directly were having hard time understanding and mastering the pretty complex methodology for customizing Wild Apricot websites.

Our new Template Engine (more than 6 months in the making) works differently - it makes it possible for web designers to directly access and edit the underlying templates of their Wild Apricot website!  See our help page on Theme Overrides for more information.

Stretching the analogy with houses, it means that instead of just giving you a fixed structure and limiting it to your choice of paint and embellishments (Point and Click Customization and CSS Customization), we now give web designers the freedom to change the underlying structure around - build a three story house, a bungalow or a modernist monstrosity :-)

(And we are already seeing people experimenting with this new technology and building very cool-looking sites)

What does it mean for our existing and prospective clients and partners?

  1. For web designers working with Wild Apricot: Do take a look at our new customization capabilities (See Theme Overrides)
  2. For anyone considering Wild Apricot as the full integrated system, including hosting your website: You can now be confident that pretty much any adventurous design envisioned for your website can be implemented in Wild Apricot.
  3. For existing clients: We will be updating our online help and discussion forums - a number of common customizations which required some quirky CSS/Javascript coding (or were outright impossible) can now be done in much cleaner and simpler way.

What's on the horizon?

We are starting the work on next version 4.3 - just completed our review and planning sessions.

Now that we have said "A", we must say "B" - meaning that now that we have this new CMS TE in place, we have to design the user interface of our CMS and our web editor to take full advantage of the capabilities, create new design themes etc. Our original plan was to wrap this up in version 4.3 and release sometime in early fall 2011. The bad news is that when we completed our analysis and design of all the changes we have to make, there was no way to fit all of them into this schedule - and we could not find a sensible way to break this into two phases. Here's what we had to do:

  • We have designated a team of people who will be focused on CMS redesign. They will start working now and will complete and release this in version 4.4, sometime in early 2012
  • The remainder of the team will now focus on version 4.3 - scheduled for fall 2011. The bulk of this update will be dedicated to new self-service functionality related to financial management. In a nutshell, every contact in your database (not just members) will be able to log in and view full history of their invoices and payments, as well as pay online for one or more outstanding invoices. A number of other enhancements will be included as well - these are being finalized, stay tuned. Once they complete version 4.3, they will join up with the CMS team and work on other enhancements considered for version 4.4 (e.g Sales Taxes and Online Store - but this is a bit too far away so can still change).

Wishing you all great spring weather (something we did not have in Toronto this year!) and great start of the summer!

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Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Posted by Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 11:32 AM

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Comments

  • David Elfstrom said:

    Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 7:53 AM

    The opening up of the template engine to designers is a welcome change!

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 8:30 AM

    Thanks David! We are extending and refining the online help for it on the fly, keep an eye on https://help.wildapricot.com/display/DOC/Template+Engine+Reference+Guide

    And do feel free to share any findings/questions on our customization forum:

    http://community.wildapricot.com/30/ShowForum.aspx

  • Chris said:

    Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 9:43 AM

    Will enhancements be made in the next release to allow user logins via SSL?

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 9:46 AM

    Chris, not in the 4.3, sorry.

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