Monday, January 23, 2012

Reaping a rapid return on investment with Adobe CQ5

For the last few months I have been working with a spectacularly easy to use tool called Adobe CQ5, formerly Day CQ5. The beauty of CQ5 is how simple it is for a developer to create components that are easily used and reused by content editors, business analysts or other semi-technical staff members to create rich, consistent and professional looking web pages and even web applications. My clients were spending 12-16 weeks to build out custom Spring based portals. We built their first portal in less than 12 weeks and depending on the level of customization from one portal to the next, replication time ranges from less than a week to perhaps three weeks, thanks to CQ5’s built in functionality to replicate sites. A new site with different colors and images takes just a couple of days to replicate, QA and deliver to production.

Starting with static HTML, CSS and JavaScript created by a front end designer the developer can build components that are easily and edited and placed on pages by decomposing the UI code into CQ5 components that can be edited and placed on pages in a site. Even building a site with CQ5 is simple and straight forward exercise that does not require a degree in computer science. Simply log into the CQ5 administrative console, select the option to create a site and then within the new site, create a page hierarchy that makes sense for your organization or company. All you will need is for your developer to have created one or more CQ5 page templates based on the page layout provided by your front end designer. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the skill of your developers and front end designers.

With the front end code in one hand your web site layout in the other, your developer can begin creating components which are as simple or complex as your needs and front end code require. Nearly every aspect of your site’s look and feel can be edited from the CQ5 authoring interface which can be accessed from any browser of your choice. Colors, images, text size, font, textual content and a host of other content pieces of your site can be built out by the developer so they are editable by you or your content editors.

Since CQ5 is a web content manager (WCM) each instance of a component in your site, regardless of how often you use and reuse it, is a separate node in the content management system (CMS). This feature of a WCM allows endless reuse with very little effort on the part of the developer. An experienced Java/JSP developer should be able to build out even the most complex components in 4-8 hours and that number will decrease as the developer begins reusing functionality like in line text editors or drop zones for dragging in images or other files. Even without these extra features, the built in functionality for editing component content is really simple and intuitive.

Building a basic component editing interface is extremely easy because CQ5 makes use of a really slick JavaScript library called extJS. By selecting the xtype of a component property you can enter text, rich text, text lists, etc. There are 45 xtypes in extJS and most of them are input types that can be used in to enhance the authoring experience.

Because of CQ5’s JSP based components, it is very easy to take advantage of the entire Java technology stack. If you want a more application like site, as opposed to static content presentation, it can be achieved without too much difficulty given the capabilities of Java and CQ5. CQ5 hosts its own OSGi container to host bundles of Java classes so it is fairly easy to build web services into your web application. For developers, because everything within CQ5 is content, rather than actual files, CQ5 has its own SVN integration and it is also possible to use Maven to manage builds and code check in. CQ5 comes bundled with the popular Eclipse IDE which they have rebranded as CRXDE. CRXDE performs fairly well, but there are some hitches, because of the nature of how content is stored on the developers’ instance of CQ5, but the hang ups are not prohibitive in any way.

Setting up an instance of CQ5 is as simple as unzipping it and running the executable JAR file. The first startup of CQ5 takes a while, perhaps 15 minutes as it sets itself up, but after that it should start in just a couple of minutes. Most of CQ5’s configuration is handled through a couple of text or xml files that are easily managed by your local network administrator without too many headaches. The admins I have been working with all went through the Adobe CQ5 Administrators training class and have had a comfortable learning curve.

A couple of experienced developers and administrators combined with minimal training and the CQ5 WCM will allow your organization to rapidly develop an easy to maintain site that can be as sharp looking as any site on the net.

If you have any specific questions about CQ5 development and integration, please feel free to contact me through the comments section of this blog post.

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