A developer's take on Sitecore and Sitefinity

29 Oct 2014 - OB Insights

The development team have been getting their hands dirty.

We’ve been discovering just how easy (or difficult) it is to implement a full website from scratch using two powerful, enterprise level content management systems (CMS) based on the .NET framework - Sitefinity by Telerik and Sitecore.

We used Sitecore to develop this website immediately after becoming fully certified Sitecore developers, and we’ve recently spent a great deal of time learning and using Sitefinity to build a new website for a client.

Here’s our take on both …

Content management

We’ll look at things from an end-user perspective.

The admin areas of both systems provide a multitude of ways to create or find your content. While the Sitefinity interface seems simplistic, it actually splits your data into separate sections depending on its type - Pages in one section (that define the hierarchy of your website) and dynamic Content Items in another (such as your News Items, Blog Posts etc).

Sitecore provides no such distinction, keeping everything together in one giant tree view. However, where your data is stored in the back-end could be a moot point, as both systems provide front end, in-line editing of content, giving you an instant preview of how your page will look while you’re making changes.

In terms of managing media content, both systems provide you with basic media tools, including image and document storage. Sitefinity generously provides dedicated libraries for each form of media and automatically generates size variations of the original uploaded image so you can optimise your content and use the “thumbnail” variation on one page and the “full size” variation on another. With Sitecore you can define your media library structure yourself and because Sitecore stores all dependencies between content using globally unique identifiers (GUID), you can safely revise the hierarchy of your site and add and remove “folders” of content without fear of creating dead-links on the front end.

It’s true to say Sitefinity has aimed for the clean, minimalistic interface, whereas Sitecore has adopted the more Microsoft Windows-style look-and-feel. It’s desktop interface mimics the classic “Start Menu” and “Ribbon” controls that Microsoft users will be familiar with. If you’re an avid Windows user, you’ll feel right at home with Sitecore. Sitefinity relies more on dynamic browser effects in order to keep interfaces as clutter-free as possible. One feature is the ability to drag-and-drop components onto pages as part of their page and template builder. If you’d like to use a particular widget on a specific page, just find it in the persistent right-hand list, drag it onto any placeholder region on your page, configure it (if necessary) and save. Job done.

When it’s time for your changes to be pushed live, both systems have a concept of publishing. Again, Sitefinity opts for the simplistic, large “Publish” button on all editing interfaces. Sitecore allows you to stack up your modifications before doing one full “Smart Publish” that will push all of your changes to the live state. If your live site lives on an entirely different installation of the software, both systems provide a way to sync your changes to these remote copies with minimal fuss.

Under the hood

We needed to create many different components from scratch in order to achieve the desired functionality on the front end website. Sitefinity comes pre-bundled with a multitude of common components, from navigation controls such as menus and breadcrumb trails, to specific content applications such as News Items, Blog Posts and Calendar Events. Whilst this may allow you to get a website up and running very quickly, if you desire functionality that goes beyond the built-in features you will need to delve into code.

Both CMSs have API libraries that allow you to create .NET code on the file system using Visual Studio and bind them into the CMS, allowing the new functionality to get incorporated onto the website. This is very much Sitecore’s strength, where the API offers everything you need to programmatically interact with the core of the CMS. Internationalisation and personalisation

If you have a global audience, both Sitefinity and Sitecore provide out-the-box full multilingual support for your content. They also have the ability to personalise so you can target certain visitors with specific content. Whilst Sitefinity supports this to a certain extent, you can upgrade Sitecore with a whole suite of marketing tools, which allows you to not only target specific users, but identify visitors based on their behaviour, their location, etc and build a complete persona from their data to use in whichever way you wish.

With traffic from mobile and tablet devices increasing every day, accessibility is essential on all devices. Sitefinity opts for the responsive approach by default, providing both developers and content managers with a full framework of responsive layouts to design pages to be device-friendly automatically. Sitecore has an adaptive approach, allowing you to specifically choose the exact layout received on a number of specific devices (mobile, tablet etc), which can be beneficial if you are willing to spend the extra time catering for your device-specific audience.

In conclusion …

There’s very little to separate Sitecore and Sitefinity. Both are immensely powerful content management systems, able to deliver vast amounts of information as part of a logical information architecture. Insofar as is possible with software, they’re future proofed by being compatible on multiple devices, albeit using slightly different mechanisms, and customisable for the needs of differing countries.

Essentially what separates them is the backend user interface, which is very much a subjective choice. Neither can be described as plug-and-play, as is typical of any enterprise CMS. However, Sitefinity’s drag-and-drop capabilities will appeal to those wanting to get going as quickly as possibly. Conversely, Sitecore’s rich feature set may take a little more time to master, but provides incredibly clever targeting capabilities once you do so.

Both have excellent websites that enable you to dig deeper - request a Sitefinity demo here and Sitecore demo here. Give them a try, and let us know what you think.

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