This this part of the series comparing Sitefinity 3.x to 4 (Beta), we take a closer look at how Pages are managed in Sitefinity, and how things have been improved and enhanced.
The first thing you'll notice coming from Sitefinity 3.x is that when it comes to the Pages Administration, the SiteMap Tree is now front and center, with at-a-glance workflow status as well as an Actions menu with one-click access to administrative actions.
Just like before, you can easily re-order and nest pages using a simple drag-and-drop interface. However, now you're able to do this with multiple selected pages, instead of just one at a time. The larger sitemap also means its easier to drag items around, without missing the intended node as sometimes happened in 3.x. Performance is also improved immensely for a snappier experience.
Sorting and Filters
The Sitefinity Page Administration also features an enhanced sorting system over previous versions, allowing you to sort by name and date. In addition, you can also define a custom sort based on your own criteria for quick access even when dealing with a large number of pages.
Another new feature to Page management are the Filters, available on the sidebar of the page. These allow you to display only a subset of pages based on various status criteria for quick and easy access.
Besides using a sleeker, modal dialog, creating pages in Sitefinity is pretty much the same as in previous versions. You specify the name, type (page or group), title, description and keywords. However, a few notable changes are present.
First, you're now able to select a parent page on the fly, instead of having to pick it beforehand or cancelling and going back if you forgot. Also, when you enter the text for the page Name, the URL will auto-populate with a SEO-friendly name, replacing spaces and special characters with dashes. Of course, this can be set manually if you prefer a different naming format.
Another big change is the ability to select your template before you create the page. This is a welcome feature for users who need to create a lot of pages at once. Previously, you had to first create the page, then select the template in the Page Editor before you could save and create another.
Now, in addition to having the Template chooser available at the start, you also have a new "Create and return to Pages" button, allowing you to quickly save your changes and create additional pages as needed. Very handy!
Speaking of Templates, as I mentioned in my article on the new Sitefinity 4 Administration, they have been thoroughly upgraded and are now more powerful and flexible than ever! You still use standard ASP.NET Master Pages as a base, and as before can load the template in Sitefinity to add global content to the Template so they appear on all pages.
However, there is now a brand new Layout Editor, which allows you to take these templates to the next level. What does this mean? In short: You no longer have to use multiple copies of a master page just to support different layouts!
In the past, if you had a two-column layout, but then needed a three-column layout, you had to create a whole new master page, copy everything over, and add support for the third column. This was especially frustrating if the template was only going to serve ONE page. Equally frustrating was the need to support content boxes that floated. You either needed yet another template, or had to work with complex CSS or build your own custom Generic Content boxes that would float.
In Sitefinity 4, these problems are now eliminated with the new Layout Editor! You now have a menu of different layouts to chose from:
Simply drop a layout onto your page just like any other widget, and you'll instantly add a new layout of placeholders for your content. Best of all, these are all div-based, CSS layouts, so you can ensure clean, valid XHTML code on your pages.
In addition, these layouts can be further customized to your exact dimensions. A 25%-75% layout (sidebar and content) could easily be stretched to a 33%-67% for a wider sidebar, directly on the template editor!
Better still, these Layouts can be nested, allowing you to literally create unlimited combinations of layouts for your pages, all from a single Master Page file!
When you are done modifying your layout, you can save it for future use by other pages, so that the different layouts are available when you create new pages. Also, as you'll see below, you can add these layouts directly at the Page level, meaning even MORE layout options are available to you.
And as a final bonus, all of these options can be controlled and limited via Sitefinity 4's vastly overhauled Permissions manager (more to come on that in a future post). You can restrict access to specific layouts, as well as prevent users from modifying existing templates. When it comes to Templates, the Sitefinity team has really outdone itself with 4.0!
Once you've selected your template, you can proceed to edit the actual page content. As before this is laid out as a preview of the page with editable regions on which you can drop Widgets (Toolbox Controls).
As mentioned above, you can drop Layouts at the Page level as well, nesting them as needed to create complex layouts. You can then drop Widgets into these new placeholders for a neatly laid out page.
The Widget panel also sports a clean new look, with friendly icons and a speedier TreeView for a better user experience.
Another welcome change to the Page Editor is the Action menu and Properties editor, which allow you to modify Page properties (such as Title, publication status, permissions, even set as homepage) on the fly without having to save and go back to the SiteMap view.
Finally, there's one more feature that, as an avid user of 3.x, I've been dying to see: Multiple Workflow Save Options! Yes that means you now have the ability (depending on your permissions of course) to either save a draft or go directly to publish!. This will save a lot of the Save->Send->Approve->Publish clicks that were needed in 3.x because of the workflow.
Revision History (Now with notes!)
There's one more quick change that I just have to mention, because it's something I, personally have wanted to see for a long time: Revision History Notes! Yes, you are now able to document what changed between versions for logging and better maintenance of your page history!
The Sitefinity team has done a great job of keeping the Sitefinity Page Administration simple to use, especially for existing Sitefinity users. All the features you expect from previous versions are still there, most with welcome and powerful enhancements. In addition, the new features like Layout Editor and Revision History Notes show that Sitefinity is committed to evolving to meet the needs of its users.