June 1, 2005

Plone CMS for enterprise intranet applications

Author: Donna M. Snow

The open source Plone content management system is one of the best collaborative tools for enterprise intranets. Plone's core features include an enterprise-level content management system, a solid workflow engine, a wiki, role-based membership, and a search engine. It bring the benefits of sharing information to your enterprise intranet.

Plone can handle basic CMS functions, but if that's all you want it for, there are smaller, lighter options such as Drupal and Mambo. Plone is better suited for larger enterprise implementations where there is a large user base and a need for customized application development within the organization.

Plone's workflow engine allows users to move vital documents through appropriate channels without the nightmare of passing documents through email. Plone users have the ability to work together on various types of content within the Plone interface.

Plone is easy to use and can handle many users. Non-technical employees will find the Plone interface easy to use for keeping content updated without having to learn HTML. You can add content types (such as events, news, links, documents, files, or photos) easily through a browser-based interface. An administrator can add a multitude of content types to the interface through the 200+ products available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/collective/. Plone also utilizes kupu, a visual editor that resembles a mini-version of Microsoft Word. Plone's advanced publishing feature allows users to prepare material ahead of time and schedule publication for a later date. You can also specify a date on which material is to expire, at which time it will no longer be visible to Web site visitors.

Plone's creators, notably Alan Runyan and Alexander Limi, based their project on Zope, a Python-based application server, and CMF, a powerful platform for building content management applications. Plone sits on top of Zope and offers a user-friendly front end. An administrator can tweak and manipulate Plone configuration through the Zope Management Interface (ZMI). Users can exchange files through the ZMI, WebDAV, or FTP.


Zope, CMF, and Plone are simple and straightforward to install and configure. The Archetypes framework makes it much easier to create custom content types with a minimum of knowledge of the internals of the platform. Using the ArchGenXML tool, developers can even create new content types from simple UML diagrams, making it possible to create new content types with little or almost no programming.

Zope and Plone require a powerful server, as the software is designed for a scalable implementation. A 1GHz CPU and 512MB RAM are the recommended minimums. In practice, you can run Zope and Plone on a smaller server, but for an enterprise you need a hearty server. Plone runs on any operating system that supports Python.

Plone uses Zope Object Database (ZODB), a built-in transactional object database, to store its contents. The ZODB is easy to integrate with other relational databases. You can use Zope with or without an external database.

Plone's look and feel is based on Cascading Style Sheets. An administrator who knows CSS can redesign the application's appearance without touching the core templates. Even if you don't know CSS there are products that allow administrators to customize color and some font specifications through a simple form-based interface.

One of Plone's strengths is its community of hard-core followers, which is happy to help new users via the #plone IRC channel on the Freenode IRC Network. In the last 12 months, three Plone books have been published, highlighting the fact that there is a growing demand for high-level documentation on Plone implementation.

With Plone's modular design, you can use as little as you want or as much as you need. Plone offers enterprises a streamlined approach to critical business processes. The ability to collaborate on a global level through a scalable, customizable Plone solution enhances staff productivity. Enhanced employee productivity, ease of implementation, and customization make Plone a great choice for the enterprise intranet.


The Definitive Guide to Plone, by Andy McKay

Plone Content Management Essentials, by Julie Meloni

Building Websites with Plone, by Cameron Cooper

Zope Bible, by Michael Bernstein and Scott Robertson

Learning Python, by Mark Lutz and David Ascher


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