Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ektron 8.5: Strong Enhancements and Improved User Experiences

I've been playing with the Release Candidate of Ektron 8.5, which has been available for a little more than a month now, and there are some noticeable improvements that will make existing customers want to upgrade as soon as the new release is officially available (estimated end of Q3).

For those not familiar with Ektron, you'll want to note that Ektron is firmly committed to a provider model approach, offering a best of breed solution integrated with our enterprise CMS, instead of a one size fits all approach. It's a pretty simple vision -- why settle for average analytics/search/marketing automation/etc. when Ektron has tight integrations with industry leaders like WebTrends, Search Server, SalesForce, and others?

Rather than focusing on trying to be everything to everyone, Ektron has made the conscious decision to focus on creating the best WCMS and allow the other industry leaders (WebTrends, Search Server, SalesForce, and others) to continue to do what they do best -- using Ektron as the common bond. It's really an intelligent approach, especially if you already have some of these elements in place.

Improved UI
One of the first enhancements you'll notice is a simplified user interface. Gone is the blaring orange background that while useful as an added source of light when working in the dark, was often cited as an area that needed improvement. The text based navigation and use of contrasting greys/blacks/blues in 8.5 is much easier on the eyes and is simply cleaner from a graphical perspective, and the Workarea performs noticeably faster.

A second area included in the 8.5 improvements is Ektron's localization and translation capabilities. In prior versions, site visitors would automatically see the default language match when content wasn’t available in the selected language. In 8.5, users can designate a fallback locale, ensuring that visitors receive content in the most appropriate language based on their geographic location. In addition, Ektron's best-of-breed provider model approach includes integration with tools like LioNBRIDGE and other leading translation providers, giving you the best of both worlds.

Now based on the Microsoft Search Server, Ektron Search brings new features including faceted navigation, dynamic search relevancy tuning, federated search, automated query suggestions, search analytics reports, and more. Search is another area where the provider model comes into play and Ektron plans to offer support for additional search tools in the very near future (stay tuned).

Developer Improvements
I've seen tweets that call Ektron 8.5 a "love letter to developers", so I have to assume that there are major improvements to the development layer (though I'm not a dev and can't comment personally). I do know that the Framework API (initially introduced in version 8.0) provides an added layer of consistency that helps developers maximize their efficiency when developing Ektron websites. In addition, 8.5's support for a true three tier architecture providers IT with increased flexibility and scalability when architecting their Ektron solution.

There's always excitement when an industry leader like Ektron offers a new release, and 8.5 has had no shortage of buzz thus far. I've been showing 8.5 to new prospects for about a month now and the response has been overwhelming positive. While there will always be ways to improve and evolve the software, 8.5 is definitely another big step in the right direction. If you're interested in downloading a version to play with today, feel free to email me and I'll be happy to help you out.

What do you think? Have you tried 8.5? How can we improve Ektron? Your feedback is appreciated, and encouraged. In fact, much of our roadmap comes from direct feedback from partners and clients, so tell us what you think!