Plone 3 for Education review

One of the first things you have to keep in mind when considering to get this book is the target audience. If you’re a hard-core developer who keeps Proffessional Plone Development under your pillow, this book might be a bit too “soft” for you. It’s targeted to integrators with little experience in Plone who want to learn about how to perform certain tasks, from publishing an usable events calendar to create an on-line form for visitors’ comments.

Both the author, Erik Rose, and the technical reviewers are well known and respected in the community. I’ve chatted more than once with two of the reviewers, Steve McMahon and Denys Mishunov, and I know they’re quite skillful and competent, so you can expect the book to be correct and well-written.

I must admit that, at first, I was a bit annoyed with the step-by-step recipe-style of the book. Being a Physics student, I’m used to read texts where the main points of the theory are explained, but the step-by-step procedure is often left as an exercise to the reader. Having to follow closely a list of steps makes me feel like a script-kiddie: somebody who executes a series of steps without actually understanding what is she/he really doing.

However, Erik has taken care of providing a lot of contextual explanation about the steps, with comments about the different options you have and why would you prefer to choose one or another. Moreover, the just-follow-these-steps approach is not so heavily used after the two first chapters.

Although the title of the book suggests that people in the educational context are its only target public, you can learn a lot from its suggested approaches even if you aren’t into education. Being very, very practical, it covers a freaking impressive list of tasks/features: making academic courses available on-line, a directory of personnel, setting-up a blog and a forum, publishing audio and video, creating forms easily, theming a site and managing a production system.

I wouldn’t have covered the theming and the sysadmin stuff, since it’s quite technical and there are already (or are coming) good book references on these subjects, including the Plone 3 Theming by Veda Williamson, Practical Plone 3, or the upcoming Plone 3.3 Site Administration by the popular Alex Clark. By the way, Alex, please tell Packt that this title is not attractive at all marketingly-speaking — people will think that the book only applies to 3.3!

Unlike other books, which are quite bare-Plone centered, a lot of interesting add-on products are documented, more or less extensively: FacultyStaffDirectory (of which Erik is an active contributor and therefore even provides tips about future development!), p4a.Calendar, Scrawl, QuillsEnabled, PloneBoard, collective.flowplayer,,, PloneFormGen, z3c.jbot and CacheFu, among others.

Erik doesn’t simply provide general technical manager advice, but also tells you about good practices for content editors based on his previous experience and known pitfalls. What is even more impressive, he sometimes points you to some tickets in Trac about open issues! While this would be more suitable for on-line documentation, it reflects the active involvement and time Erik has spent on investigating what he’s writing about. Good work, Erik!

The book is full of evangelism, specially in the first chapter, where it comes in loads. While it shows that Erik (and the reviewers?) is really passionate about Plone, I guess that who bought this book is looking for info about how to use the product, not marketing stuff, and perhaps these pages could have seen better use with some images, more extensive explanation of a certain feature, or just removed and the price of the book lowered. But this is only the opinion of someone who’s already convinced of the coolness of Plone. Erik also takes the opportunity to expose his political view about the issues with buildout, installation and packaging.

The writing style is clear and always fun. Sentences like “Who can resist puppies? They are heart-meltingly cute and loads of fun, but it’s easy to forget, when their wet little noses are in your face, that they come with responsibility. Likewise, add-ons are free to install and use, but they also bring hidden costs.” make you smile and remind you that some people in the Plone community have a good sense of humour and are crazy enough to publish this kind of stuff in a technical book. :)

Kudos to Erik — while I was certainly biased about reading a book for non-developers and just for Education, you managed to make me learn new stuff and enjoy doing so!

I’d like to thank Packt Publishing for providing me a free review copy of the e-book for my reading pleasure. The 2nd chapter, Calendaring, is available from their site free of charge, in the case you want to take a peek before considering to get the book.

One thought on “Plone 3 for Education review

  1. Thanks for the great review! Just a note about the “evangelism” in the first chapter—that’s meant to be used to sell Plone in your institution. It’s been my experience that selling your superiors on the system is an important first step in many organizations.

    incidentally, on the buildout front, we’re working on an alternate packaging approach that avoids buildout’s design pitfalls: I’m also contributing to distutils2, intended to be the next generation of Python’s packaging toolkit. Among other things, it will ease the creation of more fail-safe packaging tools than easy_install.

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