View Full Version : Introduction to Expression Engine 2

Annie Arnold
01-17-2012, 07:12 PM
ExpressionEngine (http://www.expressionengine.com/) is a powerful and flexible commercial content management system. This review will try and highlight the pros and cons of the CMS as well as some general information to help you decide if EE a good fit for you. For more detailed information on the structure and inner workings of EE start here (http://expressionengine.com/user_guide/getting_started/the_big_picture.html). ExpressionEngine ExpressionEngine is the flagship product of EllisLab (http://www.ellislab.com/), the same company that brings us the popular lightweight PHP framework CodeIgniter (http://www.codeigniter.com/), on which the second iteration of EE is built. Before we dig any deeper, note that EE is not a free product at any license level. As of this writing, licenses range from $99.95 Ė $299.95 (more details here (http://www.expressionengine.com/overview/pricing)) plus the cost of addons so if you are looking for free options take a look at platforms such as Drupal, Joomla, Plone, Pyro, Fork, Modx, etc. Most installations will likely put you at the $299.95 price point for commercial client work. In general EE will run on PHP 5.1.6+, MySQL 4.1+, and you will need 16MB+ of available memory (more is likely needed). You can download their server wizard (http://www.expressionengine.com/overview/requirements) to check for compatibility if you arenít sure.
EE has the ability to scale nicely with the right setup (more blog entries to come). Organizing and serving thousands of pages on a high-traffic site is not a problem and the out-of-the-box profiling tools can help identify performance bottlenecks. The core of the EE power revolves around the robust templating engine. In my opinion it is second to none and only in very rare situations has it not been able to handle even the most complex scenarios (that is where the query module or add-ons come in). Out of the box there are no SEO-specific inputs but that is only because EE does not assume anything about your site, you can easily add fields or a plugin to accomplish your SEO goals, no matter how complex.
EE comes standard with a robust file manager, a handful of fieldtypes, a wiki module, commenting ability, a member module, search functionality, template caching, and more (http://www.expressionengine.com/overview/features). There is also a basic forum module available for purchase ($49.95 or $99.95) although it is not nearly as powerful as some of the more popular, standalone forum software available elsewhere. It does, however, make for easy integration should you need a forum without some of the bells and whistles.
For some examples of sites built on EE take a look at Show-EE (http://www.show-ee.com/).
EE vs Other Platforms EE is often compared to other software such as Drupal, one of the largest open-source platforms available. To start, there are a number of great open-source, LAMP-based content management systems. You canít really go wrong with most popular CMS options but things to look at include admin usability, ease of templating, extensibility, community, SEO-friendliness, support, etc. Youíre specific needs and development skills are the biggest factors in whether one will work best for you. I donít really put WordPress in this category as, despite itís flexibility and huge plugin availability, it is still much more focused as a blogging engine rather than a full-blown CMS platform.
EE seems to strike a nice balance between functionality and design-ability. The templates are very easy to use and do not require any PHP, in fact by default they donít even support PHP unless you choose to enable it, which is unlikely given the availability of add-ons. Out of the box you have a clean slate to build out your templates so you are in full control of every bit of rendered markup. With some platforms the norm seems to be to grab a theme and modify it for your needs. However, with EE, that is not typical and there just arenít many templates out there to begin with (a few can be found at ThemeForest (http://www.themeforest.net/category/cms-themes/expressionengine)). Drupal and Joomla are, in my opinion, more complex and demanding platforms than EE. They donít seem to cater towards designers/front-end developers like EE does and generally require at least some basic PHP skills to get wrangled and that is true of a number of other CMS platforms as well. That being said, you can find developers that swear by those or other options and for good reasons which is why it is so important to closely evaluate your needs and resources before committing your time or money.
The community and developer population are important factors when choosing a CMS. Most content management systems, especially popular options like Drupal and Joomla, have very active communities and many developer options if you are looking to outsource. There is likely a better chance you can find local talent for other platforms before ExpressionEngine (take a look at the EE Pro Network (http://www.expressionengine.com/professionals)) as it is a commercial product. That being said, there are still quite a few high-quality EE shops out there and they seem to really build strong expertise around the product. All of the major platforms have active communities and ultimately you can probably find answers to your questions. While EE support may not be instantaneous (they donít offer live chat or phone support), typically forums requests get picked up by staff or community members within half a day or so and sometimes much quicker.
One issue with EE is that there is no free version or trial version you can easily download and play around with. There is a 30-day guarantee but in a world of free competition that makes for a tough sell. That being said, you can email the EE sales team and they can likely work with you on a trial license if that is a deal breaker for you. I encourage you to research a handful of content management systems and install and play with a few before choosing a platform. If nothing else the experience will give you perspective on CMS software in general and help you nail down your priorities.
EE Pros

Excellent template functionality for comprehensive markup/design control.
Great system security and stable in the V2 life-cycle at the current 2.3.1 build.
Some really great, high-quality addons available. Check out Devot-EE (http://www.devot-ee.com/).
Built on CodeIgniter, my PHP framework of choice. Strong platform for building custom add-ons.
Full-time support staff and active community available through the EE forums.
Strong professional network (http://www.expressionengine.com/professionals) for outside consulting.

EE Cons

No free licensing options and buying up many needed commercial addons can quickly add up.
A few unfortunate missing pieces from the core like a top-notch WYSIWYG, previewing (painful omission), advanced workflow, and image galleries. Third party options are available to address most gaps.
The interface with all the pink and rounded corners can get old. Check out the Nerdery (http://www.devot-ee.com/add-ons/nerdery) control panel theme to combat that.
Upgrades can be time consuming, not a 1-click operation like you might be used to in WordPress. Still much improved from the first version.
No phone/enterprise support options for immediate assistance from EllisLab.

Conclusion ExpressionEngine is a stable, growing platform that strikes a good balance between customizeability and user-friendliness. I have managed ~16 EE projects this year so in my opinion the pros outweigh the cons. It offers a clean approach to developing sites where you are in complete control, nothing is forced or assumed. Every platform has itís pros and cons so if you donít mind investing $400-$500+ in software and addons then definitely take a look at ExpressionEngine.
Stay tuned for some more EE-related posts as well as a ton of other updates and new content.
More Resources

Getting Started with ExpressionEngine 2 — ExpressionEngine v2.3.1 documentation (http://expressionengine.com/user_guide/getting_started/index.html) Ė Getting started.
Learn ExpressionEngine - EE Insider - Learn ExpressionEngine from Tips, Tutorials and Training Videos (http://www.eeinsider.com/)- Popular EE resource and blog.
Train-ee ExpressionEngine Training | Home (http://www.train-ee.com/)- A great resource for free and paid EE info and tutorials.
Build a portfolio with ExpressionEngine | Tutorial | .net magazine (http://www.netmagazine.com/tutorials/build-portfolio-expressionengine) Ė EE portfolio website build-out tutorial.

A Few Examples of High-Quality Add-Ons Ė many more at Devot-EE (http://www.devot-ee.com/)

WYGWAM (http://www.pixelandtonic.com/wygwam) Ė Popular EE WYSIWYG
Matrix (http://www.pixelandtonic.com/matrix) -Multi-entry list fieldtype
Playa (http://www.pixelandtonic.com/playa) Ė Relationship fieldtype
Champagne (http://www.natural-logic.com/software/champagne)- Create and manage Campaign Monitor campaigns from within EE
CE Image (http://www.causingeffect.com/software/expressionengine/ce-image) Ė Leverage the full power or GD for image manipulation with EE tags
Channel Images (http://www.devdemon.com/channel_images/) Ė Powerful image gallery add-on
CartThrob (http://www.cartthrob.com/) Ė E-commerce platform
Freeform (http://www.solspace.com/software/detail/freeform) Ė Generic form capture and notification module

02-10-2012, 10:14 PM
Thanks boss for given these info...