Kentico 8: What’s New?

As Kentico’s only Gold Certified Partner in the Washington D.C. metro area, we have been receiving a lot of questions from our clients about when they can upgrade to Kentico 8 and what new features would be most beneficial to them. Among the many new features in Kentico 8, it can be tough to distinguish between what’s really a beneficial feature and what’s marketing fluff. Our mission: separate the bluff from the fluff. So without further ado, let’s dive in.

1. Unified Dashboard

Kentico 8’s unified dashboard is its most obvious enhancement. Kentico’s previous CMSDesk and Site Manager interfaces were not as intuitive because of the many features they had incrementally added over the last few releases. The Bootstrap-based consolidated user interface (UI) provides a smoother user experience to get to what you need with fewer clicks and less guesswork. For example, if you’re an admin user, you can simply go to the “Admin” module to see all management options consolidated into one dashboard/tiled interface (Figure 1). The icing? It’s responsive!

Figure 1: Kentico 8’s Admin Module

From the Admin central interface, tap the F2 key or click the top-left logo to view all applications and modules. Don’t want to sort through the groups? Use the search box in top left corner (Figure 2) to get exactly what you need in one click. And since the design is responsive, it can be accessed from tablet devices. Now you can update your website while at the beach.

Figure 2: Sorting & Searching Modules

2. Workflow Enhancements

Kentico’s widgets bring website designers and editors flexibility while letting .NET developers leverage Kentico’s extensibility with customized widgets. One major flaw in the previous version was the lack of widget workflow, i.e. widgets could be easily deleted and edited without going through the publishing approval and workflow process. In Kentico 8, this has been rectified so you can now give your editors the flexibility they need while publishers can preview and approve widget changes before they get published to the live site. Another convenient feature allows you to apply workflow to a specific page you are creating or editing (Figure 3), if it’s not already covered by an existing workflow. This is a big time saver from having to dig three layers into the Site Manager to accomplish the same thing.

Figure 3: Applying Workflow To Pages

3. Search Features

Kentico’s Smart Search is now powered by an updated Lucene.NET 3 library. The addition of an abstraction layer allows developers to connect an external search provider for indexing and consolidating non-Kentico CMS websites for unified search results. The updated Lucene library adds four new features to enhance the quality of search results:
    • Predictive search – predictive results will appear as you type keywords in the search box. Moreover using custom transformations, developers can control what appears in the predictive result, i.e. the page name or product title, a thumbnail image, etc. So there’s a wide range of micro-filtering that this feature can be used for.
    • Stemming – three optional stemming settings that searche for “stems” of words. For example, searching for “iPhone” will also show results for “iPhone4” and “iPhone5S” because the words share the same stem “iPhone.”
    • Fuzzy search or typo tolerance – the search will try to find the closest match to a mistyped keyword.
    • Synonym search – an optional feature that searches for synonyms of the keyword being search for

4. Administrator Improvements

If you are a server administrator, you’ve probably heard that a production website is only as good as its logging (and if you’re a marketer, analytics!). To troubleshoot real-world problems, particularly after an upgrade, you need effective reporting and error logging (Figure 4). Kentico 8 makes big strides in this area with more control over event logging (options to write to the windows event log, custom file), object compiling for virtual objects (ascx objects, transformations) , debugging for event handlers, search indexing tasks – all of which help find errors faster, without combing through lines of text files. As an aside, if you’re interested in monitoring and analyzing website metrics, take a look at New Relic Lite, Mixpanel, and KISSmetrics.

Figure 4: Reporting and Error Logging

5. CSS Pre-Preprocessing Support

Dynamic CSS libraries, like LESS, facilitate dynamic attribute values (variables, nesting, mixins, functions etc.) in style sheets. This helps designers and developers keep themes consistent and write efficient CSS class definitions. Dynamic CSS is particularly handy for developers to specify dynamic banner (backgrounds) for example, that are unique to each section of the site or sub-site (chapter) themes that vary by a chapter’s location. Kentico provides a LESS module as a free add-on from the marketplace or you can plug in your own custom LESS module.

6. Improved UI and HTML Markup Control

For mobile-friendly/responsive websites, having clean, customizable HTML source is paramount and particularly challenging when dealing with HTML rendered by CMS server controls. Kentico 8 includes an improved HTML Forms Builder (Figure 5), with custom form layouts and macros to control HTML rendered by the Form Builder. That means two things – sharp looking forms consistent with the website’s design and a 60% reduction in your front-end developer’s time (disclaimer: mileage may vary) in reverse engineering CSS to match CMS generated HTML!

Figure 5: HTML Forms Builder

7. e-Commerce and Marketing Features

The eCommerce module has some practical new features that Kentico implemented based on user feedback. The most important one is customized control of the checkout process for eCommerce sites. You can now define the number of checkout steps and combine multiple steps into one single form (the jury is still out but a two-step process generally works best, a la Amazon). The new recommendation engine integration allows for automatic product recommendations based on large sets of user data. Think “users who purchased this product generally also purchased this other product.” If you’re looking for customized recommendations for individual users (personalization), there are points-based user personas that can be defined based on specific user activity and profile properties. You can then assign specific content to user personas to customize individual user experience. Product variants now have additional properties like SKU’s, price, and number of inventory units. Product variants are used in Kentico as “combination products” featuring existing products bundled into one unit. Another great feature is discount rules for individual products. Each product may have multiple discounts associated with it and you can assign “rules” to determine which one(s) can be applied using the Condition Builder. Similar discount rules can be applied to the entire purchase as well. Another handy feature is setting a maximum/upper limit to how many times a discount coupon can be used so, for example, when your 30% discount coupon is used more than ten times, you can automatically stop the bleeding!

8. Tighter Visual Studio Integration

Using Visual Studio, particularly with Visual Studio 2013, you can leverage support for automated unit tests for testing code blocks. This is particularly useful in combination with the (new) DataQuery API to simulated CMS data. You can also write integration tests using CMA data via the DataQuery and DcoumentQuery APIs for LINQ-like syntax. For an introduction on TDD (Test Driven Development) and unit testing, take a look at this video series. In addition to the eight features discussed here, there is a range of other features including cloud deployment enhancements, module development, and the portal engine UI. Stay tuned (or subscribe here) for future posts on Kentico 8 and more. We think just the UI improvements alone make it worth the upgrade to Kentico 8. If you are already using Kentico 7 and have a current subscription, you can upgrade at no additional cost. If you’re looking for a new CMS or are considering Kentico as part of your CMS selection process, Kentico 8 delivers great value on your investment. If you’ve already upgraded to Kentico 8, we’d love to hear your experience with the upgrade process and initial impressions. Please use the comments area below for any questions you may have.
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