Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then
Software and Technology by
Now it's b2evolution's turn to face the fiery and critical eye of Papa Hari.
Before I begin this review, I have to mention that I've been playing around with b2evolution for a while and seriously considering it as an alternative to WordPress. But I may never end up using b2evolution for two reasons. Firstly, because there simply is no way to import my blog from WP at present (and maybe in the forseeable future) and secondly, its messy, cluttered templating system. But more on that later.
b2evolution is a monster blog software (the developers call it a multilingual, multiuser multiblog engine) that's not for the faint of heart. Having said that there are actually two ways of looking at b2evolution if you're an intermediate or advanced user who doesn't mind a bit of a learning curve.
Posted on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 at 13:26 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:06 IST)
It really depends on which way you look at it. How do I look at it? Read the rest of the review and judge yourself
- Bloated, extremely unwieldy and needless complicated as a pure blogging system, or
- Extremely flexible, powerful and full-featured CMS that can also run as a multi-user blog engine.
Installation and administration
Installation is fairly routine for a PHP script of this kind. It has a wizard-like installation routine which does most of the work including setting up the b2evolution tables in the database specified.
The initial setup is what could frighten off most bloggers. The admin panel is a real monster. And the multiple blogging interface of b2evolution is intimidating and quite unintuitive until you get used to it. But after a little bit of tweaking around I found out how to set up a simple blog without much effort. This is actually the easy part, but it does take some time. Setting up the default blog options is time consuming but not really rocket-science. One thing I don't like about b2evolution is the lack of immediate, context-sensitive help for the admin panel. That is a big minus, considering that it's quite complex and the meaning and scope of some of the options are far from obvious.
I'd like to mention one specific aspect - there is no separate link-management feature to include a "blogroll" in the sidebar. For that you need to create a separate blog for links and then use that as a linkblog for your main blog. That's a bit clunky in my opinion, but that's the way b2evolution is set up to work and I guess it requires quite a mindset change if you're used to a pure blogging system.
Overall the admin interface is very powerful if a bit unwieldy at times. The absence of a mass-edit mode for posts and comments is a big drawback in my opinion. Too much clicking around necessary for removing multiple posts or comments.
The "backoffice" has a definite learning curve, but it's not unmanageable.
Theming and templating system
b2evolution has quite a few skins and themes found in the main site b2evolution.net. But if you want to customize the look and feel of your blog, including the page elements, you will have to dig a bit deeper. If the admin panel confused you initially, then template and theme customization is where things get really ugly. If you don't know PHP - forget it. Customizing the template files require PHP knowledge. If you just want to tweak the CSS file, it gets a little easier, but the number of page elements that define a b2evolution theme can still scare any new user.
From an advanced user's perspective, theming is not quite as satisfactory either. You see, when I wanted to customize certain page elements, I found that the PHP code used in the theme tends to insert its own XHTML into the blog. This means that I have no easy way to customize certain elements the way I want to. For example the date being displayed for blog entries has <h2> </h2> wrapped around it. Now I don't want it to be a heading. Guess what - I have no easy way to change that since the function used to display that element automatically generates the XHTML code. Likewise, I noticed that there are other places where the PHP functions seem to insert its own formatting code into the template, which makes templates less customizable and more messy.
Other than that, templating is not too hard for an experienced pro. I managed to recreate my WordPress theme (used currently on this blog) from the "custom" theme without too much effort and too much messing around with the XHTML code. However, I did have to remove some of the page elements which I felt got in the way too much.
Overall, the templating system is less than satisfactory. Too much PHP code makes it confusing and difficult, although it's really not that hard to take an existing theme and modify it to suit your needs. The real trouble is when you want to really customize the page elements in depth and that's where you find that the PHP code gets in your way seriously.
Support and extending b2evolution
I haven't really looked deeply into community support for b2evolution, but it does have a theme and plugin repository in the main website. Pre-built community themes are decent, but nothing much to talk about. There are also plenty of plugins if you are inclined to complicate an already large blogging system with more features
The website itself is quite well organized and easy to navigate. The documentation system is based on MediaWiki and appears better organized than the WordPress community documentation system.
b2evolution is quite impressive as a multi-user CMS system. Maybe it's a bit overkill for a single user blogging system with the gzipped download package being more than 2 MB in size. If you're not worried about disk space utilization and you don't mind the initial learning curve, I think b2evolution has a lot to offer. The disappointing aspect is the over-complicated templating system, but then many CMSes are guilty of this, even WordPress to an extent.
The biggest disappointment about b2evolution in my opinion is that it has no converters/importers from most other popular blogging systems (except b2/cafelog and Movable Type). Seriously when you consider that most people start off with Blogger or WordPress, I would have thought that a converter from those systems would really help in b2evolution adoption. There's a todo in the developer site that's nearly three years old, but it appears that nobody's really interested in making one, which is a real pity since I would seriously have considered switching to b2evolution otherwise.