Hari's Corner

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b2evolution review

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 at 13:26 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:06 IST)

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Now it's b2evolution's turn to face the fiery and critical eye of Papa Hari. :P

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.
  1. Bloated, extremely unwieldy and needless complicated as a pure blogging system, or
  2. Extremely flexible, powerful and full-featured CMS that can also run as a multi-user blog engine.
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 ;)

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 :P

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.

Overall impressions

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.

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14 comment(s)

  1. I suppose you could move from Blogger to MT and then from MT to b2 :wink:The theme system is definitely a "pros &amp; cons" thing - because it's PHP, it's almost infinitely customizeable. But because it's PHP, it can be a right pig to get set up the way you want it. I know it took me hours to get the template sorted out when I upgraded, and that was when I knew exactly how I wanted it all set up.Once you're up &amp; running and used to it, tho, it's a nice enough system to use..When it comes to the blogroll, incidentally, I go my own way &amp; just edit the PHP template to put in the links I want. I took one look at the "linkblog" thing and gave up on it there &amp; then :cool:

    Comment by Dominic (visitor) on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 @ 14:27 IST #
  2. yeah, I don't mind PHP templates, but the problem comes when the XHTML is hard-wired into the PHP. That's when the problem starts.PHP should be completely separated from all the XHTML elements. The moment a PHP hook function inserts XHTML code into the template, that's bad. WordPress is also guilty of doing that in a few places.As for moving from WP, I still don't have a solution... I looked at a couple of forum posts in b2evolution.net but the answer is the same. It's not possible at this time (and I think in the forseeable future as well).

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 @ 14:44 IST #
  3. I suppose if your SQL was up to scratch you could get hold of the Wordpress database and hack it until it's in the same format as a b2 database, and then import it... Laborious, but probably do-able

    Comment by Dominic (visitor) on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 @ 15:10 IST #
  4. The problem is that the whole Schema will be different. Table fields, types of variables, number of fields, type of fields, records. In fact, it might be near impossible to do it by hand without messing it up fully. In fact, looking at b2evolution's database it is incredibly complex because of the multi-user multi-blog thing. WordPress has a far simpler scheme.I probably won't attempt such a thing, but a script could be useful if I can study both databases. Maybe I can come up with an importer myself if I get the inclination to do it. :smile:

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 @ 15:17 IST #
  5. Hi,Thank you Hari for this very insighful review. There are many suggestions here we'll definitely try to accomodate in future versions of b2evolution.There is only one error in the review: the b2evolution core will *never* force its own XHTML into the template. It will only use defaults if you don't specify otherwise.Granted it's a hidden feature and we'll try to make it clear in the future. Again thank you for actually pointing it out! :)Here is how you would have the date use p instead of h2: (use '' if you don't want any tag at all)$MainList-&gt;date_if_changed( '', '' );Regarding WP import, my suggestion at this point would be export from WP to an MT file, then import into b2evo. I haven't tried it though.Hari, if you're interested in testing previews of b2evo 2.0 and giving us feedback about everything that's done wrong, please mail back to me ;)Anyways, you've been heard :)Best regards,-Francois.

    Comment by Francois Planque (visitor) on Sat, May 5, 2007 @ 23:08 IST #
  6. Honest and worthwhile review. I haven't tried WP, but I've always thought of b2evolution as the "thinking person's blogging tool".Regarding functions, it's too bad that one has to consult the techncial doc to find the various parameters (xhtml tags wraps) and the order of them. I'd much prefer each one be commented (or filled with defaults) in the template.Still, this multi-blogging tool offers much headroom for the advanced blogger to 'grow into', wonderful community support and maximum flexibility (after the steeper learning curve).Mind you ... I may be a tad biased. ;)Cheers,-stk

    Comment by Scott Kimler (visitor) on Sun, May 6, 2007 @ 05:41 IST #
  7. Thanks for your comments Francois. I appreciate your thoughts and clarifications on my review.Yes, I found about the template "tags" only later. Even so, I feel it's a bit unintuitive. As far as the export goes I struggled with the MT import as well. b2evolution refused to recognize the MT file I had generated using a WP MT export plugin. I think a good idea for b2evolution devs to consider is a WP export file import. WP 2.x supports exporting to a XML file and it should be easier to use that to import into b2evolution rather than direct from the db.Scott, you're right. I did find the community great at b2evolution, which is more than can be said for WP. The b2evo forums are quite responsive as well. If I move this blog, b2evolution will be the first choice as far as I'm concerned.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Sun, May 6, 2007 @ 07:23 IST #
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    Comment by More Pinay Boob Playing - Untwisted Vortex - Living in a Different Land (visitor) on Mon, May 21, 2007 @ 23:00 IST #
  9. Thanks for this review; I guess the fundamentals haven't changed in the past year.

    I'm an intermediate user, and I'd like to be able to integrate the blog into my existing site design; from your description, this seems well beyond my php ability!

    many thanks.

    Comment by dermot (visitor) on Sun, May 11, 2008 @ 23:12 IST #
  10. Actually dermot, the fundamentals have changed with the 2.x series. The templating system is much cleaner now and is much easier to customize the look and feel.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Mon, May 12, 2008 @ 10:10 IST #
  11. From a different perspective...the only thing I knew for sure when I set up my first blog was that I had to be able to allow multiple users and that they had to be self-registered. So...ended up with b2evo. What is funny is that I am not really technically savvy. I dabble and am self taught completely. BUT...I learned how to skin b2evo after about a week and have been able to create a variety of sites with many different looks. Was never able to create a satisfactory skin for WP...blogger...or any other system. Go figure ;o)

    Comment by Sue Waite Langley (visitor) on Wed, Jun 3, 2009 @ 03:39 IST #
  12. Sue, b2evolution since 2.x has really improved by leaps and bounds. It's not really that well marketed as WP but I believe it's tons better than WordPress.

    Thanks for dropping by with your comments!

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Wed, Jun 3, 2009 @ 07:38 IST #
  13. Thanks for the read everyone. Installed Movable Type though it seems to be having issues with the DBI/DBD:mysql; just to much needed I guess. I may have to install b2evo and give it a go.

    Comment by Keng (visitor) on Wed, Nov 11, 2009 @ 23:02 IST #
  14. Keng, yes, b2evo is a very polished blog platform though it is a bit on the heavy side. I no longer use it because since then I have programmed from scratch my own blog platform, but I recommend b2evolution over Wordpress any day. Never use Movable Type myself though.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 @ 18:02 IST #

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