Plone 3 Intranets - a decent how to manual for web designers

Posted on onsdag, august 25, 2010 @ kl. 16.53 by david

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I recently picked up a book about how to use Plone CMS for small to medium sized businesses.


Web designer and/or Programmer?

By trade I am a seasoned web designer (XHTML, CSS and a little Javascrpt). But sometimes the lines between Designer and Programmer get crossed.

When the HTML output won't work with the design, who is there to help you fix the logic? The programmer.

Many times I have needed help with Python and customizing the Plone main_template to get my layouts to work. I can freely admit the fact that I AM NOT A PROGRAMMER.

I have been working with Plone for 3-4 years now mostly with design. Previously we used Plone as a backend to our basic website customers. This required us to use Zope Page Templates (ZPT) with TAL statements.

TAL is a template language like PHP, ASP or JSP.

<title tal:content="template/title">TITLE SHOWS HERE</title>

We no longer use this custom Plone system. It was too much work to maintain, so we are using Plone as it was intended and I am creating designs/skins using the plone_custom.css file.



Most of our customers are small businesses and the majority are self-employed. Occasionaly we come across a customer that needs to have sharing for documents or daily operations (sales, marketing, service, etc.).

We normally sell Plone CMS as a extremely simple CMS for publishing website content, but it is actually designed for larger organizations with groups of people collaborating on projects.

Our solution here is to setup Plone CMS with all the extra tools needed for a small business to run its own Intranet.


Plone 3 Intranets - a good How To Guide and Reference book


Who is this book for?

I first read the back of the book says, "for anyone who needs to  build an intranet ... Even if you don't have previous CMS experience or programming skills"

After reading the entire book, cover to cover, this is NOT necessarily true. Maybe the first few chapters that explain Python, Zope/Plone and installation. If you have created add-ons/plugins to the PHP/MySQL systems like Joomla!, WordPress etc, this may be something you could jump into.

If you are stuck in 1999 (still using tables for layout, and use CSS for text only) this book will be quite a challenge to get started with.

I would re-write the back of the book to say:

For aspiring web designers/programmers or IT people looking to implement a professional CMS + Intranet for buisness use.



Plone 3 Intranets


CH 2. Getting Started

This chapter starts out all wrong. The first thing to do is install Plone, but it covers the difficult manual method first. This will most likely turn a lot of the non-programmers and non-experienced people away from using Plone, when the Unified Installer will do all the work for you.

Manual install (advanced)

This portion of the book is well covered. The manual method helps you to install everything if you can follow along. I don't see a beginner being able to troubleshoot problems if they occur, unless they are used to commands in the Terminal window.

Unified Installer (for beginners)

Luckily Plone has a Unified Installer that will install: Python Language, Zope Web server and Plone CMS on your local machine or server for you. The installer works on Windows, Linux and Mac OS. This section should have come first to help beginners get started.

The rest of this chapter is enough to scare off anyone not used to a terminal window, but excellent for getting Plone up and running.


CH 3. Managing our Content (for beginners)

Once installed, Plone offers, out-of-the-box, most of the tools needed to setup Users/Groups, Folders, and Publishing/Sharing content. This chapter covers the basics of the Plone interface and how to use it. Excellent resource for first time Plone users.



CH 9. Intranet Add-on Products (for beginners)

The book also covers add-on products for Plone. Both recommending apps/products/projects for Intranet use, but also tips for creating your own add-ons.

Installing, features, and how it works are covered for the selected products. Excellent How To for adding products to Plone.


CH 10. Basic Plone Product Development (advanced)

The book mentions it is for non-programmers, but this chapter is hard to follow for beginners. I would say this chapter is perfect for aspiring programmers looking to extend functionality in Plone.

The chapter is not 100% complete, and should be complemented with other resources both online and other books on the subject.


CH 12. Theming our Intranet (for beginners/advanced)

Since this is where I have most experience with Plone, this chapter was mostly review. I should have had this book as a reference when I started skinning Plone sites.

Towards the end of the chapter, creating your own Theme products and managing the Viewlets sections are maybe a bit advanced for a beginner, but it is a great reference for the proper way to work with Plone themes.


CH 13. Deploying our Intranet (advanced)

This chapter is basically for the IT guys. It deals with the server end of things and more technical How To for the Intranet project. Virtual Servers, Clustering and such went mostly over my head, so I maybe need to suppliment this chapter with more information to know more about these subjects.



The Final Verdict

Since I am not new to Plone, most of the "How To" for Managing our Content, Configuring our Site and Managing Users/Groups redundant, but excellent for reference to new Plone Users. The referral to specific add-ons help find functionality from the hundreds of products available on

I learned quite a bit about the internal workings of the Zope/Plone logic. I would highly recommend this book to IT people or aspiring web designers/programmers looking for alternatives to Joomla! or WordPress.


This book is a great start to get familiar with Plone for business use, and also challenging enough to keep you reaching for it for reference afterwards.





Opinions expressed in this article are my own and not biased due free products.
If the products are crap, I will let you know.
This article was written by David Todd Watson, by request of Packt Publishing.