the end of day one halfway through day two (this took a lot longer to write than I thought!) at this year’s Plone Conference and between the two of us, we’ve seen 13 talks so far. Whilst I can’t comment on the ones that Doug has been to, I’m going to summarize my experience of today’s talks. You might also want to take a look at Rick Hurst’s summary of day 1.
Keynote: The Future of Plone by Alexander Limi & Alan Runyan
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TL;DR: Plone 4 is actually pretty awesome; Deliverance/XDV is now Diazo; we need to engage more with other communities and concentrate on design for Plone 5.
In an opening keynote not dissimilar to last year’s in Budapest, Alexander Limi set out once again to summarize the previous and the next year of Plone. The major differences being, Plone 4 is now out and the heavier focus on strategic goals rather than technological ones. Lots of congratulations for Plone 4 release going so smoothly. It’s a lot faster, better out of the box and easier to install. There should be a few more minor version increases over the next year or so and as of release 4.1, Plone 3 will no-longer be supported. Looking forward to Plone 5 (which Hanno Schlichting hesitantly put a date of March 2011 on) a big deal was made of the 3 “D”s of Plone: Dexterity, Deco and Diazo; Diazo being the new, back-of-a-cigarette-packet name for XDV / Deliverance in Plone 5. Whilst Alex focussed on what will be new in Plone 5, Alan spoke of the need to kill off things that are no-longer used or are replaced by new technologies, one example being writing restricted Python through the web:
“Who uses editing Restricted Python through the web?”
The sound of a room full of people putting no hands up.
One thing that particularly threw me as a new developer was the number of different ways to do things and to a certain degree, I think a limiting of these options is a good thing.
The need to make Plone more appealing to the decision makers was also expressed. Alex believes that over the next few years, designers will be making the choice of CMS to use (a company goes to a designer for a website, they come up with a great design, then have to pick the CMS onto which that design should be applied by developers or a separate company). Other places to focus on getting the Plone word out there: other conferences, local user groups and getting Plone available to people using cheaper hosting solutions, such as getting a cPanel installer working, a stark contrast to last year saying “we’re not really in the same market as Joomla and Drupal and WordPress […] it will always be easier to pay $5 and get a PHP host somewhere; that’s not something we can fight”.
Mad About Mobile by Mikko Ohtamaa
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TL;DR: Your clients want mobile sites, if they don’t you should persuade them. WebAndMobile from mFabrik will help you solve a lot of common problems and add a lot of cool features so you can deliver.
Mikko opened by saying something along the lines of, “Your clients want mobile sites, if they don’t you should persuade them” and I couldn’t agree more. Not only will a mobile site increase the number of users you can reach (or the times at which they can use your website), it can also add some really cool features (Mikko lists geolocation, touch and multi-touch events & phone interactions like click to call & contact card download). Furthermore it’s a good way to provide a minimal version of your site to users who perhaps have problems with their sight or mobility.
He touched on the different levels of mobilization that are achievable starting with custom CSS and going all the way up to writing a completely new mobile app.
The Plone extension route provides a nice middle ground that will get you most of what you probably want from a mobile version of your Plone site (mobile browser detection, image resizing and serving different content for mobile platforms). Mikko has been working on WebAndMobile for the past year and a half, it actually has documentation and there are plans to merge in common components of Infrae’s mobi.* group of packages. It is currently live on about 6 Plone sites and has some crossover capability for other frameworks such as Django. It:
- Will automatically redirect to a mobile site based on information in the HTTP request and can scale the site to the features of the user’s platform;
- Provides support for theming different platforms with different capabilities;
- Allows integration of mobile-features such as opening a waypoint in a smartphone’s maps or navigation application;
- Provides the option of serving alternate or no content for content type fields and integrates seamlessly into the existing editor interface.
Neat. For me it looks like the best way to get most of the way towards adding a mobile version of your Plone site. Whilst it won’t be a free-ride, it’s a hell of a good step in the right direction.
High Performance Sites Made Easy by Matthew Wilkes
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TL;DR: Everything you thought before about optimization is probably wrong. You need to use the catalog less, work off real-world numbers rather than profiling and cache the hell out of everything you can, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
For me this was probably the most useful talk of the day. It really busted quite a few myths I believed in and exposed new techniques that I thought weren’t possible with Plone, namely Edge-Side Includes in Varnish. The talk started with a brief summary of what is and isn’t important, backed up by some interesting stats. For example, whilst not waking objects is fine as a rule of thumb, it’s actually slower to use the catalog to access data up to about 50 objects. There was a big focus on optimization based on real data and putting it off until you can get some. Matthew eschews profiling in favour of analysis of page load time and server logs of normal site usage. One thing which will be of particular use is the tool Jarn have written for analyzing HAProxy logs.
Catalog tips included removing as many indexes as possible, generating better brains using adapters for the ICatalogBrain interface and being particularly careful with ZODB cache size: walking the catalog may in fact clear the ZODB cache given the huge number of tiny objects the catalog uses.
Quick wins for caching can be achieved by implementing ESIs (particularly implementing them from BrowserView __call__ methods so they are more flexible and can be disabled quickly in case of emergency) and avoiding status messages (not only does they make a page not cacheable by Varnish, but Varnish caches that it isn’t cacheable for 3 mins!).
Finally he makes the excellent point that it can be worth haggling with the client over arbitrary decisions they may have made about things such as list size, pagination, long form-based processes & workflow, all of which can inhibit caching.
Lose weight now, ask me how! by Roché Compaan
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TL;DR: The catalogs are massive bottlenecks; we rewrote some common parts of Plone that overuse them.
Continuing in a similar vein to Matthew Wilke’s talk, but taking a more extreme approach, Roché Compaan almost seems like he is out to destroy the catalogs, and not without justification. He began by asking the question, “can Plone scale to 10 million objects?” Starting at the lowest level, he produced some benchmarks of the ZODB using collective.zodbbench in 2007, compared them to similar operations for Postgres and found that ZODB performs extremely well, holding steady at about 250 writes per second achieved on a sample database of 10m objects.
When it came to analyzing Plone (using ZopeProfiler, experimental.catalogqueryplan and ZODB.FileStorage.fsdump) he found some pretty horrifying stats about the catalog. For example, 90% of a Data.fs for a database of 10,000 content objects was dedicated to objects supporting the catalogs. Unfortunately he didn’t seem to have any stats on how the catalog affects speed.
upfront.diet is a suite of products that offer replacements for parts of Plone that either cut out catalogs entirely or drastically reduce their usage. The most useful of these seem to be the upfront.simplereferencefield and upfront.catalogblacklist. upfront.catalogblacklist seems like something that should have been offered in Plone to begin with; it allows the developer to limit the indexing of specific content types through genericsetup. upfront.simplereferencefield is a replacement for the Archetypes reference field that doesn’t use the UID catalog. According to his stats, importing 50k objects using the archetypes reference field took 50 mins, while importing the same data set using the upfront.simplereferencefield took 5 mins. Impressive results, but this slash and burn approach to catalog usage leaves me uneasy, particularly when it’s something that is under consideration for Plone 5 anyway.
Other talks I went to were Giving light to dark corners of z3c.form by Rok Garbas which was a good, quick intro to what seems to be the most flexible of all the Plone form frameworks; Laying Pipe with Transmogrifier by Clayton Parker which was a brief summary of the features of collective.transmogrifier
which seems like a very powerful tool for importing data from various sources, but as Rick Hurst says, probably a bit heavyweight for what most people will want; and Tools and techniques for a successful Plone project by Martin Aspeli in which he shared a sneak preview of some of the tools and techniques he will be recommending in the new Plone 4 edition of his book.
Finally, at the end of day 1 was the guest keynote from Richard Noble, a very entertaining affair on the spirit of engineering and how teamwork matters far more than any amount of funding you might have.
An excellent start to the conference!