University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Does anyone know of a CMS that generates static web pages, as apposed to CMS apps that run as web apps and generate web pages real time? In our "shop," we cannot use PHP, ASP.NET, etc--only static web pages and images! (...and JavaScript, XML files, Flash, etc) So, for example, we would like to build a database (either within or external to the CMS) and then generate a bunch of static web pages whenever we update the content. Those web pages would then be placed on our web server. I've heard that Vignette and Nanoc can do this, but I'd like a more well rounded review of such tools, and I'd also like to know which of these types of tools are considered especially strong and well reviewed with a decent developer community.

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This might not be exactly what you want. dotCMS works in a manner similar to this. When pages and content are created, they are saved in the database and as files in the static file store. Pages, when visited, are pulled from this file store, rather than hitting the database, so if your database server goes down, your site doesn't (the database is then used for other tasks, like past revisions of content, etc in the back end). However, these files are not simple HTML files. They are Velocity code files that the web server parses out and serves as HTML. But, it requires Java, so that might break your requirement not having PHP, ASP, etc. However, if you can't run these technologies, odds are there's no CMS you will be able to run, at least not one that's worth anything. Coranto is a CGI script CMS, it's pretty robust and free, and outputs static files, but it's older, and I'm not sure it's being developed anymore.
We use Cascade Server by Hannon Hill. Pages are created in the CMS, but then published as flat HTML files to a remote server. When users view the website, they're viewing the regular HTML pages, not the pages that are stored in the CMS. We've used it for the past three years, and have found the flat HTML output limiting (we've added dynamic content with a bunch of hacks). But if flat HTML files are what you want, Cascade works fine for that.
I'm fairly sure OmniUpdate will export flat HTML to your server via SFTP, and they have a SaaS model...
RedDot CMS is a staged solution - meaning it publishes static files for the live content.
Yes, OmniUpdate's OU Campus products all publish to your web server, 'flat' XHTML documents (or your favorite flavor, ASP, PHP, XML, HTML, etc.) via FTP or SFTP.
I just recently checked out OmniUpdate's OU Campus. I was surprised how crippled the template engine is. There basically isn't one. After implementation, they encourage you to limit "template" updates to changing the website's CSS file. Beyond that, you have to do some unpleasant heavy lifting to change the layout of an entire website. Even then, to update every page, you have to "edit" every page and re-save it for the new layout to take effect. Ugh. I wouldn't even call that a CMS. Compare to Joomla which has, in my opinion, the most powerful and flexible template engine I've ever used, and Joomla is free, rather than $8,000+ per year. Unfortunately, Joomla is PHP-based and generates pages dynamically from the database upon request, so it does not work on web servers where only static HTML and images are allowed. I wonder if Joomla has an extension that publishes all of the Joomla content as static HTML files. Then we could use Joomla on the back-end just to manage our content and FTP all the HTML to our live server. I'll have to look into that.
Not true. While OU Campus can use the (older) control_file/template/CSS/includes methodology, since Spring of 2007 they have offered full XML/XSL (with a XSLT transform engine) capability, completely separating content from presentation/layout. You can change the 'look, design, or presentation' of a given page (or whole site) by only making changes to a XSL file and then republish the page or pages (as one command).

We have used OU Campus over the past 5 years to design and build college sites. With good site design/template methodology, even the template/CSS/includes process allows for full site redesign (or sections) with only editing a CSS file, push the CSS (and supporting art) and your done, not necessarily any need to touch every page you want changed.

We are now building several college sites using OU Campus (and the XML/XSL tech) and have complete abstraction of the content vs. its presentation/layout. We can even publish for multiple needs (mobile computing, standard browsing, kiosk, etc.) from a single set of content sources using multiple XSL transforms.

Here is a link to their press release from a year ago February on the XML/XSL announcement:

I do think that they can do a better job of getting this info presented on their site so as not to give people the impression you got (assuming it was from a web visit only).
I'm not sure which OU you are using but I took a test drive a few months ago and once a page was created the link between content and template was gone. They are merged into one. A true CMS product keeps the design and the content separate. In other words I create a template and name "editable regions" then I select a region and add some text/graphics or whatever and that is stored in a database. When the page is called (or created as a static html document) then the content regions and the template are used together. Using this scenario I can easily change the page at any time by simply changing the template.

Here's an example that I just did in 3 minutes (yes I timed it :-) ) The original page (copied to a folder not visiable using our search engine) I copied the page so as to use the exact same content. I went to page management and selected "change page template" and then within a minute here is my page using another template:

In my opinion that is how a CMS should operate. OU merges template and content so you cannot re-purpose the content. Don't get me wrong, I think OU is a terrific product but it wasn't a good match for what we needed a CMS to do. -- vicki
OU Campus can do both and can demo it in 3 mintues or less ;-) Templates that use industry standard technology such as CSS and includes to make adjustments and repurpose content along with XML content with XSL templates for complete separation of content from design (see Andy's description above).
I understand how to change a page via changing the CSS file but... What if you have 50 pages built using the same template. You only want to change five of them to a new look? If you change the CSS file all corresponding pages will change not just the five you wish to change. A user would have to plan too far ahead and know to build in exceptions if they relied only on changing the CSS.

Again, I'm not saying OU isn't a terrific product it absolutely is. I just do not feel that it does a good enough job separating content and design. Just my two-cents.
I agree. Probably a good product in other respects, but not up to snuff when it comes to separating content from presentation. That was the deal breaker for me. Content should be in a database, not an XML file. CSS should be involved, but CSS and XSL should not be the only way developers can change the presentation. There should be an XHTML template(s) behind the scenes to support drastically different layout structures. The only thing stored for the content should be the actual content itself. The most mark-up you should *HAVE* to see in the content are things like paragraph tags, strong, em, etc, related to that specific page/article. You should not see navigation-related stuff in there or layout-related stuff. This is how all great CMS apps work, like Drupal and Joomla. ...if only they had the option of outputting static pages to an FTP store or something like that. If we had PHP and MySQL on our web server, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. We'd be using Drupal or Joomla. They're free, they're elegant, they're way more powerful, and they have huge user communities that have added extended functionality for everything from shopping carts to discussion forums. With all due respect, I know the response to my comments is going to be something like, "I'm sorry, but you must have misunderstood me...our product *CAN* do all of that." But if it did, I'd already be using it. Hey! Something to think about for version 2.0 or whatever the next version is.
Yes, there are those who want a CMS to be completely database driven, and there are those who don't want the hassle, overhead, and 'higher cost' talent to manage it. One of the very nice side benefits of OU (and some other CMS systems that publish to flat files), is that as technology changes or CMS systems go away (like Serena Collage just did, that are database driven), you have a built-in insurance policy that you are not 'locked' to a technology or a given CMS.

A flat file based web site can be integrated into some new technology CMS much easier than one that has been swallowed by a proprietary database (or even open like SQL, etc.). Extracting and or converting content database tables to some new (and foreign to the original structure) CMS system is a much more complex undertaking.

There are benefits to database driven CMS solutions, and if your sold on that solution type, I am not likely to convince you otherwise. But there are also many benefits to a 'simpler' structure that gives the IT/Webmaster team flexibility to take their site in different directions as technology progresses. You can do all the cool things (data repurposing, template swaps, dynamic data integration) you would want to with a CSM (like OU) that is not storing the content in a database.

BTW, OmniUpdate does use databases. All of the systems management, security, user authentication and permissions, workflow management, file control structures, etc. are all database driven. Its just that the content, templates (XHTML, XML, XSL, ASP, CFM, PHP, etc.), CSS, scripts, include files, etc. are all stored flat on both the staging server and when deployed to the live site. OmniUpdate also plays fine with your legacy database systems, to inject dynamic content into your pages.



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