Review: Practical Plone 3
Packt publishing sent me a copy of Practical Plone 3 (sample chapter) to review a couple of weeks ago, and I have now finally taken time to read it. This book is a real communty effort, with thirteen different authors. That sounds like it would make for a very eclectic and confused book. But the subtitle is full of promises, “A Beginner’s Guide to Building Powerful Websites”. That’s a bold claim. Let’s see how it does.
When you open the book you’ll see an interesting organisation of chapters. The book is split in three parts. The first is called “Background”, the second “I want to…” and the third “Now when I’ve got the basics, I’d like to learn how to…” This makes it quite clear what the intention is. You are supposed to read through the Background chapters, and then be able to just open any chapter in Part 2, and read this to understand how to do that part. So, I did that. I read through the Backround part, which tells you what Plone is, how to install it, and introduces the UI. Then I picked a chapter from Part 2 and dived into it. And, not making it too easy for the authors, I picked Chapter 9, “Managing approvals and other workflow”.
Matt Bowen makes a decent effort in explaining this to a Zope newbie audience, but that fact is that workflows are not easy, and you need to fiddle around in the ZMI, and understand how workflows work, and grasp Zopes permission system all in one go. And try as he might, I think Matt got an impossible task. A Plone and Zope newbie will leave that chapter half way through and say “OK, maybe I’ll come back to this later”. Essentially, the book fails here. But reading through the rest of the book, it turned out I had quickly pounced on the books major flaw. Chapter 9 is really in the wrong section, and should have been in Section 3. But the other chapters in Section 2 is about tasks that are easier in Plone, and where Plone has good UI to help people deal with the tasks. And with the exception of Chapter 9, I don’t think a Plone newbie would have any problems in just opening the book at the relevant chapter and start doing things.
Part 3 takes up more than half the book, and deals with how to start customizing and developing. How to set up a buildout, how to change the design, how to start making new content types. This is not easy things, and it’s hard for me as a non-newbie to judge how well it is explained to people new to Plone development, but it seems clearly explained and practical to me.
And in the end, the decision to put Chaoter 9 in Part 2 instead of Part 3 is the only major flaw I can find in the book. Yes, this book is a good beginners guide to Plone. Yes, with this book in one hand and a Plone server in the other, you can indeed build a powerful website. The 13 authors (and six additional reviewers) did a good job. I have no hesitation in heartily recommending this as a beginners Plone book.