SDL Tridion 2013 Preview

Note: The target audience for this post is technical users, for a business user perspective: see Mark Simpson's post - SDL Tridion 2013 – New Features for Business Users.

Last week I was invited to SDL in Amsterdam for boot camp training on SDL Tridion 2013. There I learned about all the new features and changes that would take several posts to cover in detail. I will try and cover the areas I found the most interesting in this overview. Not only did I get to see the new version of SDL Tridion, it was also a great way to put some names to faces that I've been in contact with only through the MVP program and the Tridion Stack Exchange site (or TRex - which you should join if you haven't already.) Thanks to the presenters: Monica Manzano, David Forster and Asier Fernandez.

So without further ado:

Content Management Explorer

A few nice new little features in the CME. The Personal Information Centre adds actionable tasks, notifications and user preferences. "My Tasks" has been removed from the Shortcuts area with only "Checked out items" remaining.

Tasks can be assigned to users or groups and use a special workflow process which is defined for each publication. This process can be changed just like any other workflow.

Notifications are much improved (again) from 2011 with links to tasks and also a much nicer look and feel than before. One thing missing for me was a "clear all"

Also new is the "Workflow activities dashboard" which shows the different statuses of items in workflow.

Workflow Activities Dashboard

Support

In terms of what Tridion 2013 supports. It's following the pattern of removing support for versions more than 2 versions old. So for Content Manager: Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 are the servers supported. Notice that this is 64bit only! The final big change is the support for Java 7.

Client side for the CME - IE7 and IE8 are no longer supported for the Content Management Explorer (yay / eek!). Also, support for Windows XP has been removed - i.e. it's not even been tested on XP. This is an interesting change considering Tridion's target audience.

The Content Delivery support follows the same pattern but obviously includes Linux, Oracle and DB2.

Architecture

The biggest change on the CME side is the architecture. In 2011 we had the "Hybrid architecture". This meant that there were .NET Facades over the COM stuff.

Hybrid architecture

The new architecture is called the "Consolidated Architecture". The majority of the CME is now fully .NET and COM dependent items have been minimised. This means a lot has been deprecated e.g. TOM (VBScript templates, JScript templates, VBScript for automated workflow activities), XML Responder and Business Connector.

These items can be added by installing the "Legacy Pack" which contains all the COM dependent items. The only way to install these items is with a command line switch on the installer. For upgrades the Legacy Pack will be installed by default.

Note that even without the Legacy Pack the COM+ application will still appear on the CM server, however, it is only used for licencing (and I think Content Porter 2013).

The Content Manager now exclusively uses the CoreService for all operations. There is a new CoreService endpoint "2012" and the API hasn't changed that much but for older code you can point at the "2011" endpoint to ensure nothing breaks. The version of all DLLs now starts with a 7 so you'll need to update those references.

This is all great news for developers.

Bundles

Virtual Folders allow you to group items for release fairly crudely based on a search query for the date. 2013 takes this a few steps further with "Bundles". Bundles are similar to a Virtual Folder with the big differences that you can add items manually (not just have them based on a search) and also apply workflow to them which facilitates "Multi Item Workflow".

This feature allows you to put templating items and content into a Bundle to move through a release process. Content Porter 2013 will also be Bundle Aware potentially enabling you to automate releases. Anything that can have workflow can be in a Bundle.

However, Quirijn Slings (whom I was sat next to while he wrote the providers for DD4T in 2013) noticed that Folders prevented the Bundle from entering Workflow because you can't have workflow on a Folder. I suspect this will be fixed in the GA release though. The internal item type number for a Bundle is the same as that of a Virtual Folder - 8192. Also worth noting is that Bundles can contain Bundles.

Bundles can be attached to a particular schema so that when a Component using that schema is created it is forced into the Bundle (and so into workflow). This can cause the "Reserved state" where an item can't be checked in until it has completed workflow. Bundles can also be set to "Dissolve" on completion of their associated workflow (this means the virtual folder is dissolved not the items in it!)

This will be a powerful feature I think.

Workflow

Workflow has been completely overhauled. The main improvement is in how automated tasks are handled - these are now written in C#. This can either be as a script embedded in the workflow or as an external activity which work in a similar way to C# TBBs. I would definitely recommend using the external activity as the embedded script type has no debugging support. This is very analogous with how C# Fragments and C# TBBs are related.

There are several predefined variables in the C# script type to give you access to the CoreService, logging, the resume bookmark, the current activity and the full workflow process. So C# Script types can be really powerful but I reiterate: you have to type them into Visio and there's no debugging/testing. They are compiled on save. You can also import external libraries.

Now, External Activities are much nicer. You develop them in Visual Studio and they are stored in Tridion in a .NET Assembly TBB. Very similar to how C# TBBs work, they are uploaded with TcmUploadAssembly. External Activities still need a little bit of script in Visio to wire them up though.

Here's a couple of examples from the workshop (apologies but I had to embed them as a single gist - plugin problems!). The first is a very simple activity just displaying a message. Notice it inherits from the ExternalActivity class. The second shows a bit more of an involved example by publishing to Staging. The third is the code required in Visio to wire up an External Activity in Visio to the TBB stored in the CME. Ideally I hope we will see these two variables become text boxes in the Visio Plugin in a future version.

[gist]https://gist.github.com/rsleggett/5214230[/gist]

 

When you create a new Workflow project you need to include the Tridion.ContentManager.CoreService.Workflow.dll and Tridion.ContentManager.CoreService.Client.dll along with Tridion.ContentManager.Common.dll. You can attach to TcmWorkflowAgent on the CM Server to debug. I tried this and it's really easy.

I should note here that Visio 2010 is required for the Tridion plugin to work - workflows will open in lower versions but they won't be editable/savable to Tridion. Also: legacy workflows with no VBScript automation will just work in the new engines. Overall, these changes are all really good for everyone.

Experience Manager (or The Product Formerly Known as User Interface Update 2012 for SDL Tridion 2011 SP1)

Experience manager has been updated to include support for Bundles. It's now fully integrated with the CME rather than as an add on.

Also now built into Experience Manager is Device Preview shown here with the Building Blocks website responding to the iPhone screen width and user agent string.

Device preview showing Building Blocks website in an iframe.

Templating

The XSLT Mediator for Template Building Blocks is now built into the product (this is not the same as XSLT Component Template). This is based on the open source one and I believe the code is compatible. It has a separate name internally though so if you are upgrading no collisions will occur. No Razor built in yet unfortunately.

XSLT Mediator (shown in CodeMirror)

As I mentioned above all the TOM based TBB types have been deprecated and are only available via the Legacy Pack.

External Content Libraries

Another exciting feature is External Content Libraries. This allows you to display and use multimedia items from an external source as if they were items in Tridion. The SDL team showed examples of Dropbox, Flickr and SDL Media Manager.

External Content Libraries with Bing Backgrounds

There was some discussion about whether this could be used to integrate with an external system which doesn't necessarily contain multimedia for example a Product Information Manager or a SQL Database. The consensus was that it could but maybe there would be issues around it.

I think this will be a great feature and help bring down the size of some of those Content Manager databases due to not having to store all the binaries. Unfortunately I haven't managed to dive into the code for this yet. It is next on my list.

For more information: Bart Koopman has shown a good example of this in a previous Community Webinar and Eric Huiza has written a blog post explaining it.

Content Delivery changes

Just a few changes on the Content Delivery side in this version. The biggest changes being in what Tridion supports - i.e. no 32 bit.

  • The OData service can now be restricted by IP as part of the claims processing pipeline.
  • Also for the OData service: cookie validation feature which adds a bit more security to the service to prevent HTTP header injection.
  • User Generated Content has been rewritten in Java but not much else has changed as far as I could see.
  • The monitoring agent can now use NTLM v2 (whatever that is!).
  • Undo publishing

The biggest new feature was Undo Publishing, which sounded interesting in principle but not very practical and I would probably wait for the next version to consider implementing it. The way this works is by storing publish transaction zips in (yet) another Content Delivery database. Basically: when a publish is "undone" the transport package is re-executed.

Asier Fernandez also gave a good overview of the changes and ended with a great walk through of how to alleviate problems with Experience Manager and MVC implementations.

Conclusions

It looks like this version of SDL Tridion is adding some nice new features, but not much has changed on the CD side. This will mean a nice easy upgrade. Bundles and Workflow should have some interesting implications for release processes but we shall see the full impact of that when Content Porter 2013 becomes available. The changes in Experience Manager should be really helpful for editors - and Device Preview will be very important with the new responsive web. The changes in workflow will probably mean we see a lot more use of this powerful feature and may mean publishing to live is always done automatically as part of an approval process.

Thanks to SDL for having me. It was great to see Amsterdam and the office. I even got to show off my amazing dance moves.

I hope this post has helped you. Please leave a comment if you would like anything clarified.

Any questions?

If you need more information or have any questions just get in touch and we'd be happy to answer them for you.