The latest release to Boonex's CMS system - Dolphin 7, has now been out on the wild for some time. Released at Christmas, the much anticipated Dolphin 7 was to be heralded as the latest in web tech, offering an advanced platform for social networking sites that was far ahead of the competition. With several public beta releases, the anticipation was fueled by the glimpses offered in each release, building up the expectations to a massive level. Also adding fuel to this fire, was the long overdue update and bugfix release due for Dolphin 6. As a result, Dolphin 7 had a lot to deliver.
With the release of Dolphin 7 finally made a year later than expected, it was unleashed into the public with a massive amount of issues, over 300 bugs to be precise. This left the Dolphin community a little abashed, with many users having stuck with Dolphin, through the extended development period, now feeling disappointed. Lots of these users had put development plans on hold, with the expectation that the promised release would be the answer to their needs.
It is now a further 5 months down the line, and the recent update release 7.0.1 has addressed many of the problems that plagued version 7. The problems are not completely fixed however, and there are still many issues surrounding how development and releases are handled, but it seems that Boonex are moving in the right direction with a shorter release cycle, and prioritisation of bugs addressed for each release. I previously touched on this issue with one of my blog posts over at unity - http://www.boonex.com/unity/blog/entry/Product_release_cycles
Based on past performance at Boonex, and anticipating the issues and extended wait with version 7, when it was originally announced, I decided to stick with version 6 - This is a choice that i am glad i made. Not only as the expected release date slipped way beyond the original estimate, and there were more issues than even I anticipated, but also as it has meant that I have managed to build my user-base over the past year, and develop the community for which the site serves.
6.1.6 to 7.0.1 Migration
So with the 7.0.1 release, I decided that it was actually time to take the plunge and update my Dolphin 6 site. The 7.0.1 release is not without it's issues, but in comparison to a standard 6.1.6 installation, they are probably about on par. My main apprehension with the update was that i would be losing some premium modifications - purchased mods that definitely enhanced the user experience, these, plus many other minor mods and bugfixes that I had carried out myself - amounting to over 60 mods in all.
Ultimately, i decided that the additional features offered by the new version, and the overall improvement in the interface was worth the trade off for the few premium mods that I would lose.
I tested an update to the new version 7.0.1 direct from version 6.1.6 using the migration module, but found that there were a few fields not transferred - so I decided to reinstall version 7, perform the migration, and then update to the new 7.0.1 version. The migration was straightforward enough - and once you had manually fixed the update package, the update was also relatively painless.This has now given me a working 7.0.1 site, but this is not without some issues that needed to be addressed.
There are additional steps that you will need to do manually to completely transfer over your Dolphin 6 site to version 7. Most of these relate to missing database data - data that is present and can be converted, but for some reason is missed. I manually had to transfer the following
- Links are not converted to Sites
- Photo and video view counts are not transferred
- Tags are not transferred correctly
- Quotes not transferred
- FAQ / About / Privacy pages not transferred
- Additional user created pages not transferred
- Subscribers not transferred
- Old mass mailer emails not transferred
So far the site seems pretty stable, and with a few tweaks to the standard template does not look too different to the old site. I've already started to redo the mods that I previously had in place on the old site that have not been covered by the new version 7 features, and will be releasing these in the marketplace as I get around to documenting them.
So what do I think?
Well - those of you who frequent Unity, will already know my thoughts on how Boonex handle development and releases, so I will not repeat them here. My main issues with the 7.0.1 update are that whilst an issue was discovered with the upgrade package, it was not addressed, the package is still being shipped with the problem plus a convoluted set of instructions on how to circumnavigate it. To me this is not a very professional way of handling the problem, especially when you consider that some users have paid nearly $1000 for licensing.
For me - I take Dolphin at face value - I do not consider it a mature product, and so I expect it to have problems - an expectation which is unfortunately met tenfold. I get the feeling that Boonex is trying very hard to be a market player, by portraying a professional image, and largely acting like one, but time again it lets itself down with actions like the faulty update package - not an issue in itself - but an issue because it has not been dealt with in a professional manner. This unfortunately extends to the rest of the development too.
The software itself still has some way to go. It embraces a few web2 technologies such as employing the excellent jqeury framework and a generous splattering of Ajax, which whilst improving the overall user perception of the product, is in my eyes a little overused. It's almost comparable to the abuse made to the internet by the blink and marquee tags some 10 years ago - they key to implementing enhancements like these is simply to know when to stop, if it does not add value (ie Ajax exchanges that take longer then page loads, or amateurish looking sliding page masks) then it simply should not be included.
Overall Dolphin brings together the key elements of a good community into one product, but whilst the integration of each element has been executed quite well, each individual element on it's own is little more than average - and this is despite the attempts to dress them up with Jquery animations and the like.
This is also not an observation that is isolated, it is one shared by quite a few of the Unity forums regulars - users that have even undertaken integrations of third party elements to bring Dolphin up to what they consider a more usable product.
The perception of quality all depends of course - on what your particular community requires - for my site it suits fine, but of course your mileage may vary.
Would I recommend this product?
if you are webmaster with some coding skills, that doesn't mind getting their hands dirty on a regular basis - then Dolphin is great - it is a very 'hands on' package - there is generally always something to fix / improve, but for the fact that it needs work to get it 100% overall the product is a good one. In this case - yes I would recommend it - but don't expect to have a great dolphin site without quite a bit (months) of work, and a few headaches trying to figure out the 'spaghetti logic'.
However, If you were to ask me if i would recommend this to my clients - I would say no. Simply because it is high maintenance, and would probably require many post installation visits to address the issues that my client discovers - not a good business plan - even if I am getting paid to fix the issues.
I would also suggest that a stable mature Dolphin is still some way off, and so issues should still be expected for the next few releases. My guess is that it will take at least six months to a year to iron out all of the bugs, by which time the focus would likely have shifted to the already mentioned Dolphin 8 - leaving Dolphin 7 to take a seat next to Dolphin 6 - unfinished and unloved.
So, would I change from using Dolphin for my own site?
At this stage I would say no. I simply have too many hours invested in it, and there is no direct migration path to a comparable product. There is also the fact to consider that my site is a relatively small specialist community site, it is not high traffic, and does not earn money, so there is very little disadvantage from the occasional issues that arise. But this may be a different story for a commercial site.
For me - for the time being, I will stick with Dolphin, but if you are a new user considering it for the first time, my advice is simply to make sure that you approach it with your eyes wide open, if you know what to expect, you will not be disappointed.