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Cover image for Has Umbraco turned into the "tourist trap" of open source .net CMSs

Has Umbraco turned into the "tourist trap" of open source .net CMSs

timgeyssens profile image Tim Geyssens ・8 min read

Umbraco has been on the open source .net CMS market for a bit over 15 years (first open source v was out in feb 2005). Personaly I found out about it in 2006 and was lucky enough to attend the first training around early 2007. Since then I was hooked, started blogging on nibble.be, answering forum posts (even before the our.umbraco.com site, so the older platforms), creating and sharing packages (umbraco addons),doing core work, providing talks and workshops at events, arranging meetups (later festivals), doing (official) trainings, recording video tutorials, I was even fortunate enough to have work on the HQ team for 7 years (during highs and lows) together with Umbraco founder Niels Hartvig. So since 2007 my professional career has been focused around the Umbraco CMS. You could say I'm a fanboy since the early days.

I loved the fact that the CMS took away all the boring tasks, let me build a backend that was unique and targetted to the specific site.. and that you could build upon your existing knowledge as a .net dev (using many .net standards) + the trainings where affordable and there where lot of helpfull folks in the community who whent the extra mile to make sure users got the info they needed.

But recently (can't really pinpoint since when) I'm kinda missing the passion and crazy/tongue in cheek stuff that makes Umbraco and the Umbraco community unique. 6 years ago I called that Passion Driven Development. I feel like the marketing and sales aspect has taken over...big time.

So my worry is: Has Umbraco turned into the "tourist trap" of open source .net CMSs

On wikipedia A tourist trap is defined as: an establishment (or group of establishments) that has been created or re-purposed with the aim of attracting tourists and their money. Tourist traps will typically provide services, entertainment, food, souvenirs and other products for tourists to purchase.

While some establishments may be viewed by tourists as fun and interesting diversions, tourist traps can also have negative connotations when they direct travelers off highways into commercial areas, and could potentially be tacky, deceitful and an overall waste of time and money.

I mostly use the term when referring to restaurants in bigger cities that are located in crowded hotspots but locals would avoid (because they now the food is expensive and isn't that good).

Thing is these traps are mostly interested in the quick wins, money from tourists that they know they'll probably won't see back anyway...

Exhibit A - Commercial product(s) without support

This is actually this issue that sparked it all. One of Umbraco Hq's products is a form builder. https://umbraco.com/products/umbraco-forms/ which is super useful (editors can just design their own forms and start gathering the data they want)!

Back in 2018 I noticed an annoying bug. Here are the details: bracket syntax for replacing setting workflow settings with record values uses caption instead of alias , the bug was found while working an a site for an Umbraco Gold Partner. So I followed the process of getting in touch with Umbraco support (one of the perks of being a partner). What followed was a rather long conversation , first explaining the bug , the folks at Umbraco HQ where then able to reproduce and confirm that it is a bug. What happens next is interesting... they get back with the fact that fixing the bug would break all existing installations...so that they won't fix it... I then suggest 2 options that would leave existing installations working (including a config flag) but that just gets shot down with the fact it's a low priority bug...

Full confo with Umbraco support can be found here.

Of course over those 2 years other agencies (including gold partners) start hitting the bug. Since my initial issue get's some comments from other folks and also similar tickets get shot in like this one: Forms: Magic string for form field does not use alias

It all goes kinda unnoticed until I noticed a tweet this March and place a reply:
Forms convo

So hey all good and positive, users say it could use some TLC, it's a great product... and the Umbraco founder Niels Hartvig says it deserves a bit more attention.

So I get my hopes up and think the issue will finaly be fixed for the customer... Unfortunatly it doesnt... I'm kinda pointed it the way of a non working work around.. What follow then is a rather long convo both on the issue tracker (and in mail) where I'm trying to figure out what the bug fixing warranty in Umbraco Forms actually is...(suprise it is non existing) You can read it on the tracker here I even find out the bug was actually reported 2 years earlier (on the previous issue tracker)... so in fact it's a 4 year old bug. CON-1208 - Parsing record field data in workflows uses Field Name & not the alias

Eventually a new version (containing a fix, yay) gets rolled out, but not thoroughly tested so a patch release is needed to fix the messup... Changes to improve "magic strings" usage in 7.4.0/8.4.0 don't work as expected and then forms goes quite again...

Ow wait a new version was out (without the CTO knowing apparently, since in a product update he claims the v is coming while it is already on nuget...) containing a breaking upgrade bug

And apparently a security issue isn't that of a big deal...forms security issue .Noticed several tweets from end on July when coming out of hols in mid August reporting the issue... mailed to security team at HQ, first auto reply then after 23 hours just some info that they are looking into it...

Meanwhile the open issues just keep growning

Exhibit B - No affordable way to learn and keep your Umbraco knowledge up to date.

Say you like what you see and want to take your journey in Umbraco further. Well better get enough funds.

Currently there are 8 different (official) training courses. If you would take the 6 courses you are required to call yourselve an Umbraco Certified Master that sets you back €6.200... of course there is a bundle offer (if you buy all 6 at once you get a 20% discount)

Luckily there is also another option (you would think)

Umbraco.TV Umbraco.tv is a video subscription service (also shown on the umbraco backoffice dashboard and help info) that costs +-30 euros a month. Seems like a good deal! Unfortunalty the amount of videos on v8 (the latest mayor umbraco version that has been out for a while) is seriously lacking https://umbraco.tv/videos/umbraco-v8/

So how do you keep your knowledge up to date if you already did the courses for v7 and now need to refresh those for v8?

Bridging courses! or should I say videos... the price tag for watching 5 pre recorded videos without having any way of asking questions or feedback: €2600 or €1742 if you bought the bundle, what a deal!

Exhibit C - "New" product that gets a sloppy release

If you followed the Umbraco newsletters and blog/product update you'll notice the new product in town Umbraco Uno. Well it isn't excalty new since it's this product: https://iglootheme.com/ but rebranded and combined with Umbraco Cloud...If you also noticed the vibe on twitter when it was released it was just a complete surprise that Umbraco HQ is now also trying to target the no-code site builder market. Some folks/partners even thought they had to compete agains HQ now...

For me it goes kinda against one of the things I love about Umbraco, the fact that you build the site backoffice around what the frontend/editor needs. But if you look at the amount of options you get when editing a page in Uno...

Umbraco Uno

Kinda scary to give that to an editor...

Luckily umbraco uno comes with included Umbraco TV subscription (without any uno vids of course...), and included forum support, but there is no uno forum on our.umbraco.org

And the latest uno feature announced is: Custom Code which boils down that you turn your uno site in a normal cloud site (with access to all sections and git) but lose any uno future updates (and probably don't get the uno sourcecode, so if something breaks with those ... )

Exhibit D - False stats on the umbraco.com homepage

If you take a look at the umbraco.com homepage you'll notice that at several spots they'll claim the over 200,000 active users, strong ecosystem...
Community members but from my experience (and I've been on the community since 2006), the engagement is way down and I couldn't even find 500 active community members if I tried...you can view the community activity on the community hub https://our.umbraco.com/... so after trying to figure out how this number is calcaluted I figured it is just the amount of members on the community site of all time that ever did 1 thing (like post a question) ... and if you check way back machine you'll also notice this is static setting...

Exhibit...

Of course there are more, the new shiny features in v8 that aren't that useful (content apps), the fact that the .net core version that is in the works will still be using angularjs v1, great ideas from the community that could offer real value given the cold shoulder. The concept of gold partnership that is just a bought title.

Now what?

So I kinda turned from fanboy into the annoying guy on twitter that points out flaws with Umbraco HQ the past months (I guess sometimes you need to change to stay the same)...Is that something I enjoy? No absolutely not... it is hard to see something that you love and have invested lots in being led in a strange direction.

And I'm not alone with this feeling, over the past months I have had several DM's from folks (key folks from the community) that feel pretty much the same way...sad part is some have already given up...

Umbraco engagement

And people (long time users) discussing other options (like https://piranhacms.org/ and https://squidex.io/) since umbraco v8 isn't cutting it for them...

I also tried to get some kind of community call going with HQ to raise the concern and try to talk in a constructive way about what might be bad/good...but that just goes unanswered...

I would at least have expected to get some kind of response from the Umbraco Community Engagement Officer

I'm still open for that btw, only thing I want is that it's transparent and inclusive

But since I'm on the blocklist...not really got high hopes on that one...

And a watch tip, the cg 2012 keynote (you know the one where v5 was killed):

Talking about: Breaking the "gentlemans silence" of never talking bad about Umbraco...have to admit in public when you know something is wrong...

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Discussion

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Tim. I generally disagree with Umbraco becoming a Tourist Trap, but you raise several points that are painfully true, (and along with an undercurrent that I've noticed others have been sharing on the Slack/Twitter DM back channels).

I'd need more time to unpack each of your exhibits. My positive take is that each one has the potential to be resolved... I think our frustrations come from a place where we are not seeing that potential realised.

re: CG12 Keynote. I regularly remind myself of this. Definitely something more folk should be aware of. (Maybe ignoring my uComponents demo fails and awkwardness in the mid-section interlude 😆)

 

thanks Lee, it's perfectly fine to disagree... I just want to start the convo!

 

The Umbraco-sphere certainly isn't perfect.

I worry that you seemed to be spending a lot of effort shining a light in to the dark corners. I hope this comes from a place of wanting to see Umbraco fulfill its full potential, and not something more negative. Sometimes provocative articles can be the source of change, and sometimes they can just be trolling.

 

of course! I agree this is an aggresive approach, but I feel this is the final roll of the dice before leaving a sinking ship (which I do hope doeesn't need to happen)... I mean, my whole career is based on Umbraco (as a freelance Umbraco dev) so I want to see Umbraco do good, if umbraco is loved that means I"ll get more work! If it isn't...

 

My gripe is the control Umbraco A/S has over Umbraco CMS, in a way that Facebook doesn't control React and Google doesn't control Angular (sorry if I'm wrong).

I'd like to see Umbraco CMS as a separate entity like wordpressfoundation.org/. Hopefully Umbraco A/S would contribute man power, but ultimate the foundation would be democratic. That said, I know exactly where the Fork button in Github is. There is no reason that this is the responsibility of Umbraco A/S to setup.

As far as there commercial practices go. Some things aren't as I'd prefer but it's their company and they will live or die by their commercial decisions. I don't feel they've done anything to be ashamed of.

yup agreed, also mentoined the wp foundation a while back but didn't really get a response ... thanks for your input!

 

It is good to see the Umbraco vets commenting on this post.

I really like Umbraco CMS. I would have jumped on the cloud bandwagon, but given the cost and the customers not seeing it as a viable option because of this, I did bring this up on the forums. In the US, Wordpress (and to some extent Wix and Squarespace) has the lion's share of the market.

Given that their prices are insanely competitive leaves me holding the "hey here is the CMS called Umbraco" and the reaction is "what's an Umbraco?". Umbraco is so flexible to any designer's wishes, me included, because of the flexibility. And knowing that most WP sites get rewritten within a year or two because of plugin bloat makes Umbraco such a huge advantage. But the cloud costs can't compete with someone who wants a quick site on a budget.

I do wish the company would pair down a bit. It is like when sports players go pro and get paid too much money. They lose that passion. I know somewhere in there, the passion is still there, but I know the stress of running a successful business is weighing on them too. Especially now in Covid and every business who never thought of having a website wants one right away.
It is such a good platform, but has the company, in my humble small opinion, Umbraco has grown too big to let it's community step in an help. In UWestFest 2017 they had a similar slogan when 8 was being pushed "you need to change to stay the same". We all have businesses to run and so do they, I get it, but we also have also are always looking at what works for our businesses and adapt but also look at what our customers are saying, because without them, the businesses don't exist.

-Carlos (aka ClosDesign, AKA CreateItCarlos)

 

thanks for you thoughts on this Carlos!

 

Tim, some very valid points here for sure. It's so important to keep Umbraco in open source mode, but I also know from a business standpoint that you have to keep the money coming in too. I feel that HQ is struggling here a bit. I hope that your post is read by HQ ... and absorbed.

In a time of increasing competition in the CMS marketplace I feel that Umbraco needs to be removing barriers to entry and not adding in more. Umbraco is heavily advanced-developer focused as we all know. This means that new Umbraco uptake is developer (not client) driven - and it's a hard sell to a client in North America. Very few clients will say "I want this built on Umbraco", a lot will say "What is Umbraco - I want this built on WordPress". It's up to the dev to educate them why Umbraco is a better choice. My point is that it's one of the best solutions out there IMHO, but it's hard to sell to clients in a WordPress world without a stronger developer advocate community. That community can only grow with more accessibility - read easier access to knowledge, better documentation and strong QA/bulletproof releases (especially expensive PRO products like Courier, Forms, etc.)

I agree that it's important to keep the positive vibe of Umbraco going as it's the foundation of progress, but agree that there needs to be a little less monetization and a little more focus on the people that are bringing them the business - after all we are not just developers, we are advocates and sales people all rolled into one.

 

Thanks for the reply, have you seen my follow up post? dev.to/timgeyssens/why-i-would-kee... There I outline a couple of things that I would feel benefit the global Umbraco market...

 

Tim,

I think its great that you are voicing your concerns and I hope that this gets people talking and engaged.

I do think there are some good things happening with how they are moving the product forward with the community teams that have been organized around challenging features and topics. This like .NET Core, Accessibility, Documentation, PRs, etc.

The albatross for Umbraco has been the paid packages that don't seem to get any love. Its really frustrating because there isn't really a good way for the community to help with those products, even if we want to.

-Jason

 

That is my hope, we'll see how it turns out!

 

I think this rings true Tim. You commented on our recent-ish CacheDependency memory leak bug which was validated relatively quickly, but it took a lot of pushing and a long wait to get released into 7.15.5.

We upgraded and immediately noticed a huge CPU issue when we were being crawled. 7.14 handled that traffic without issue, but clearly 7.15.5 hadn't been load tested. The whole process of upgrading, testing, then downgrading has cost us so much time I haven't been able to get anyone on this to investigate further, but it does seem someone else has noted the same issue:
our.umbraco.com/forum/using-umbrac...

Clearly while fixing bugs the team have introduced a new, and major, issue. We were seeing our CPU rapidly ramp up to 100% during the crawl, but then NOT RECOVER for hours after the traffic had subsided. Somehow the site stayed operational but that was something of a miracle.

I'll try and get this raised, but again I don't have high hopes for a fix (that actually works), and our client is not ready to upgrade to v8 yet so we're caught between a memory leak and CPU overload!