Now, I've had my local installation kicking around pretty much since November without any changes, around the time 3.4.0 came out, so before I go any further, need to perform the upgrade. I wouldn't normally comment on this but damn it's slick. You just upload all the new files of everything, overwriting the old ones, then visiting example.com/admin/upgrade/ and the upgrader walks you through the steps. Picture attached. Everything thereafter is just it going through the motions and telling you what it's doing. I can't deny this is slick but to be fair, $125 for the basic system, it wants to be slick.
IP.Board / IP.Core
This is smooth, I really mean smooth. They've put a lot of time and thought into this. Even from the sign in page being a popup on the current page (rather than anything else)
Presentation-wise, it's crisp and clean and just gets on with the job. Rounded corners are very minimal, the colour scheme professional and pretty neutral. You can see there's also a sort of mini portal in the core, too.
I will note that it isn't as lightweight as other systems in terms of performance; my localhost does occasionally take a couple of seconds to build a page but usually that's just the first time.
Message index is also quite interesting; you can selectively pull up a preview of a topic, but otherwise it just carries the same businesslike approach to the message index. Note the prominence of sorting options.
The topic view carries the same aesthetic approach. Interestingly, there is prominence given to the topic starter above the topic itself, I don't recall seeing that before, but works well. The usual realms of quoting and multiquoting are present, as well as likes. In fact probably the most notable thing here is the Blog This button, which essentially grabs the post and pushes it to the Blog area. I'll get to that in due course.
Editing is much as you'd expect, including inline editing, though the inline editor brings up the bbcode etc. which is powered by CKEditor. There's the 'reason for edit' and 'hide the edit-by line' stuff, but more importantly is the 'My Media' option in the editor.
Now, from my perspective, this is absolutely slick and demonstrates how it should be done, IMHO. Aeva went part of the way, allowing users to upload images directly from the editor, but this is even more spiffy. See attached. In essence, you can find anything you've previously submitted, that isn't itself a post and embed it into your post, be it an attachment you've previously posted - and it's tied to what plugins you have. As mentioned, I have the suite, so IP.Blog, IP.Calendar, IP.Download and IP.Gallery items are also available.
I don't have any gallery items at just this moment, but you get the picture of how slick this beast really is.
So, let's take a look quickly at the other members of IP.Suite.
Then we get to the members list - again, follows much the same vein as other areas aesthetically. Presents much as the board index but this time with boards as having individual authors, and blogs can also be 'external blogs' which amounts to redirections.
Adding a blog entry is much like adding a regular post, just with slightly different options. Both forum posts and blog posts offer titles and tags, plus content and attachments, plus polls. IPB also allows for automatically unlocking and relocking a topic at given times, for example if you want to post a new topic to announce a contest and only open it from midnight for 24 hours, for submissions.
Blog items can also have an image attached to them to represent them and have categories to sort them. It's all much as you'd expect (and given that it's a paid add-on, it's hardly surprising that it's covered) - and you can also elect to publish an item in the future too. Note that that isn't an option for regular posts, only blog posts.
There's also the option to create Group Blogs, which are not owned by a single user but owned by a collective, and then you can assign one or more membergroups to it to contribute. There is also a mini portal of sorts for showing in the sidebar (mini calendar, last entries, gallery albums from the blog's owner, last comments, showing the blog owner's avatar, random images from blog owner's albums, active users, tags, blog search and categories within the blog)
I can't really imagine what else would be needed; this all seems at least comparable (and often superior) to what WordPress offers as a blog solution.
Well, the calendar is not really very surprising. There are three views to the calendar, Month, Week and Day - something SMF never did (it only had month and week)... but as you dive in you realise it's far more intriguing.
Firstly, they have the notion of multiple calendars. There is the "Community Calendar", but also you can create individual calendars and assign permissions. Calendars can also be followed in terms of RSS feeds and 'following' which means you will get notifications and so on, plus the number of followers is also tracked.
Creating events is fairly straightforward - you add events to a given calendar, indicate that they are personal or public, or who they can be viewed by. Events can have end dates, they can repeat weekly/monthly/yearly and can have start/end times (including time offsets)
Note that calendar events are inherently separate from the forum and individually get contributed to in terms of comments.
This is also a perfect time to mention the search feature, incidentally. In the search area is a dropdown for what you want to search, be it the Forum, Members, Help Files, Blogs, Calendar, Pages (IP.Content), Downloads (IP.Download), or Gallery (IP.Gallery)... interestingly there is not a search-all option, even if you go to the full search page.
Configuration is fairly minimal, but you don't need vast numbers of options - and it does allow importing from iCalendar format too, which is interesting.
IP.Content is where you would add additional items for the site, and allows for things like an Articles system (which is not just for conventional articles but promoting regular posts to articles). It's nothing particularly special, has the usual gamut of article management type stuff; if you've seen any of the SMF portals, you have a fair idea of what to expect from that part.
Where it gets more complex is in the provision of blocks - again, a portal type construction, and lets you pull things like lists of articles, recent articles, recent comments, yada yada yada. Again nothing particularly original, but well put together.
IP.Content also provides the ability to create template blocks, which can be added to content areas as a way of managing how your content is displayed. If anything it's actually rather imposing on new users. To give you an idea, just check out http://www.invisionpower.com/support/guides/_/advanced-and-developers/ipcontent/
The other thing IP.Content gives you is the ability to manage straight up pages. You get to play with creating pages and folders for those pages, for example one of the demos is Site Root > media.html, which is a page showing the latest YT video, and a Recent Videos block underneath, which is just an example of them using their markup and templating system to show the linktree, some divs, followed by using their markup to pull in predefined blocks and a predefined database query/template combination (as defined in IP.Content)
It's very effective, but I can see how it could get overwhelming.
The Download item is fairly dry, actually, there's not really a lot to it but that's not an unfair assessment. There really is only so much you can do with it. Files have names, versions, tags, a change log box and description (of which only file name and description), plus the file itself, of course. You create one or more categories, putting files into categories... it's all fairly straightforward.
You can also add custom fields.
In the admin panel, though, it's a different story, all kinds of things can be done there - you can store files locally, store them remotely via FTP or even into the database directly if you so wish.
There's a variety of ranking options, plus things like file approvals, ability to turn the system 'online' or 'offline' (i.e. maintenance mode) as well as things like old versions of files, configuration of MIME types... it's surprisingly thorough behind the scenes even if it doesn't look it on the front end. There are also options for importing from a zip file or from a pre-existing directory.
IP.Gallery is much as you'd expect, you create categories and albums, though there are far fewer options than Aeva has :lol: - albums have names, descriptions without bbc, privacy (public vs private vs friends only, allowing comments, allowing ratings, watermarking) There is no option for nesting albums, interestingly.
The workflow is designed to be simpler, as you go to the front page, select your album (or use what the 'current album' is), hit upload and then it'll perform the upload - then, and only then, taking you to the edit-item page, where you give it a title, tags, description and copyright. Doesn't seem like there's a custom fields option.
The presentation of the gallery is much as elsewhere - you see an album and previews of all the items in it, and then to the item itself... it's essentially comparable to Aeva and Aeva is probably more thorough in terms of options - but I can't help but feel that IP.Gallery is more slick in presentation, though not by much.
I can't comment on IP.Chat much, as I haven't used it...
Firstly, it requires your licence key from IPS to be put into your forum. This is, in itself, not a huge problem. However - and this is a big turn-off, IPS contacts your forum periodically to ensure the licence key is put in and valid etc. Now you get the licence key for test installs (same as regular licence key but with -TESTINSTALL on the end) which is bound to a given location (in my case, localhost/ipb/) and periodically I find that the licence key gets 'forgotten'.
Secondly, -TESTINSTALL installations automatically have IP.Chat disabled.
Thirdly, IP.Chat seems to be set up to be primarily hosted on IPS servers rather than your own (since if it were self hosted I don't see why it would need the key)
I have tried it, and honestly it's nothing that incredible; it is conventional AJAX polled chat, though it does of course tie into your actual accounts - and it doesn't have the requirement attached of adding load to your server because it's not hosted on your server. This may or may not be an acceptable trade off for you.
I haven't tried this. Unlike the rest of the IP Suite, IP.Nexus is shipped encrypted - you either need ionCube Loader or Zend Guard Loader to make it work. Interestingly there are three separate downloads of IP.Nexus because you have the ionCube version, the ZGL for PHP 5.2 and the ZGL for PHP 5.3+ versions.
Their argument is that it increases security, but I'm not convinced it really does. But that's another matter. IP.Nexus is a combined billing system and helpdesk - and it's what's used on IPS' own site for handling billing and sales of IPB itself. It is competent but nothing truly outstanding.
This has been a long enough post - so I'm going to leave it there for the client side and write up the admin panel in the next post. The one thing I would say about all this, though, and it's perfectly true: IPB has long been considered the most professional of the forum world - but it's nothing special. It does what it does very well, it's solid and capable but otherwise unremarkable.
I would note that I'm not entirely convinced about their security record, by the way. My licence was purchased on 5th November, which was IPB 3.3.4, and since then there have been two 'critical' patches plus we're now up to 3.4.5 (3.3.4 -> 3.4.0 -> .1 ----> 3.4.5), plus various patches for each of the modules. Now, some of those are bugfix patches, sure, but even so that does raise questions for those of us used to something like SMF's timeline (4 patches since June 2011)
|1.||The reason it operates the way it does is because a lot of stuff, templates and language strings and stuff, is all in the database so it all needs to be synced.|
|2.||And they install as cleanly as the upgrader, you just dump the files and tell it to find them, but since it's all built by IPB, it's hardly surprising.|