Concrete CMS today announced the general availability of its easy-to-use open source CMS product, Concrete5. The new release builds on Concrete's foundation offering of a CMS that is as easy to configure as a blog, with the flexibility of a full web development platform. Improvements in Concrete5 include an updated file manager, embedded Picnik image editor, new help system and more. Concrete's main competitors in the CMS space are Drupal and Joomla, but Silicon Florist says Concrete5 "crushes them in terms of ease-of-use."

Besides offering the source code under the MIT open source license, a main differentiator between Concrete5 (or C5) and other CMS platforms is the way that pages are built and modified. Concrete5 brings a clickable, context menu-driven model to constructing pages of content, keeping the hierarchical content tree tucked away behind the scenes, but still allowing the use of either short CMS-style or longer SEO-optimized URLs. On the administration side, the platform supports full granular user and group permissions for different contributor roles. Version tracking is built-in as well as a template system, automatic theme installation, Google Analytics support, and package-based deployment for solution providers.

I spent an hour or so using the C5 demo to get familiar with how the system works. In practical use, C5 felt a lot like an easy-to-use website creator married with a full CMS platform on the back-end, making content and layout changes easy and quick, but allowing a lot of customization under the hood if required. The demo has a number of different page types pre-configured, such as an image slideshow, embedded video, and an interactive form. I was also able on my demo page to insert a headline feed from RWW with only a couple of clicks.

Being mostly familiar with WordPress, it definitely is a conceptual shift to work with a CMS that isn't inherently journal-based, but it makes a lot of sense if the site you are designing is going to be built around highlighting a product or service rather than a blog. Overall, C5 seems to be stable, powerful and easy to use. It certainly was not hard to get started with, especially given the fact that it is free and installs easily in a hosting provider's environment with these basic requirements: PHP 5.1.x, Python 2.2, and MySQL 4.1 or higher. They also offer installation support or a one-time fee as well as full hosting for $15/month.