15 September 2006

Symphony: Then and Now

This following excerpt regarding the default templates came with the default template for the Symphony 1.5 beta, but I saw no reason to dispense with it. It helps me remember the process that the Symphony Team has gone through to arrive at this state of Symphony’s development. I consider it to be a privilege to be able to work with such a powerful and flexible application. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the Symphony Team and the Overture forum contributors for their work, tutorials, tips and suggestions, as well as for introducing me to another web standard: XSLT. For myself, it did not take very long to learn the basics.

Let’s look back at the progression of Symphony’s default templates…

Back when Symphony was still called TypeWorks, the default template – designed by Allen Chang – dubbed More than Words marked the first ever default template for the team’s debut application. This template was desgined almost two years ago and its age is starting to show.

When Symphony underwent a name-change, it signified a new identity and also a new version release, Symphony 0.9 Revision 2. A new identity needed a new default template. Behold the Power, an aptly named template was designed by the talented Ian Main. The design was all about showcasing the flexibility and power of Symphony, represented by loud and unique colour combinations.

When Symphony finally grew out of beta, the team knew they needed to represent the application with its original philosophy: simplicity with flexibility. However at the same time they realised that the default template needs to serve a fundamental role: allow developers to examine it and learn by example. As such, the template needed to showcase some of the different aspects of the system but have minimal layout related code. Share the Love was consequently born; designed by Scott Hughes, with the intention of making something entirely imageless. This change in design philosophy set the trend for future default template designs.

Symphony moved from its first public release to 1.1 and again, a design refresh was in order. Share the Love V2 only had small cosmetic changes, notably the background colour was changed to white. The team felt the markup and CSS was minimal and clean and a complete redesign was unnecessary. Clean and minimal markup meant developers can easily browse through the template code and learn the underlying XSLT without having to concern itself with messy layout code.

The latest default template, Cubic, was once again designed by Allen Chang. The template marks the version 1.5 milestone that Symphony has finally reached. The focus of Cubic is to exemplify the major update in Symphony with the inclusion of the “sections” feature. The template still follows the philosophy of simplicity and subtlety.

Symphony has come a long way over the past year and a half, and I find it is well worth the $49 because of the first-rate support that I get from the Symphony Team. If something is not working, they’ll take a look under the hood and tune things up for me. However, by the end of September 2006, the application will be offered for free by the Twentyone Degrees development team. The default templates have offered a great variety in terms of design and functionality, and it’s interesting to look back at them. The reality is that these templates are mere starting points that hide the power behind the system, which now involves not only multiple categories, but also multiple sections, custom fields and an easily customizable administrative interface.

As the Symphony Team continues to develop the documentation and makes the application freely available for developers to test drive, I would be surprised if XSLT did not become one of the standards that we rely on just as much as on CSS and XHTML as a result of the flexibility of the Symphony application.