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Picking A Content Management System – The Pros & Cons Of Joomla, WordPress and Drupal

The best things in life are free, and this also applies to Content Management Systems (CMS). A CMS is something which allows you to create your own website and manage the pages and content easily. No longer do websites need to be built from scratch (although they may need to be, depending on what you want the end result to be) but you can start with a basic skeleton that you customise to your liking. There’s a number available, and they they all have their good points and bad.

The Open-Source Movement

One of the greatest developments in regards to computer software is the open-source movement. That is software created and released by the open-source community. Open-source means that anyone can take the code and freely distribute and develop it. Here’s the mission of the open-source initiative:

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit corporation with global scope formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open source community.

Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.

– opensource.org

The benefits are quite obvious, especially to anyone who has ever used some proprietary software that has all sorts of hideous limitations and catches that only appear when it’s too late to do much about it.

I’ve had this myself, and although I won’t say which piece of software it was, I’ll tell you about my experience. This well-known accounting software seemed reasonably priced and so I purchased it. All seemed to be going well until I needed to run-off my reports for the end of year, when I found out that some basic functions that you’d expect to be included, in fact, weren’t. I was expected to pay a triple figure sum just to unlock a feature which would then let me run off the report. It didn’t end there. It soon transpired that to do many, very basic tasks, I would have to fork out hundreds of pounds. Fortunately I wasn’t so deep in that I couldn’t climb out. Instead of giving this company more money I sought an alternative. Take heed of this cautionary tale.

The Pros and Cons of using WordPress as your CMS

WordPress is probably the best known CMS platform out there, though you probably associate it with blogging, it can do a great deal more. WordPress is open-source and available to download and install under your own domain. It’s so popular that some hosting providers have implemented ways for you to quickly and easily install this, meaning you can actually get it installed in seconds whilst also handling setting up the required databases for you. Of course you still need to add all your content, customise it and so on, but still…

There seems to be a little anti-wordpress snobbery in the design community, where they don’t see it as being worthy of their consideration, but this isn’t justified. True, WordPress is only really suitable for the simpler stuff, and although it can be used for ecommerce and other more complex sites, I wouldn’t personally recommend it as there are more suitable options.

The negative feeling I’ve mentioned is born of a time when you’d expect sites were custom built from the ground up or web developers used their own proprietary CMS for their clients. A time when web publishing tools were still in their infancy and most people had never heard the term ‘blog’.

I’ve heard someone refer to it as the ‘Fisher Price‘ of CMS, which is a little unfair. Yes it’s simple, but that’s why it’s easy to use, and it’s more advanced than most give it credit for. Although WordPress does seem to attract smaller companies there’s a few large companies which do, though generally not as their main site but rather a satellite one, such as company blogs or product-specific sites.

For which sort of sites is WordPress best suited?

• Starter Websites, such as for a small business which doesn’t need to sell items online e.g Plumbers, Carpenters

• Magazine-style sites where the emphasis is on frequent news updates and releases

The Pros of WordPress

  • Even if your hosting provider doesn’t support quick installations of WordPress, you can still get it installed manually quite quickly
  • Very user-friendly. Even the most ardent technophobe should be able to get going with WordPress in a reasonable amount of time
  • Great for simple websites, such as small business sites
  • Lots of available plugins which increase the functionality of your site
  • WordPress is great for SEO. It’s highly optimised for search engines, and many plugins can aid this further
  • Most templates are easily customisable without technical knowledge

The Cons of WordPress

  • You could easily out-grow WordPress should your site expand greatly. Should you need a power-house for a large, corporate site, WordPress probably doesn’t have the functionality you’re looking for.
  • Although plugins are great, they sometimes break your site, or if the developer stops updating them, they may not work with newer versions of WordPress. You’ll either have to find alternatives, fix them yourself, or get someone to fix them for you.
  • It’s not very secure. This is my biggest gripe with WordPress. I could forgive everything else if they fixed this. You cannot easily hide your login page, meaning that hackers / bots can find it and attack through the brute-force method (just trying different passwords until they get it right. Bots can try thousands of combinations in a very short time.) There are plugins which you can use to, for example, lock-down the login page for a specified time after too many incorrect attempts. There are also other security concerns which appear periodically.
  • WordPress sites can often be identified as such by looking at them, though some good design can disguise the fact
  • There are updates which need installing, all the time. This is a little irritating. Although it’s good to see problems fixed and features added, frequent updates mean than themes / plugins are more liable to break, needing to have an update themselves. Not a week will go by when something doesn’t need upgrading. Yes the process is quick and simple, but can have undesired results.

The Pros and Cons of using Joomla as your CMS

Joomla (normally spelt Joomala! But I won’t because exclamations marks are tiresome to read) is one of the other major players in the open-source CMS field. Something it’s achieved through being reliable, functional and yet keeping a reasonably shallow learning curve when compared to other CMS systems.

While it’s certainly more flexible, powerful and capable than WordPress, it shows when you see the admin or ‘back-end’ of the site. At first sight it appears to be dauntingly complex. I’m afraid that is the price of having the additional flexibility and functionality. A justified price all the same.

Joomla has a huge following and there’s many great websites out there that are built using it. Many you might not expect as it’s not just smaller companies who favour it, there’s a substantial number of large corporations which use it, including MTV, many governments, Barnes & Noble, the MOD, Orange, eBay, Sony Pictures, Ikea and some Universities. That’s just a quick look at the cross-section of different organisations. WordPress on the other hand tends to attract small companies, independents and some celebrities.

For which sort of sites is Joomla best suited?

  • Highly dynamic websites which will need to manage registrations and accounts of your customers
  • More complex offerings, such as ecommerce, forums and larger sites with lots of activity / content
  • The Pros of Joomla

    • Like with WordPress, many hosting providers offer a simple installation procedure for Joomla
    • It’s highly functional
    • If you decide to go this route, you won’t have to worry about it not being able to cope with the growing demands of an ever-increasing site
    • Although a little difficult to learn, it’s certainly easier to use than some
    • Lots of plugins are available
    • Multi-lingual sites are easy to implement

    The Cons of Joomla

    • Learning it fully will take time
    • Aesthetic customisations are not easy to do. Needs knowledge of CSS, though you can always use a theme or hire someone to create a custom one
    • Some argue that Joomla isn’t great in regards to SEO, but has improved in recent versions
    • Uses a proprietary add-on called ‘MooTools’ to include extensions whereas using jQuery would be much better to have implemented

    The Pros and Cons of using Drupal as your CMS

    Drupal has seen much of it’s potential audience get enticed by either Joomla or WordPress. It’s still very widely used and is a web developers dream. It’s immensely powerful, and can be bent entirely to your will (or at least the will of a skilled developer). It’s power and highly flexible configuration come at a price – one of usability.

    Of the type of users which opt for an open-source CMS, Drupal tends to take the cream of the crop. The BBC website, the White House, and NASA have all used Drupal.

    Coming back to its usability for a moment, it is easy to see why it can be a nightmare. The high customisation naturally leads to a highly complex CMS. Whereas with WordPress you can install it and you’re off, Drupal needs a bit more prep. This prep is also relient on someone who is very technically minded. The trouble doesn’t end once the site is up – the administration side is clunky and has a habit of using cryptic terminology causing even the mild-mannered to swear quietly under their breath

    Why is this? It’s because just like the front-end of the site, the back-end can be highly customised to the needs of the user. So the developer can make the back-end more user friendly if they like.

    At this point I need to stress that Drupal has come very far in making it easier for slightly less technically able people to use it. It’s undergone some radical changes, and the last version I used (it was a while ago now) was easier to get my head around than earlier ones. It seem that they’ve got the message about usability and are actively listening to feedback and making it all just a little bit simpler.

    For which sort of sites is Drupal best suited?

    • Huge, unwieldily corporate sites (e.g BBC) with masses on content, administrators and websites users.

    • Large ecommerce solutions

    The Pros of Drupal

    • All the power and flexibility you will ever need, and a load more thrown in for good measure
    • • One installation can be used to manage multiple sites – very handy if you have multiple sites
    • • Pretty much everything can be configured
    • • Quality modules that are, on the whole, well maintained.

    The Cons of Drupal

    • • Can be difficult to get set up if your host doesn’t offer an automated solution to take the pain out of the process
    • • Even the latest version (7 at the time of writing) isn’t as easy to use as other CMS solutions

    Time for a vague conclusion

    No one CMS is specifically better than another when taken on face value. You’ll have to decide what your needs are, and the needs of your customers / website users first. Not forgetting that you’ll have to keep in mind where you wish to be in the future. Knowing these details will help make your decision easier.

    An important point

    If you’re looking to create a site with a specific and common role, such as a forum or an ecommerce website, it will be useful to have a look at what purpose-specific CMS alternatives there are.

    There will be lots available for pretty much everything that will have the required elements contained within it, saving you the time of making a generic one-size-fits-all CMS do exactly what you require.

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