Over the past few years, a plethora of fairly user friendly, self-administered website systems have become available. They represent the latest generation of website technology and offer numerous benefits over “static” HTML websites. While this development was initially driven by the blogosphere and was dominated by platforms developed in the PHP programming language, a decent number of ASP.NET (Microsoft) systems have come to fruition, not to mention droves of proprietary (“Hosted”) systems offered by private companies.
There are some baseline phrases you should know and understand before diving into the following.
- Portal – A portal is a fancy way of saying website. You should be aware that the term “portal” has in recent years taken on additional connotations relating to social networking communities (or websites that are far more “involved” or “complex” than a typical business’ website).
- Front-end – The “front end” of a website is the publicly viewable portion of a website. The pages that can be seen and interacted with by anyone visiting the site.
- Back-end – The “Back-end” of a website refers to the portion of a website that is password protected and accessed by website administrators to add/edit/delete content visible on the publicly-facing front end.
- Content Management System (or CMS) – CMS indicates that website administrators have flexibility to add/edit/delete content found on a website on-the-fly or “in real time.” That is, changes made in the administrative Back-end of a website are reflected instantaneously on the publicly visible front-end of the site. It is important to note that this does not mean that a typical administrative user can change all aspects of a given site. Rather, CMS platforms are primarily concerned with granting flexibility to content that is given to change frequently. Examples would be News Stories, Press Releases, Sales Rep Directories, Corporate Events, Blog posts, etc.
- Open Source – “Open Source” in the most widely accepted use of the term refers to foundational code that can be modified to a significant extent. In some respects it is easier to speak of what Open Source isn’t rather than is. For example, if you purchase a license for Microsoft Word and load it onto your laptop, you may use the product, but you cannot access or change the code upon which the word processor software runs. Likewise, if you use Adobe Photoshop, you do not have access to the code behind the application. You cannot modify the code to your liking in order to add or suppress additional functionality as you see fit. Likewise, you cannot change functionality to work this way when it was programmed to work in a different way. Preferences can be changed, but only those preferences offered out-of-the-box by the authoring company. Open Source solutions enable programmers to “open” and amend code as needed and at will. There are, of course, limits to the degree and depth of access in most cases, but there are very few restrictions. So, it is entirely possible for an adept programmer to modify the out-of-the-box code provided on install to the degree that it is, for all intents and purposes, barely recognizable as having started out as a normative installation.
“Open Source” also refers to the predominance of “open user licenses” for the more well-known Open Source solutions. Open Source source code is free for the taking, meaning that a developer can download an “instance” of a given open source solution without having to pay a licensing fee to do so. And then, the developer can slice and dice the code as he/she sees fit. It should be noted here that it common for Open Source solutions providers to offer a “community” edition (free of licensing concerns) and a more robust “commercial” version (usually involving licensing costs). Commercial editions are typically more flexible, entail a degree of professional support, and/or offer additional functionality not found and/or supported in the commensurate Community Edition.
“Open Source” also entails the concept of “community development”; that is, while core functionality of a given Open Source solution might be officially managed by a small group of developers, an active community of “devotee” programmers is involved in developing additional plug-ins, variations to functionality, extensions to existing functionality, new interesting solutions that retrofit or integrate into a given Open Source platform, fixes, work-arounds, and all manner of “tweaks” one might think of to the “sanctioned” out-of-the-box version.
Each of the Open Source solutions below has extremely active communities of developers, located throughout the entire world, who are constantly engaged in altering, modifying, and authoring code relating to the solution(s) they are fluent in.
One word of caution: It is important to note that an Open Source solution (or platform) may be written in the same primary coding language (programming language) as another. But, even so, each platform has its own peculiarities. So, simply because you have a PHP coder, for instance, who is fluent in Drupal, one should not assume he/she is fluent in Joomla! (although both are PHP-based solutions). It is safer to say that a PHP coder who is fluent in Drupal speaks Portuguese, while a PHP coder who is fluent in Joomla! speaks Spanish. A native speaker of one will have a much easier time learning the other than a speaker of German may, but even so it could take some time to do so.
Platform vs Solution – sometimes the term “platform” means different things to different people. It is safe to refer to a given Open Source CMS “brand” as a “platform.” But it is safer still to refer to it as a “solution.” The reason for this is that IT people in particular use “platform” to mean an entirely different thing than a typical programmer might.
Another cautionary note to the reader: the analysis below is our attempt to capture a snapshot of the competitive strengths and weaknesses of the major Open Source CMS solutions in the marketplace as of this writing. But, as with all things web, the material may now be dated. The marketplace moves at an incredibly rapid pace. So, it is crucial to make sure that you have up-to-the present day information, as the generalizations below may or may not be current at the time you read this.
The following list is meant to provide you with some options, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each system. We have included our personal recommendations based on direct experience.
Notes: the scoring that follows is subjective, but based on the best widely available information and our own professional experiences with each of the platforms represented. In the end analysis, the best advice we can give you is to find a competent, trusted Interactive Project Manager/Information Architect and ask him/her to analyze which platform makes the best sense for the project at hand. Keep in mind each project is different. Each set of requirements and business objectives is distinct. So proceed with due diligence and an open mind. Averages are not weighted.
|1-5(5 = best)||Drupal||Joomla!||WordPress|
|Commercial- Grade eComm|
|Commercial Grade Non-eComm Product Catalog/RFQ|
|Drupal is a free software package that allows an individual or a community of users to publish, manage and organize content on a website. Discussion sites, Corporate web sites, Intranet applications, Personal web sites or blogs, E-commerce, Social Networking sites. The built-in functionality, combined with dozens of freely available add-on modules enables additional features.||Joomla! is an Open Source CMS for building web sites easily. It is often the system of choice for small business or home users who want a professional looking site that’s simple to deploy and use. The core system can be extended via easily installable add-ons authored by the developer community. Dozens of language packs can be separately downloaded.||WordPress is a CMS publishing platform. WordPress’ default capabilities can be increased many fold (and new functions can be easily added) through its easy-to-use plugin architecture.|
|License Type||GNU (General Public License – free) The Drupal system is free and requires no licensing fees, no per-user fees and no yearly maintenance fees.||GNU (General Public License – free) The Joomla! system is free and requires no licensing fees, no per-user fees and no yearly maintenance fees.||GNU (General Public License – free) The WordPress system is free and requires no licensing fees, no per-user fees and no yearly maintenance fees.|
|OS||Platform Independent||Platform Independent||Platform Independent|
|Server||Apache / IIS||Apache / IIS||Apache / IIS|
|Platform Marketplace Strength|
|Volume of Site Deployments|
|Volume of Downloads|
|Size of Developer Community|
|Prevalence of Add-On Modules|
|Programming & Development|
|Maintenance & Updates|