A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, building a complex website with advanced functionality and the ability to easily manage content required team of technical professionals and a whole lot of spare cash. Web technology advancements in the last decade have simplified the process and made website administration become more accessible to the average Joe over the years. It used to be that building a site was a mysterious and arcane process that required wizardry and burnt offerings to the InterWeb gods. Not so much anymore. With the introduction of content management systems (or CMS), website deployment, customization, and even design have been a simplified and expedited procedure. This allows for more cost-effective solutions, shorter development life-cycles, and the accessibility for extendable, customizable web extensions.
What Is a CMS?
A content management system, or CMS, is a platform, software or application that utilizes an interface to control your website by allowing you to manage every aspect of it, including content, images, layout, and functionality. An individual with little to no programming knowledge now has the ability to be their own webmaster, if they choose to do so. However, before you start questioning the existence and credibility of web developers and designers, please keep in mind that content management systems simply lower the barrier for entry into the website development space; it still takes time and a deep understanding of programming languages and design to make an awesome website.
There are three content management systems that are the most popular: Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress, with the three combined accounting for a 28% market share of the internet. Wordpress remains the most popular of them all, but which one suits the needs of a website owner the best, depends on the project requirements, the type of website that needs to be created and the features of the content management system. Let’s take a look at some of the facts, pros and cons of all three content management systems!
Wordpress Content Management System Overview
History & popularity
Wordpress, as mentioned earlier, is the most popular content management system that was created in 2003. It is a free content management system used by some huge websites on the internet such as Forbes, Sony and CNN. Wordpress also surpasses other CMSs when it comes to free themes. Wordpress is currently offering over 2000 themes and more than 27000 plugins for no cost at all. Unfortunately, with so many options for plugins and themes, many of them are of questionable quality and some may find it difficult to compare so many options. However, there certainly some plugin and theme gems out there, and long-time Wordpress aficionados tend to know which ones to choose.
The popularity of Wordpress stems from its easy to use interface. At the time of its release in 2003, Drupal and Joomla had already been on the market for 3 years (with Joomla still using the moniker “Mambo”), so Wordpress was able to challenge them on their biggest weakness: usability. While both Drupal and Joomla have both taken strides to address these issues, they adoption rate of Wordpress for its simplified use had already taken its toll. Millions of people around the world are currently using this platform to build their websites, which results in a huge community at your disposal to help you if you encounter any issues while working on a Wordpress website.
Wordpress disadvantages & concerns
Wordpress was started as a blogging platform, but it has expanded to be much more than that. As mentioned previously, it now has an extensive community and a plethora of plugins to extend its capabilities. Choosing Wordpress as your CMS is certainly not a choice to make without taking into consideration some of its weaknesses. Some concerns with Wordpress also abound from its popularity; unfortunately, in the world of technology, being popular also means you’re the biggest target for malicious software. While Wordpress is not necessarily an insecure platform, it certainly has the most attention from hackers. It’s imperative to always keep your Wordpress site updated with the latest versions, and to not install questionable plugins. Even 3rd party plugins with the best intentions can leave serious security flaws on your website, so keep those updated as well (hopefully the ones you choose apply patches when these issues arise). Wordpress also has more frequent release cycles than Joomla and Drupal, probably because of said security issues. Not all of these are just simple patches, many are large incremental updates that require a lengthy update process (which includes fixing plugins that broke during the process). It’s quite common that plugin developers aren’t able to keep up with the updates, and you may need to ditch that one and re-implement functionality with a comparable product.
Wordpress Software Architecture
Another consideration for Wordpress is its software architectural pattern implementation; it’s simple. Don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it does allow developers to create and extend plugins with little knowledge of PHP. However, with PHP already having flaws with how “loose” it is, this can cause complications as standards for PHP and Linux/Apache evolve, and may lead to performance reduction or headaches in the future from poorly written code. Also, Drupal and Joomla both use more advanced software architectural patterns that allow for better segregation and handling of data.
Drupal Content Management System Overview
History & popularity
The least popular of the three, Drupal is another strong platform for building websites. Drupal is older than Wordpress and was released in 2001, although development of it began as early as 2000. As with the other CMSs listed in this article, Drupal is also free to use. Drupal is certainly a popular choice with medium to large-sized businesses though, with better adoption rates in those areas than with Wordpress and Joomla. Additionally, Linux’s website is built on Drupal, so that must mean they approve (especially since all three of the CMSs on this list are Linux-based).
Usability & Technical Disclaimers
Despite the fact that Drupal is less popular than Wordpress, there are nearly 25000 free community modules available for websites created with Drupal and around 1800 free themes to choose from. However, the level of difficulty and a complicated interface required to work with Drupal makes it less popular than Wordpress. The stock Drupal installation is a little frustrating to work with, and many getting started with Drupal may not realize that the administrator interface is usually customized to make it more user-friendly and add new features. There are a vast amount of customizations for the interface, which allow for great flexibility if you put the effort into finding what your preference is. Usually Drupal developers have a set of preferences that they apply once they discover what works best for them. If you decide to get started with Drupal, I highly recommend getting started with some of the Drupal distributions out there, such as Acquia Drupal, which will help quick-start your Drupal installation with more "out of the box" features at no cost (Thank you, Doug Vann, for clarifying this for me). This seems to derive from the seemingly complicated menu and menu item structure. Interface considerations aside, there are technical considerations to take into account; Drupal websites often require more technical knowledge to develop. While you could certainly build a Drupal website with no programming knowledge, certain customizations will require diving into PHP which is not easy for beginners on Drupal (or Joomla for that matter). Its software architectural pattern, PAC, is one of the proponents of its power and flexibility, but also can make it difficult to develop on. This is probably why it’s more popular amongst larger companies, which can afford having skilled development staff. Despite the technical challenges that may arise from utilizing Drupal as your CMS of choice, it does have the most technically sound framework and properly tapping into those benefits can be very rewarding.
Concerns from the web – Is drupal Slow?
A strange topic that I seem to have come across on multiple websites is that some people believe that Drupal is inherently slower than its counterparts. I’d like to address that concern, and clarify that it is absolutely not true. Unfortunately, a website can only perform as well as its software (including configuration of Linux and Apache), and letting a newbie develop and complex Drupal site is the equivalent of letting your Jiffy Lube mechanic overhaul your BMW’s engine (no offense to Jiffy Lube mechanics).
Managing Drupal Upgrades
Like Wordpress, Drupal has also undergone a considerable amount of updates and used to have relatively frequent release cycles. This also produces similar issues with upgrade complications, but lately they have been doing less frequent major updates. Unfortunately, their upgrade process is also much more complex than both Joomla and Wordpress, so expect to take some time to get comfortable with it.
Joomla Content Management System Overview
History & Popularity
Technically, Joomla CMS is the youngest of both above mentioned content management systems, with the release of version 1.0 occurring in 2005. However, Joomla’s existence came about from a fork of a little-known CMS called Mambo, which was developed in 2000. It’s slightly more popular than Drupal, and has met a sort of middle-ground between the two platforms by adopting a user-friendly (although some may say it’s a little less user-friendly than Wordpress) interface while still maintaining an advanced software architecture model (MVC).
Structured on the MVC pattern, (model-view-controller), Joomla creates a beneficial separation of the user interface logic completely from the business logic. Joomla also requires some level of knowledge and expertise in programming in order to maximize on its capabilities, and MVC definitely takes some time to get accustomed to (although that knowledge can be carried over more easily into other platforms, since MVC is relatively common in usage).
3rd Party Extensions
While Joomla doesn’t offer you the biggest selection of themes and extensions when compared to Drupal and Wordpress, it does have some very solid offerings in the 3rd party community that are nothing to scoff at. Additionally, one of the reasons Joomla has such a smaller selection is likely because of their stricter extension submittal guidelines, which takes the approach of quality over quantity (although trust me when I say that there are still some bad apples that slip through the cracks, there’s definitely a lot less of poorly developed applications than on Wordpress & Drupal).
Like Wordpress, Joomla is quick to deploy and customize (both Wordpress and Joomla have an advantage over Drupal deployments by having better “out of the box” features, but having less customization options), and it also has a comparably simple interface. I believe it achieves this with its minimal menu items, while still having a vast store of options. Digging deeper into the menu items reveals a plethora of configuration options, which help it achieve great flexibility and capabilities. Unfortunately, what makes Joomla lag a little behind Wordpress in usability is that amount of steps it takes to accomplish tasks. I find myself often jumping back and for between different menu items often just to publish an article.
Managing Joomla Upgrades
Joomla’s upgrade history has been a little sordid, mostly due to the strange revision numbers they have used. For example, going from version 1.5 to 1.6 or 1.6 to 1.7 were all major upgrades that can get rather complicated. Thankfully, they’ve recently made the process a little less frustrating than it used to be, with minor upgrades receiving one-click treatments, and major upgrades seem to break less than it used to (in reference to upgrading from 2.5 to 3.0, although it’s nowhere near perfect). The extension developers also seem to have a high level of commitment to their products, since most of them seem to keep their extensions up to date with Joomla revisions.
Conclusion of CMS Comparison
It’s difficult to give a verdict in the favor of a particular content management system since the matter of choice is always subjective to user preference. If you are not actually developing the website yourself, and are simply choosing which platform to have implemented for your website, then my advice to you is to choose based off of the company providing said services. As an end user, all three of these choices will allow for easy content management if they are setup correctly, so it’s important to make sure that your developers are experts with that particular CMS.
If you are researching which platform is best for you to start developing on, Drupal or Joomla may be an ideal choice because of their additional customization options and more advanced software architecture. Someone with limited technical knowledge may want to start off with Wordpress, although Joomla may also be a good choice since it’s almost as user-friendly.
As you can see from my insights from this post, as you dig deeper into customizations and have prolonged use of these platforms, learning the intricacies of them will come with some challenges. At the very least, someone looking to work on CMSs will learn HTML and CSS, and knowledge of PHP, MySQL, and Linux/Apache will certainly help you along the way. It’s also pretty apparent that upgrade processes for all three of these are less than ideal; in order for a software product to achieve its full potential, large upgrades that require changes to 3rd party additions are necessary.
In summary, I don’t think you will have too many regrets choosing any of these content management systems. They each have their own tightly-knit communities, and as with many open-source options out there, community support is abundant. If you have any additional insights to these platforms, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite CMS!