If you intend to build a website with continually updated content, a must for today’s web, eventually you’re going to encounter the need for a content management system (CMS). A CMS is essentially a database that stores your site content, along with an interface that allows site administrators to add, remove and modify content efficiently.
While custom content management systems can be designed and programmed specifically for your site, this is often costly, and many website owners and developers and turning to free CMS platforms such as Joomla, Drupal, and even WordPress. These CMS platforms are known as ‘open source,’ which means there’s no cost to use any of these platforms to develop your website.
So what are the differences between Joomla, Drupal and WordPress, and which is right for you?
Joomla: ease of use, at a price
Joomla has gained popularity because of its reputation for being the easiest open source CMS for beginners. However, this much-hyped ease of use comes at a price: any sort of customization is very difficult to achieve. Try to make the box where your logo is supposed to fit slightly bigger and you’ll quickly find yourself in a world of pain.
Joomla, Drupal and WordPress all operate using modules. That means your site is broken up into many compartments, and each compartment contains its own mini-application, or module. So, you can have one module displaying the local time in Dubai while another is displaying famous quotes at random. That all sounds great, but with Joomla in particular, it’s easy to let things get out of control, and next thing you know you’re on an ‘internet’s worst designs’ list.
You can build your own Joomla modules, which does free you to be much more creative and precise with your designs, but the learning curve is steep. By the time you’re able to create modules, you’re already so far in the realm of professional programmers that you might as well be creating your own custom CMS anyway.
Unfortunately, most Joomla users are not professional programmers. The vast majority of modules that are available were created by somebody who was at the shallow end of the learning curve. This makes it difficult to identify modules that do what you want without crashing your site.
Fortunately, the community of Joomla users is quite large, and there’s a wealth of information available to help you learn the ropes. More experienced users are generally helpful and only occasionally banish you for being a total noob. Adhere to the norms of the community, and you’ll be fine.
Drupal: for professional use only
Choose Drupal as your web development platform and you might be able to call a truce with your site template. Kind of. Drupal is the most sophisticated open source CMS available, so you have greater freedom to design without constraint. Because it’s so powerful, many large corporate websites run on Drupal, and this has helped cement Drupal’s reputation among new users as the ‘professional’ open source CMS.
The downside to having all this freedom is that Drupal is not nearly as beginner-friendly. A web search will yield many blogs proclaiming Drupal the best CMS, while not really providing any help to get you on your way. It doesn’t help that the Drupal community is more prone to elitism than other alternatives. While Drupal is indeed free, you quickly find yourself having to shell out money to get any good help or decent templates.
It’s also worth mentioning that Drupal is more search-engine friendly than Joomla, due in large part to the way it constructs clean, readable URLs.
WordPress: the third alternative
Traditionally, WordPress is a blogging platform, not a CMS. But as blogging has become more popular, it’s become less of a way to create supporting content and more of a business model all to itself. In short, if your blog is the central element of your communication strategy, WordPress may be a good choice.
In addition to hosting and organizing your blog, WordPress allows you to create regular content pages (think “About Us” and “Clients”). With this strategy, you can create a simple website that revolves around and informs your blog. Like Joomla and Drupal, you can find and incorporate third party modules to help you include and format special content.
That said, WordPress is a product in transition right now. Because they are trying to position the product as a CMS and not just a blogging platform, updates are fast and furious. And updates lead to security vulnerabilities. If you have critical data in a WordPress site, you should be paying particular attention to making sure your installation is up to date. This takes time and, again, there’s a learning curve.
Open Source vs. Custom
Open source CMS is great for beginners who are happy to work within templates, or professionals who want to minimize their programming workload. They don’t yet compare, however, to a custom CMS.
Ultimately, your website should be unique, just like your business. Your needs are not the same as everybody else’s. While it’s true that more than one person may need to display the local time in Dubai, not all of them need to display it in a box of predetermined size with a predetermined color scheme. If you have the budget, it’s ideal to have your site programmed directly for your needs, which will allow your site to look and function exactly the way you want. It does cost more, but when literally all the headaches are removed for you, it hardly seems that bad an option.