There are literally hundreds of Content Management Systems available. All of which simplify running and maintaining a website, but picking which one is right for you is far from a simple process.
For the purposes of this article, I will limit the selections to the three most widely used open source systems. Namely, Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal.
Open source means they are freely available to download and modify under a general public license.
Each has it strengths and weaknesses, which I will go on to highlight, and each is suited to people of differing levels of technical experience. The best advice is to try each one, and see which one you get on with. Each one is a progressive stepping stone to the next level of complexity, so cut your teeth with one you understand, and before you know it, you'll have the competence to use a more complex system.
You will need similar system requirements to install and use all of these platforms. A web server running PHP 5 and a MySQL batabase. Most hosting companies supply these relatively cheaply, but you can always test the packages for free on a local machine using WAMP or XAMPP, or alternatively try the online demos that are available.
Wordpress was first released in 2003. It is without doubt the most widely used platform, hosting over 200 million websites.
It is designed as a blogging platform, but it's simple to use back end interface, and it's easy to install customisations, make it a popular choice as a CMS for many websites. This is the ideal starting block for anyone new. The installation process is very painless, and within minutes you should have a working website, that you can update and maintain through an administration section.
However, because it was initially designed as a blogging system, adding commonly used website features, such as e-commerce, user permissions, workflow queues, can be quite a complex task.
It is sadly a victim of it's own success in that it is targeted by spam bots and hackers. Allow unmoderated comments on your Wordpress site, and prepare to see more Viagra adverts than you can shake a stick at.
Simple to use, suited for beginner
Wide range of pre-made templates available
No programming/server experience required/li>
Many popular add on modules available for free
Perfectly suited to small simple sites, especially brochure style sites
Friendly theming system, with hundreds free to download
Often targeted by spammers and hackers as so widely used
Difficult to adapt to exact requirements without delving into the PHP code
Blogging platform, that has been expanded on. Causing some limitations
3rd party modules often cause unexpected results and conflict with each other
Great for blogs, small brochure sites, or anyone new to content management systems, but lacks the power and extendibility to run a complex site, without in depth programming knowledge. Keep an eye out for spam.
Joomla is a solid, well established CMS, with a wide following. It was a conversion/fork of another CMS platform called Mambo. Mambo is still maintained and available today, but the resounding success of Joomla made it the best choice of platform between the two.
Joomla seems ideally suited to corporate websites. If the main part of your business is not on-line, but you need some kind of on-line presence. Joomla is a good fit. It offers most of the features that a simple website would need. More add-ons are available, although many are not free. It has a large community of developers, although they don't seem particularly tolerant of new users asking simple questions.
It has a very intuitive admin interface, with a WYSIWYG editor for pages, which while flexible, can cause more problems than it solves, especially in terms of web standards.
Easy to install
Logical Admin interface
Suited to corporate websites
Many extensions available
Core platform very stable,reliable and well maintained
Simple learning curve
Extensions often cost money
Hard to scale up to a large website without spending money on developers
Elitist community make it hard for beginners to learn it's inner workings
Not entirely Search Engine friendly out of the box
Hard to integrate other scripts and packages into your site
Some security concerns with 3rd party extensions
This is an ideal solution if you don't have time and money to spend on a website. Out of the box it should provide everything you want to get a professional looking business website up and running in days. It expands reasonably well up to a certain size, when you may find you need more features from your website, then it can become expensive to develop.
Drupal is perhaps the most complex of the three CMS's reviewed here. But it is without question the most powerful and flexible. The downside is that it has quite a steep learning curve. Using a fundamentally different approach to website architecture, that includes things like nodes and taxonomies.
It is perfectly suited to community and membership sites, with many social features built in. It has an API, meaning it can play ball with other applications and websites (think twitter/facebook or your own data).
It has a massive community of dedicated friendly developers, who create and maintain literally thousands of extensions, which will cover just about any requirement you could ever dream up.
Drupal has been successfully used on the following high profile sites:
This may make it slightly overkill if you only need a small brochure site, but just knowing what you can achieve, from free software, highlights just how dynamic it is.
Robust and secure platform
No upscaling problems. You can go from a small site to large traffic
magnet, without issues
Flexibility. It can do just about anything you can imagine
Friendly free support/development network
Powerful user permission system. Different roles and permission for users
One module to install for a fully functioning e-commerce shop
Integration with other sites and applications
Tougher learning curve than alternatives
Used primarily for large (10,000 visitors plus per day) community sites
Not designed for out of the box business websites
Its made by programmers, not designers..... It will do what you want,
but may not look pretty
Not easy to get to grips with, although the new version 7.0 has several changes in usability which new users will applaud. This stands head and shoulders above other CMS platforms in terms of flexibility and power. Once you grasp the basics, you have the tools at your disposal to make your business website blast spots off the competition. All that's required is your time and imagination.
Lets be honest, in the next ten years we are going to see huge jumps in access to the internet and how it gets used in peoples every day lives. If you want to use the internet to enhance your business properly, and take advantage of these developments, Drupal is the way to go.
If you don't have time, or inclination to learn the system, why not consider hiring a developer to set it up for you. You'll end up with a future proof, stable, secure website, that can expand and grow not only with your business, but also with the pace of technology.
In conclusion, a simple analogy:
If content management systems were cars....
Wordpress would be a small 2 door hatchback. Ideal starter car, gets you on the road and driving about. It may not have loads of space, or the best technical features, and it rattles a bit in 3rd gear, but it's totally practical and efficient.
Joomla is your luxury saloon. Polished and shiny, with comfortable leather seats, making the passengers ride smooth and trouble free. It wont win any races, and it doesn't stand out from all the other similar cars on the road, but it has prestige and reliability. But beware, the optional extras can cost an arm and a leg!
Drupal is a classic car. It's the car you've always wanted to own, but never had the time to find. It's got a huge following of fans, who loyally patch up any rust, or repair any dents and share information with you. They build these mind blowing bolt on modifications for your classic car, for free! Here's one that turns it into a hovercraft. Another that turns it into a helicopter, an A.T.V., a monster truck, a jet powered rocket ship. You can even build your own and share them with the other classic car drivers.
But to own and maintain a classic car, you're going to have to roll up your sleeves from time to time and get your hands dirty (or find yourself a reliable mechanic).
That's what we consider ourselves here at Medden Website Design.