I've been delving into the fun world of web design lately and have been trying my hand at using a Content Management System to make it easier. Turns out, using a CMS makes the website simpler in some ways, but adds its own complexities. As I'm working between the different CMSs, I think it would be worth sharing some top level opinions for those who are trying to decide between them.
All 3 systems are open source and typically freely available on most web hosting services. If not, they are easy enough to install. I am not going to look at that right now. Perhaps in later posts we'll drill down further into the differences, but for now, I am just looking at the admin interface.
I started with Joomla, since it is best known, discarded it, tried Drupal, discarded it, played with WordPress, liked it but discarded it, and finally hit upon the lesser known Concrete5. For a while, I had hit upon a gem, made my site, then as I tried to add a few features, I found myself limited. I then began my way backwards through Drupal and eventually found myself with Joomla again. Each have their strengths and weaknesses...
Concrete5 is phenomenal in terms of interface for contributors. Setting up the page is rather simple; take a template you like and insert just a few PHP statements, then upload it to the Concrete5 backend. From there, using the front end you can just click around on the page itself (when in edit mode) and do wyswig style edits. You can add blocks of text, HTML, images, flash content, etc. Once added, if you want to change the layout, you can just grab the blocks and rearrange them. There is version control as well! Each edit versions that page and you can roll back to other versions.
Joomla on the other hand is much harder to setup. The backend is not as simple or user friendly/intuitive. Editing content is not as visual and requires work in the admin console. Once you get used to it, Joomla can become easy, but adding/modifying content is nowhere near as easy as it is in Concrete5.
So why did I switch back to Joomla? Concrete5 fails when it comes to extendibility and community support. As I wanted to add advanced features to my site, like eCommerce shopping carts, I found that Concrete5 couldn't compete with the other CMSs available. They did offer modules to extend Concrete5, but at a cost. Now, I pursued an Open Source CMS enticed by the no-cost solution, so hearing that I have to pay to extend it turned me off. Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress blow Concrete5 out of the water in this arena. Not to say they are all free... All of them have paid and free extensions/modules/plugins. The difference is there is usually a free version of everything and paid versions for more advanced/professional features.
Drupal is a little weak compared to Joomla in terms of eCommerce, so I glossed over it in my search and moved back to Joomla. WordPress was a very good solution too, but I discarded it since it really is designed for blogging sites. There are ways to use WordPress for a non-blog site, but I didn't want to force the circle peg into the square hole. (Side note: This blog is hosted on Blogger.com, not a WordPress site). Joomla finally fit the bill here.
I'll try to talk in more detail about the features later, but since this is a blog, I'll have to curb myself here from going on and on. My quick summary:
- Concrete5 is great for simple sites with content contributors that are not too technically savvy.
- Joomla is great for a lot of different tasks, very flexible, very powerful, but pays for this all with added admin complexity.