by Tim Stiffler-Dean
It was only time that kept bloggers around the world from writing their comparisons of the three major Content Management Systems (WordPress, Joomla and Drupal) – and that time is finally up. People everywhere are breaking out their laptops and logging into their blogs to share what they believe are reasons for choosing this software or that…. and yet most of them seemed to have missed the important reasons why someone might choose one CMS over another.
So I’m taking it upon myself to spread some much needed understanding of the three systems and hopefully help you decide which one is best for you.
Background, History and Experience
Since a majority of people are discussing WordPress, Joomla and Drupal as the three best Content Management Systems, I’m going to stick to them. Luckily, I’ve had experience using each extensively, and know the ins and outs of actually using the systems. To put this quite simply, I will not be giving you many statistics based on research… I’m giving you information from first-hand experience.
Only within the last year has WordPress actually begun to step up as a true CMS. However the other two, Drupal and Joomla, have seemingly always been fighting for that top spot in the community. Both are open source, and both are widely developed with thousands of members in their community helping to develop and extend the possibilities of use for each. While WordPress is considered the underdog in the CMS war, it is most definitely the king of blogging software (something that Joomla and Drupal struggle to do efficiently).
However, even where each has its flaws and each has its strengths (which I will explain below) you can build any kind of website with either one. I have built blogs with Joomla and I have built shopping cart websites with WordPress. It just depends on what you need it to do, your familiarity with the system, and how long you have to work on that program. In fact, that is something that is misunderstood by many people – if you don’t like using Drupal, that doesn’t make it less valuable, it just makes it less useful to you!
But I digress, let us continue with a look at WordPress:
WordPress is an excellent system to use when creating a website that lets you quickly get your thoughts out on the web, but while it is often used as a blog, it can be configured to work in many other interesting ways as well. One particular client of mine recently needed a website that would allow him and his employees to have an internal website for sharing notes, documenting tasks and writing about what was going on. Since WordPress is easy to use and some of them were already familiar with it, it was an obvious solution. Install WordPress on a server that they could access quickly and easily from anywhere with an internet connection, and let them get to business rather than have to learn about a whole different system.
It is key to know that WordPress is extremely easy to use and setup. I have used it several times with clients that are brand new to the internet and having a website, yet they can pick this system up and use it quicker than the other two. Since WP is already developed to work as a blog, though, it can be setup to do so without any hesitation. Comments are already built into the system, as well as pinging services, multiple blogger profiles, trackbacks and more. Most of the time nothing needs to be done to those systems either, because they already work the way that the user would want them to.
WordPress, however, is not to be used for everything. I have had little success (its there, just not much) using WordPress as a shopping cart for certain clients. The very reason that WordPress was created was to keep people from wanting to customize it to do things that are much more advanced. It is supposed to be used a certain way without modification – because any modification that you give to it may very well cause it to break. You will find many users of WP complaining that it is not developer friendly – and rightfully so, because there will be countless times in your journey to that great website that an upgrade released by the WP developers causes your entire site to simply disappear, or for those modifications that you made previously to no longer even exist.
- Simple to use – No need for modifications
- Excellent for blogging or sharing thoughts in a sequential manner
- Even the most elderly of users can get the hang of it quickly
- Not developer friendly
- The community seems to like to complain
- Upgrades bring more bugs than fixes sometimes
If you’re the type of person who would rather hand-code the content of your pages than use a WYSIWYG Editor, or if you enjoy tweaking the code that makes up the framework of a website, then Drupal is probably for you. This advanced content management system more closely resembles a developer platform than a traditional CMS. Its not to say that only developers can use the system though, but to say that they will feel more at home here than in the other two. Interestingly, being more developer friendly does not automatically make it more user friendly – in fact the developer has to work hard to make it that way if they need the end-product to do so.
There are dozens of more tags and functions that can be used to develop in Drupal than in WordPress or even Joomla. Every single node has its own set of commands and tags that can be placed elsewhere to manipulate the function of the site, and this makes for a very intense experience (whether or not you know what you’re doing). For those that are not so developer-minded, this can be the trial of their lives, but for people who live in code – well, they can literally get lost developing some very cool websites.
Now, these websites can act and function in some pretty neat ways, but Drupal also has the problem that it just doesn’t always look that great. I have seen very few websites built in Drupal that look and feel as good as they function. You can especially see this in the theme directory on the Drupal.org website, where there are dozens of these themes built to prove the exact point I just made. It’s a shame really, because with all of the development advancements the software has, it would almost be perfect with a stronger usability and design interface.
- Extremely developer friendly. If I loved code more I would almost always pick this system.
- Strong community to help discern the dozens (hundreds) of functions and tags available.
- Can be used to create some really awesome websites that can outperform a majority of other sites out there.
- Not very designer and user-friendly. It’s hard for someone with little code knowledge to make the leaps required to do the very cool things that Drupal is becoming known for.
- Theming of Drupal has been a huge case of fail (until recently). Probably because it has been developers, not designers, that are making the themes.
- Getting a Drupal website published could cost you more time, and thus more money, than WordPress or Joomla.
If WordPress is more for end-users and Drupal is more for developers, then Joomla! must be more for designers, right? If that’s the conclusion that you came to then you’re on the right track, but I would venture to say that Joomla! is actually a mix of all of those things. The name Joomla, in fact, means ‘all together’ in Swahili (Urdu), and it seems they’ve been living up to their name in the way that this powerful CMS works.
Designers will choose Joomla because of the amazing capabilities that its engine has in making websites look fantastic. Newcomers to Joomla (and website management) will love the fact that it is very easy to use and even customize as more and more developers create tools that are easier to understand. Developers, likewise, will choose the system because of its large capacity for development and customization. The new MVC framework was built just so that anyone with the knowledge could override the core of the CMS without actually modifying the original code.
Still, it’s far from perfect. It’s still not as flexible as Drupal is with its code. While there are many ways to override what the default code does, there are some parts of the system that just can’t be pushed and stressed as hard as Drupal can be. Also, while Drupal can be used to run multiple websites with one backend and database, Joomla lacks the ability to create multi-sites. It is just powerful enough to be useful, but not enough to do anything.
In a side-by-side comparison with WordPress, Joomla still has some way to go with being user friendly. In each case where I’ve had people use both systems to manage a website, those that lacked good knowledge of the internet or how their website even worked always chose WordPress over Joomla. It is simple enough that it can be taught to practically anyone, but not enough that anyone would want to learn it.
- Friendly for all types of users – Designers, Developers and Administrators
- Huge community is awesome for assisting with creation of websites
- Has been rapidly growing and improving itself for the past three years
- Still not user-friendly enough for everyone to understand
- Not quite as powerful as Drupal, and can be a bit confusing for some to jump into
- Recently rebuilt the entire system from ground-up, and so there are still many out there sticking to the old versions (1.0.x)
There is not just one system available for us to build our websites with, and so we should never limit ourselves to just one either. With so many different uses and ideas and opportunities that can be found in each, why should we anyone try so hard to make those CMS’s that they dislike seem worst than their own. I remember at an event two years ago that both a Joomla and Drupal team went to, and the members of the teams actually swapped shirts – with the Drupal team wearing Joomla shirts and vice-versa.
I believe that it’s time for us to start looking forward to a new future – where we use these different systems to better our own, and to continually build upon the awesome code, and knowledge, that has preceded where we are today. There will come a day when we are staring at three completely different pieces of software and trying to decide which one is the best – but in that day we will also look back to the year 2009 and remember that it was Joomla, WordPress and Drupal that pushed us continually forward. Not just one of them, but all three – in that perfect, open-source way.
Tim is currently one of the three masterminds behind http://www.goodwebpractices.com. Please see their website for more great articles and information on all things web design and web promotion.