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Comparison Between Open Source CMS Systems and Commercial Open Source Systems


Whilst the majority of people are still only discussing WordPress, Joomla and Drupal as the three best Open source Content Management Systems, more and more commercial Open source Content Mangement Systems are launched. These systems will be reviewed through first hand experience. But, we will add to the equation, a Commercial Open Source CMS system and analyze the major differences between the three open source system and then group those open source system and compare them with a Commercial Open source system.

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 WordPressis 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).

In contrast, Commercial Open Source systems are build on open source technology but are bundled as a software service in a service platform with a large amount of standard features embedded in the platform. Those platforms have a tendency to eliminate the FUD factor when implementing the latest web technologies, they eliminate the proprietary licensing fees, they are lowering the cost of ownership by simplifying development and maintenance efforts, they are delivering a scalable solution that meets the demands of small and large enterprises and they are enticing both the Business owner and the Web Developers alike. The last point being the key difference between the open source platforms and the current available commercial open source platforms.

WordPress… usable beyond blogging?

It is widely accepted that WordPress is an excellent system when you want your ideas out quickly on the web. It is therefore often used as a blog, because you are out there quickly, but WordPress can be configured in many different ways.

WordPress is extremely easy to use and setup. It can of course work as a blog, comments are already built into the system, as well as pinging services, multiple blogger profiles, trackbacks and common features you might expect from a blog. Most of the functionality is out of the box, and works as expected without the need of customization.

But the fact that customization was not the key driver for WordPress, also is to a certain extend its limitation. Because very often, if you try to customize or you try to do different things with the system, causes it break or disappear altogether. WordPress is far from being developer friendly and too many times upgrades to the system causes your website to simply disappear as well along with the upgrade and the customization and modifications you made are no longer available.

The advantages of WordPress are that it is very easy to use and few modifications are needed, that it is excellent for blogging or sharing thoughts in a sequential manner and that you have an easy learning curve, also for the not so sophisticated users.

The disadvantages of WordPress are that it is not developer friendly, that the community seems to like to complain about its usability and that upgrades bring more bugs than fixes.

Drupal… can it be used by non-developers?

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 is more 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.

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.

Being in essence a development platform and if you are a developer and are willing to learn the ins and outs of the proprietary system, you can surely make great websites with Drupal. But you will have a hard time make it look and feel the same way as it function. The underlying technology is perfect, the usability and the design is far from being perfect. So in a lot of cases, you could end up with a perfectly working website, but that is difficult to use and is not very neat in its design.

The advantages of Drupal are that it is extremely developer friendly, but you need to engage in proprietary Drupal code, that you have a strong community to help discern the dozens (hundreds) of functions and tags available and that it can be used to create some really awesome websites that can outperform a majority of other sites out there.

The disadvantages of Drupal are that it is 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, that the theming of Drupal has been a huge case of failure. Themes are made by developers, not designers, and that getting a Drupal website published could cost you more time, and thus more money, than WordPress or Joomla and certainly compared to commercial open source software.

Joomla – a community of web builders!

Joomla means in Swahili (Urdu) “all together” and to a certain extend they have been living up their name of being a system that is end-user friendly, developer friendly and also takes care of the design of your website and the way a content management system should work.

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.

But it is not as flexible for developers as Drupal is and it not as user-friendly as WordPress. It can not run multisites from one backend database, and parts of the system have to be taken as is and can not be customized or modified. In other words, you need lo learn the limitations as you are sometimes caught in between a developers platform and modules that are in essence self-contained.

Joomla claims to be user friendly, and to a certain extend it is, but you need to go through a leaning curve of Joomla specific proprietary code and unless you are a developer or a designer or both, that willingness is often lacking.

So, trying to be the all together for the web site building community, Joomla has also the risk of being caught in between Drupal and WordPress. People who want simplicity will go to WordPress, and through developers who love to develop and code will go for Drupal.

The advantages of Joomla are that it is friendly for most types of users – Designers, Developers and Administrators, but not Content Managers or end-users. That it has a huge community is awesome for assisting with creation of websites and that it has been rapidly growing and improving itself for the past years.

The disadvantages of Joomla are that it is still not user-friendly enough for everyone to understand, that it is not quite as powerful as Drupal, and can be a bit confusing for some to jump into and that Joomla recently rebuilt the entire system from ground-up, and so there are still many out there sticking to the old versions.

Commercial open source platforms are setting new standards in web site building – an example.

Open source cms systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are build by a community of developers and have as such never the end user in perspective. Commercial open source platforms are using the same open source tools as Joomla or Drupal but they have a strong leniency towards service and servicing the end-user, being the owner of the website and the viewer, being the customer of a particular website.

The major advantage of this approach is the total service aspect – from a neat design platform, over a richly featured content management system where you can activate all types of content and modules in just minutes, over a hosting service for your created websites and a Hotline to help you in case you get stuck in the design or the implementation of a module.

The biggest advantage of commercial open source platforms is the time to market and the implementation time for your website. Once you have a design (which is basically a PSD File) or once you have picked one of the many available standard templates, implementation time for the standard modules is a matter of hours. Even more complicated modules like the shopping cart can be configured in days and be online within a week, not weeks.

Implementation cost, cost of ownership and implementation risks are quite reasonable because of the modularity of the design and the content management modules.

And it is the best of all worlds: captive and easy to use design module, fully featured online content management system and extremely user friendly for administrators, content managers and content contributors. And all that without the need to enter in to the code.

One of the major trends in site building and content management these days is the de-mystification of the content management system and the site developing activities. Anyone who has information to share on the web want to do it instantaneously and want to do it without going to external sources. Commercial open source software plays very well in this arena, because of the extreme attention to third party content input, the easy of activating a host of modules for content generation and a suite of application driven Templates, all customizable by users and content managers who have no underlying knowledge of web coding.

It is also a bit of a contradiction that open source systems like Joomla and Drupal are using special or specific coding to create Templates and web sites, and become therefore proprietary software, and that commercial open source software has a tendency to stick to widely-spread standards like HTML and CSS to create templates and build and manage web sites. It is therefore much easier to gain knowledge, also as a non-developer on commercial open source platforms as the knowledge of standards like HTML and CSS are widely spread and widely documented in online and offline publications. In another article, I will further elaborate on certification issues when dealing with a proprietary, though open source platform versus a “standards based” commercial open source platform.

Main Advantages of Commercial Open source systems are the friendliness for all types of users – Designers, Developers and Administrators, Content Managers or end-users. The use of standard HTML and CSS coding. Time to market for a Complete WEB Systems and a Total service concept, including Hosting, Training,and Helpdesk.

The disadvantages of such a system would be no access to the open source code, a community of designers that is growing slower then the Joomla community and that developers and designers have to Re-Think in terms of Business Drivers – not Code or Modules. Change from Code Technology to Business Technology.


Each of the above mentioned systems has its merits and depending on what your goals and resources are you might pick either one of the open source systems or rather opt for a commercial platform that is continuously serviced, upgraded and maintained and where continuity in customer service is key.

All these systems are pushing the website building community further down a path of standardization and transparency, vital for the continuous growth in the sector.

Open source platforms, whether developed by a community or a set of developers for commercial reasons are pushing the web site building exercises down to designers and content managers and business managers who are using these tools as a commercial/community window to the outside world and who are creating fully hosted web-enabled front end and back end business systems.

In a time of dramatic cost cutting, time to market, transparency and a variable cost model for building and managing your web presence will be a decisive factor of choice.

Source by Philippe Bodart

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