It was when I visited my good friend, Daniel Levy, in Paris that I heard of the term CMS for the first time.
If you’re now wondering (like I was) what the heck CMS means and for what it should be good… outspoken it means Content Management System, and it can be useful for organizing and managing content that you publish on the Web. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it…
There are free or open source and paid content management systems available.
Up to that point, I was using Macromedia/Adobe Dreamweaver for my websites (except for this very blog). But when Daniel and I were talking about the future of my Blue Baby, MyGermanCity.com, a travel related content-rich website, and the plans I have with it in terms of features and number of pages, his reaction was: “You need a CMS!”
“CMS?” I asked.
“CMS,” he said. He then went on and explained what CMS means, what it is, does, and the advantages — and possible disatvantages — of using one.
It made sense to me so I went ahead and researched both costly and open source top content management systems. One tool I used was the CMSMatrix.org, although their database was — and still is — partially outdated. (Showing WordPress version 2.2.1 when the current version was 2.6? That’s a huge difference.)
I also went to OpenSourceCMS.com, but take it with a grain of salt since feedback is marbled by spammy comments of users and partners or owners of the respective software.
Additionally, there were at least 40 reviews and reports whose URLs I purged; though I’m sure you’ll find them using Google’s powerful search engine. ;-)
This entire research (plus testing, and testing, and testing…) took me almost three months.
Which content management systems did I test?
In alphabetical order:
- Bitrix Site Manager (7.0)
- Drupal (5.10 & 6.4)
- e107 (0.7 — six years old and still no version 1?)
- ExpressionEngine (1.6.5)
- eZ Publish (4.0)
- Joomla! (1.5.7)
- Mambo (4.6.5)
- MovableType (4.2), and…
- WordPress (2.6)
There were a few more, but due to the fact that I removed them from the test domain within a few minutes — or did not even bother installing them due to detailed reviews — I avoid mentioning them here.
Daniel also mentioned the name CMS400. At that time, the company behind this software, Ektron, did not provide prices on its website (hmm…). And when I contacted an Ektron representative, all the person did was ask questions… still no price.
End of conversation.
At the time of this writing, Ektron does provide prices on its website, starting at a whopping $5,000 per URL for the Standard Edition. But what I would have needed would have been the Professional Edition for which it says, “Ask your sales person for details.”
You can see that I was not necessarily after a free or open source content management system. No CMS is “for free.” You always spend time (= money) and energy figuring everything out and familiarizing yourself with it. Or you have someone else do it for you, in which case you spend money, too.
Of course, I could have outsourced this task. The thing though is that I wanted to familiarize myself with it to know whether I want to work with it for the next few years, and to see which is the best or most appropriate CMS for MyGermanCity.com.
At one point I narrowed it down to Joomla! and Drupal with tendency towards Drupal. The thing was I would have spend at least $1,500 just for transitioning the existing template alone. Plus, I also needed someone for setting everything up.
What actually pushed me away from it, however, is the lack of plugin development (which they call modules).
You need to understand that modules are being developed for certain main Drupal releases (ex., 5 or 6) since the main Drupal versions are backward INcompatibel. Now, there were a couple modules that I needed upfront or soon, but they were not available for version 6. So I would have been forced to use Drupal 5 instead. Not that bad, perhaps, but what if I want or have to upgrade from 5 to 6?
That’s a huge task, they say.
This got me to remove both Drupal 5 & 6 from the test domain.
OK, then I was ready to use Joomla!.
Gosh, what a software… really impressive, speaking of customizability and features available right from the start! I even was about to fall in love with it (buy me a t-shirt!), but then…
Writing a simple content page, publishing it, and trying to access it on the Web (using the URL alias, not the ugly dynamic URL), displayed a 404 error… WTF?
The thing was this: If you do not assign a page to a left or right hand navigation bar, a Category, or a Section, you canNOT see the page on the Web using the pretty or search engine friendly URL!
End of discussion. What a pity, but Joomla! was removed from the server within a minute.
Another possible CMS was the Bitrix Site Manger. Again, it does have a cost upfront, but this can be compensated by the fact that most tools are already included. This may save you a lot of time later on.
As an example, one developer I got in contact with said that Drupal can do the same things Bitrix Site Manager does. The difference in terms of cost?
I would have paid a similar amount of money for either CMS. The Bitrix Site Manager as it’s being shipped plus transitioning the theme: up to $3,000 altogether. Letting a developer set up Drupal, hand-code and/or customize certain modules, and have another or the same developer transfer the existing XHTML/CSS template to Drupal: up to $3,000 altogether.
Someone may argue that the Bitrix Site Manager does have a whole bunch of features built-in — tools one would need to develop for a Drupal powered site first. Plus, the assurance that Bitrix will maintain and improve those tools further since they’re part of the whole package, whereas one may need to hire a developer for maintaining and improving a Drupal powered site.
So again, both may sum up to an equal amount of time/money.
The thing that made me uninstall the Bitrix Site Manager was that file names are supposed to end in .php. They did say that it should work without the .php, but my testing consistently displayed nothing but error messages.
Another point was that this software is fairly complex (installation consists of thousands of files and folders), and, again, the need of someone to convert the existing site template to the Bitrix Site Manager would likely amount to up to $1,500 (which one may pay for a new but not for transitioning an existing custom template).
Next station was ExpressionEngine, which was recommended by the gentleman who created MyGermanCity.com’s site template — a coder extraordinaire, Pat Heard.
If you’re ever in need of a first-class coder — one who exceeds your expectations — I highly recommend Pat Heard of fullahead.org. Let me warn you though… he’s usually booked out for weeks if not months.
Now, he did not only recommend EE, he also gave me a very important tip:
The choice of CMS is highly personal. Usually, once someone has invested the time to learn WordPress, TextPattern, Joomla, etc., they’ll swear up and down that it’s the best out there.
His comment set me up brilliantly. It made me look beyond the reviews of “raving fans.” ;-)
Back to ExpressionEngine…
The backend looked promising. Somehow, I felt comfortable right from the start. Plus, they promote their excellent forum and staff. Sounds good. They further promise to be extremely flexible. Also good. But then…
You CAN customize the layout to your hearts content. The downside, though, is that it affects the URL structure of your site!
As a side note: You can, somehow, program the software (or add something to the .htaccess file) to remove those template related words from URLs, but they strongly recommend you to not do that. “Extremely flexible?”
The other CMSs also just didn’t make it. e107 is too plain and doesn’t meet my needs; eZ Publish was a bit difficult to get to work, plus I couldn’t figure out how to do certain tasks; and Mambo — I dismissed that one, somehow… (doesn’t it lack development power now that some of Mambo’s previous core developers are in on developing Joomla!?).
That was the point where the thought of using WordPress as a content management system started to grow. But before that… “let me give MovableType a chance”.
First off, they consistently announce which websites use their software, and I don’t care who is using what. What interests me is what a software can do for me and my visitors, and its momentum in terms of development.
Long story short, what got me uninstall MovableType were mainly two things:
1) Somehow, it stands on its own. URLs with underscores?? And you have to be a registered user to enable things such as showing your own image next to your own comment?
2) To me it seems as though their marketing and vision is blurred and fuzzy. One day they decide to have this price; another day they decide to release MovableType as open source — with limited features over MovableType Pro. Yet another day they decide to remove those limitations and have the open source version match exactly the Pro version. Yet another day they change the price structure, again.
What about consistency and a clear plan?
Another thing that underscores my thesis is that their staff often writes mt.com or mt.org instead of movabletype.com or movabletype.org. Laziness (or fuzziness) can lead to strange destinations… ;-)
Enough said; on to WordPress.
But can it do what I need it to do?
I quickly realized that it can, and much more.
- Custom page templates without altering the URL.
- Custom breadcrumbs navigation (and many more custom fields) by utilizing the Custom Fields options when creating pages or posts.
- Customize the file name structure to your heart’s content. You could even add any file extension to it, if you wish.
- Compared to other CMSs, to create a WordPress template is very easy and pretty straight forward. In other words, the transition from a static XHTML/CSS template to a WordPress template was done within a few hours — by myself, a PHP newbie.
- The momentum and professionalism in terms of development and improvement is unmatched. Really impressive. New version after new version; plus, plugins are consistently developed and improved. And if not, it should be comparably simple to create a new custom plugin or alter an existing one — or to find someone who can alter or create and maintain one for a reasonable price.
- WordPress with its array of plugins may save you thousands of dollars in comparison to certain other content management systems.
That’s about my decision of using WordPress as a content management system for a content-rich website. :-)