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What is a CMS?

A Content Management System is a software application that assists with the creation, editing, and publishing of content on a website. Typically, a Content Management System (CMS) provides an administrative interface (often called the “back-end”) for adding and editing content, a database for storing content and other data, and a templating system for displaying the content on a website or in other formats (like an RSS feed).

CMSs can be generalized solutions, capable of handling many different types of content, or they may be specialized on a particular form of content, like blog posts or photo galleries.

Generalized CMSs

The “Big Three”

The following three CMS systems account for the vast majority of content-focused websites, together accounting for over 60% of the content management system deployments on the internet. All three are Open Source projects written in PHP and using the MySQL database management system.

WordPress — Originally conceived as blogging software, and still maintaining a preference for a dated-post style of presentation, WordPress is not just the most popular Content Management System in use, it is one of the most popular and commercially successful Open Source development projects in the world. 

The huge user and developer base means there are an extremely large number of themes and plugins, both free and premium, and there is an abundance of online help and tutorial material available. The variety of themes and plugins makes it extremely customizable, capable of handling almost any content-driven use case.

Drupal - The most popular CMS that doesn’t carry an inherent bias towards blog posts as the primary form of content (though it can be used for blogs). Drupal is inspired, in part, by the GNU/Linux project, and so it has a small “kernal” of functionality and almost everything — even basic features used by everyone — are built as separate modules. This means that there is no technical difference between core functionality and added “plugin” functionality, which helps to put all types of content features on equal footing. 

Drupal can be launched and used by anyone, but it is certainly geared toward people with tech skills who want to create a fully-customized deployment.

Joomla — Joomla provides the inherent flexibility of Drupal with the ease of use of WordPress. This makes it a very attractive option for many medium-size enterprise deployments where WordPress is not seen as generally powerful enough, but the organization simply doesn’t have the ongoing technical resources (staff) to maintain a complicated Drupal site.

The “Big Three” content management systems in today’s marketplace each have their own unique pros and cons. For some webmasters, the decision for which CMS to use is easy - they either have a predefined preference, or they know their skillsets and choose based on which platform best caters to those skills.

If you are new to website content management systems, you may not be certain which CMS is best for your needs. Assuming you are going to decide between one of the Big Three as your CMS for your next blog, website, or online store, we have put together a list of the major pros and cons of each platform for you to review. Hopefully you find these pros and cons helpful for making your decision.

WordPress vs Joomla vs Drupal

Why would I choose Wordpress over other CMSs?

Before getting too detailed into the reasons you should choose WordPress, it seems fair to say that both Drupal and Joomla can create an environment where content development and blogging are the principal purpose of the website. That said, it’s also fair to say that WordPress can also be used as a platform for custom web development, too.

As a blogging content management system, Wordpress is pretty much second to none. As a platform for managing other website content, there are few systems that are easier to use for people with varying levels of experience with online publishing. WordPress can even be used as a platform for custom web development, although that is not the core purpose of the platform. If you are a small business or blogger that does not need a fully-featured website platform, and simply needs something for content management - then Wordpress should be the perfect CMS for your website.

When Wordpress Isn't the Best Choice

If you are seriously considering a content management system like Drupal or Joomla over WordPress, then you have probably already reviewed WordPress and determined it won’t work because of one of the following reasons:

  • it isn’t the best CMS for handling an online store with 1000s of products, shopping cart, order processing, etc.
  • it isn’t flexible enough for your web development and programming needs
  • you want to make some mods to the PHP framework and need something less complex to build on from scratch.
  • you have concerns about the security of the CMS because of its widespread use and propensity for getting hacked.

Wordpress can be used as a platform for custom web development, but it is better served for its core purpose - blogging and content publishing. The Wordpress community has become more focused on third-party app development to extend its capabilities, while other content management systems have focused more on being supported by a stronger framework. Businesses looking for a professional grade, open source content management platform that can handle flexible programming may find Drupal or Joomla to be a better solution for their needs.

Why Should I Choose Drupal As My CMS?

On the surface, Drupal is very similar to many other modern content management systems with many efficient performance features and options for custom web development. Wordpress has an advantage over Drupal for those in the online publishing sector, but most website owners who simply have an interest in publishing content probably aren’t considering Drupal as the content management platform for their site. 

The biggest reason to choose Drupal is the fact that you can build a custom, visually appealing, easy to use website from scratch.

When Drupal Isn't the Best Choice

Compared to Drupal, Wordpress is more friendly to website managers who are using a website to edit content and create multiple blogs. Drupal is a more complex platform and probably better to use if you are a developer who really wants to customize a website. If your primary purpose is using a website as a multi-blogging, community portal, then Wordpress may be a better fit for you.

If you are choosing a custom web development platform with an easy to use content management system, you probably will find Drupal to be a better option for your business than Joomla. While the development capabilities of the two platforms are similar, Drupal provides an easier to use interface for managing content.

Why Should I Choose Joomla As My CMS?

When it comes to user experience, Joomla leaves a lot to be desired for developers, designers, and content managers when compared to Drupal and Wordpress. Despite its large community of developers and wide use as one of the web’s top three content management systems, experienced developers still tend to find Joomla to be frustrating and un-friendly to themselves, front-end designers and content managers.

When Joomla Isn't the Best Choice

By comparison, Drupal and Wordpress have a greater ease of use, which make both of them a wiser selection for websites that have multiple users with varying degrees of web experience. If you have any issues with programming, Wordpress will be a better platform for you to use when compared to Drupal and Joomla. There is a larger community of users who work with Drupal and Wordpress as well, so you are likely to find more support for any challenges you have using those CMSs instead of Joomla.

Our suggestion for most aspiring website owners who lack expertise in development would be to avoid Joomla and use Wordpress. For aspiring developers who want to have a better experience extending their skills with a CMS, our suggestion would be to use Drupal over Joomla.

Other notable Content Management Systems

Movable Type — Because the most popular content management systems are all Open Source, there are not very many commercially successful closed-source (proprietary and commercial) CMSes on the market. Movable Type has been beating the odds on this point since 2001. Its advanced features and slick, user-friendly admin design makes it popular with many commercial bloggers and corporate websites.

Tiki Wiki — Tiki Wiki may be the most unusual content management system in the world. It is a community-based Open Source project (meaning, not connected to a corporate entity), and it has the stated goal of being the CMS with the most features.  It does everything. 

It is the exact opposite of the GNU/Linux-style philosophy of Drupal: rather than everything being a module, everything is in the core. There are no plugins. The software, and the community that develops it, is fascinating. However, it may not be terribly practical for business purposes.

ExpressionEngine — A moderately popular proprietary CMS built on top of an open source core (CodeIgniter).

Concrete5 — Beautiful new CMS with a focus on the user experience. Combines the power of a CMS with the ease-of-use of a site builder, and the best contemporary design styles.

LifeType — Notable for its use of Subversion (a version control system used by software developers) as its content storage engine.

Nucleus — No longer under active development. Replaced by the LMNucleus project.

Mambo — Mambo was once the most popular CMS on the planet, running over 40% of websites on the internet. Its user and developer based dried up after a bizarre copyright incident around 2005. Joomla is a derivative project, beginning as a fork of the Mambo code base and including a number of Mambo developers on its original team.

We have links to detailed overviews of dozens of CMSs below. 

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