Home arrow Compare CMS - 3
Compare CMS - Part 3 - Popular CMS Reviews
author: Chris Price
originally published: 2005
last update: 2010-04-26

Compare CMS - Part 3 - Popular CMS Reviews

Start page: Compare CMS - 1


Website CMS Reviews

Mainstream / Popular CMS Reviews:
Joomla - 1 [this page] 
[Joomla page 2] 
- see also Compare Drupal v Joomla

Most stable CMS

Page 3-2

Page 3a -
Business CMS reviews


Page 3b -
Specialist CMS reviews
More about RoR

Page 3c - Lightweight CMS reviews

Page 4 - no-MySQL CMS and IIS Server CMS

Or try the specific CMS questions in CMS Q&A
The CMS section index / start page is here: CMS Index

Our viewpoint
It's important to consider this, as obviously it will radically affect all the content here. We are SEO advisors primarily, and CMS enthusiasts second. Therefore, we tend to give prominence to CMS that are more SEO-friendly, ie likely to do better in tough market areas. As far as we are concerned it also helps if the developers make it easy to install and administer. So we tend to prefer:
  • SEO friendly
  • No need for a dedicated server
  • Can be installed remotely
  • Runs on a normal server (ie LAMP)
  • Perfect URLs
  • Canonical URLs (no multiple addresses)
  • Page code that validates
  • Clean modern pagecode, built on divs and CSS (and therefore with source- ordering capability)
  • Minimal use of scripting, especially on-page 
  • Web standards compliance
  • Good accessibility score (and therefore legal compliance in UK / USA)
  • Progressive ability to have all elements of every page variable, whether visible or not - this must at least include all metadata and modules
  • Easy user content edits
  • Easy management
  • Easy templating
  • Plenty of extensions, which must be both free and commercial in order to allow for a wide variety of choice (just one type is always far less useful)
  • Fitness for purpose: enterprise, community, brochure site, etc
It should be pointed out that no CMS (as far as we know) fully complies with all the above points, with perfect marks on each - it's something of a wishlist. There are around 3,000 now, so you need to write out a specification with items listed in order of importance, then seek out candidates that comply.

More on our
Compare Website Software - Criteria

If a CMS isn't very good on several of these points, it makes it less likely we will like it, and less likely most users will finally be satisfied with it after a couple of years - which is the crunch test. You have to remember that commercial success is the name of the game now - everyone wants traffic and sales, and the only way to achieve them is to use an improved, modern CMS, that is fully search engine compliant.

It's fair to say that if cost is no object, some of these points are less relevant - you can just pay someone to sort it out for you and not have to worry. However, most users cannot take that approach so we don't prioritise for such a viewpoint; we look closely at the OSS, semi-commercial and value commercial market, where an implementation might run from very little up to £5k ($10k); and at some options up to £20k ($40k). Any costs under £1k ($2k) probably mean it is a DIY job, since there are few commercial implementers who will charge less than that.

Even then, figures at the lower end normally imply there will be little or no training or initial support (and leaving aside ongoing support) - which some would say are just as important as the software and installation. A commercial install of any kind is normally going to start at £2.5k ($5k), unless you are talking about something simple and basic. Joomla installs are an exception, since the ratio of cost v features v time investment is far and away the best around, so costs are lower.
Occasionally Drupal can come in at a very reasonable cost, especially for straightforward implementations without extra functionality.

In any case the site build itself is only half of the work involved with supplying and supporting a CMS. If that were all that is required then costs could be halved.

CMS quality

A point worth noting is that open-source CMS as a group now has the highest quality factors of any grouping of server software. It clearly outperforms commercial CMS software, or ecommerce software and forum software for example. It outperforms hand-coded sites of any grouping (HTML, PHP or ASP) just as clearly.

Any quality test that can be applied - such as search compliance, code quality, code validation, or accessibility score - always shows open-source CMS software in the lead. Of course there are exceptions on all sides, and in any case no application or solution is perfect or everyone would use it to the exclusion of anything else.

Why we don't have a CMS Feature Matrix
We used to, but deleted it. Why? It's not the best way of comparing the various applications. It's probably the easiest - but it doesn't tell you what you need to know. If you simply want to know what features a CMS has or can be expanded to have, just search "cms feature matrix" or "cms features chart", there are several sites that will help.

For a CMS comparison chart, see this page with a comparison of Joomla and Drupal.

We tell you what they don't: the full technical details and why you would or wouldn't want a given CMS. Also, it's a sad fact that any CMS - no matter how impractical in the real world - can look good on a feature matrix. Most CMS can have additional functionality added via plugins, so features are only a small part of the equation. You need to know the basic type of CMS; the core functions; if you can install it remotely or not; how well it does its job; the hard tech background; and many other things that a feature matrix can't tell you.

There is also the simple fact that a feature chart doesn't give an accurate answer, even in that very area. Although a CMS can be expanded radically, in some cases to do virtually everything, that doesn't tell you how good it is at any given function.

The best example of this is ecommerce: shopping cart plugin availability, or even integral functionality. Many CMS advertise here as having ecommerce capability, so they get a tick on the chart for a 'yes' in this department. The fact is, though, that the majority are extremely restricted compared to a real ecommerce application. A feature chart can't tell you this.

The benchmark
A new feature here: as Joomla is now the de facto CMS benchmark, we'll put in a comparison with it after each individual CMS review, when convenient. Also, more tech spec will be input as time allows.

The word 'benchmark' has various meanings; it can be used to mean 'a very good thing that is virtually the best', or 'something well-known that is easily compared with other unfamiliar items'. We use it strictly in the latter sense - there is no such thing as the "Best CMS"; it would depend entirely on what you needed it for. In practice Joomla is the best-known - that's all there is to it. For some jobs it would be hard to beat (eg rich media publishing); for others it would be completely the wrong choice (eg anything requiring comprehensive ACL).

Most stable CMS

Again, this is a question that needs some qualification: in what price range? With what functions and features? The simplest answer that can be given is that in low-cost CMS the most stable is Drupal, which also has the massive advantage of good ACL (in contrast to Joomla). See this Joomla v Drupal comparison.

Stability means solid performance under heavy load, with several plugins, and high page numbers. Drupal does the job here. Even when loaded beyond the server's capability, it has graceful shutdown, and recovers smoothly when the load returns to within the server's capacity. For example on a basic dedicated server Drupal will handle 40,000 visits per day with 15 plugins and 5,000 pages (although page numbers are nowhere near as relevant as the load and the number of plugins). When the server load is exceeded (which is not Drupal's max load as that is much higher), and the server itself starts to crack due to insufficient RAM or CPU capability or MySQL capacity or incorrect settings (all of which are very common), Drupal just registers a simple error message and recovers completely when the load goes down to what can be handled by the server.

The CMS Section Index

Go here to find all the WCMS information on the site.

   >> Please be sure to read the disclaimer at the end <<


Popular CMS Reviews



The best multimedia publishing tool CMS, and probably unbeatable for most rich media publishing tasks - though certainly not suitable for complex enterprise-level tasks. The world's most popular CMS, with huge numbers of installed websites - estimates range from half a million to two million, as there have been around ten million downloads. A massive community, only WordPress has anything similar. Around 5,000 plugins means you can do almost anything you have ever seen online within the framework of a CMS. In fact the vast range of both free and commercial plugins will allow you to accomplish more than with any other CMS. This highly-successful business model has been vital to Joomla's expansion and capability - the powerful mix of free and commercial resources has been the prime driving force behind the amazing Joomla machine.

Note, though, that no CMS can have its core feature set extended efficiently: if the basic application is not particularly good at something that has to be part of the core, adding plugins won't fix this. We state this because Joomla can be extended to cover a multitude of tasks; but it would be entirely the wrong choice for use outside of its CMS class - for example as a multi-team full-ACL portal ('intranet') solution. It is a publishing tool, not an enterprise-class CMS that handles all the jobs a large organisation may need doing.

Updates - see end of review.

It's reasonably simple, so if you had to, you could get a site live in 30 minutes or so. There'd still be a lot to do, of course. On the other hand you can extend it almost endlessly to build an online store, video website, music site, large business site, 10-page simple site, streaming media site, big portal site, online news magazine, directory site, document repository, almost anything it seems. The CMS software itself, and the massive number of plugins, mean this is a very capable application; but please note that all CM systems belong to a class - or perhaps two classes -  and they do not work at all well outside of that class. It is pointless trying to get one to perform a function for which it is not suited.

Thousands of templates to choose from, and they are easy to modify. Many would say this has the best templating system there is. Why? Well, its flexibility and ease of use, combined with the huge number on offer. A different template can be used on every page; visitors can even specify their own templates on some set-ups. While we probably wouldn't use those features, it does show the capability of the system. Templates are based on PHP and CSS plus graphics, which means that coders can build them, savvy users can modify them, and new users can at least change the graphics to get an entirely new look.

Like most it uses PHP and MySQL. At Oct '07 it's about to take a major version leap from the 1.0xx series to the 1.5xx series. Most of the stuff from the 1.0 series won't fit the new version. Not much wrong with the older version at all though, so we'll be staying with that till 1.5 is fully sorted.
The backend (ie the admin management section) leaves every other CMS everywhere standing. It is so exceptionally good that any minor criticisms of procedures and so on are pointless. When other applications have a backend like this, they can say they are comparably easy to manage; at the moment, they are mostly years behind compared to this. Only Mambo competes here, as it and Joomla share the same origin. The strange thing is that more complex CMS often have a much more obtuse backend - which makes managing them even more difficult.

Joomla will probably go to 10k pages, but we wouldn't go much past that. Of course, given the PHP/ MySQL foundation it would most likely go to 100k pages plus; but there is a question of stability here. We aren't sure Joomla will prove rock solid at 5-figure page number size, at least in its current form. Perhaps the 1.5 series (and almost certainly the 'final' 2.0 series)* will fix that. Naturally, this is as much a question of extensions' compatibility and stability as much as anything; but a true CMS is a pretty much a bare framework, so the extensions are everything. 
*Joomla is big enough and well enough run that they have a roadmap for future development; the 2.0 series envisions table-less layouts and full W3CAG / Sec508 support.

Joomla will probably do anything you need in standard web publishing, since the reason for its huge success is the highly successful mix of free and commercial plugins. Even the commercial ones are absolutely dirt cheap though; for any other app (like eZpublish for example) they would cost at least 10 times more. However it cannot be used outside the normal publishing class, for example as an enterprise-class CMS with the range of core functions that type needs.
For example ACL isn't brilliant with Joomla, it's basic but not outstanding here. If you need different access rights for different user groups, as a basic function, this isn't for you. Additional ACL functionality can be plugged in but this is not always satisfactory.  The core CMS has 8 user levels, and both backend and frontend authoring, so it isn't restricted at all; but Drupal for instance can do much more than this. The user group rights, versioning and workflow control aren't there, so it isn't really the best choice for a multi-user commercial online publishing app, or a giant intranet application. On the other hand, there are plugins that do almost anything, so if the things you need in that line can be plugged in, you may be lucky. Of course, it's a PHP/ MySQL app, so if you have access to developers, a lot of things are possible. Simplified ACL plugins include JACL and JUGA.

Joomla ACL

Go here for an explanation of Joomla ACL. We wrote a full explanation of the subject there, it is too long to include here.

Joomla features

If you are looking for a CMS that will handle Flash, music, video, ecommerce, uploads, downloads and a million other things - this is the one. Out of the box it is a capable brochure-class CMS, meaning that its core task is to publish an organisation's online materials. But it is the most flexible WCMS in existence, which means that it can easily be repurposed for other tasks such as an online magazine, a directory site, a real estate site, a video site, a small or mid-range but very capable ecommerce CMS, a membership site of several types, a forum-based site with great content management, a site based around webforms of one type or another - and so on.

It is the #1 choice for mid-range and high-end publishing tasks, and suitable for anything such as a business, college or church website. It can of course run as a very simple and small site, with advanced management capability, though it has competitors in this area from lightweight CMS products such as SkyBlueCanvas or even Wordpress run as a micro-cms.

The forum is one of the busiest in the world, with around 1,500 posts per day, in about 50 different sections, which should give you an idea of how big Joomla is. It also means unfortunately that any general question will shoot back down to page 3 of the forum in about 2 hours... Therefore, with Joomla as with any other OSS app, you'll ideally need some friends to hold your hand for the first few days or weeks, depending. Most people probably go it alone, but you can see there are a lot of heads being banged against walls out there.

This is a problem caused by Joomla's success. Because it is so incredibly capable, and because the access to it is so easy - the bar is very low - many people come to Joomla and try to create a giant community portal first time out. It's no good laughing at this attitude because there are a lot of examples. I'm not sure why it is, but site builders with little or no background (maybe not even much with flat sites) come to Joomla and try to build a competitor to The Times Online with their first site. Actually, that wouldn't be so difficult... The lesson is, build a small one first. Especially, build one or two on your local LAN, before you sell the idea that you are a bigtime CMS implementer to your local community. Think I'm joking? You should see the Joomla forums.

Any CMS will be a major culture shock if you are coming from HTML sites - it requires a completely different way of looking at things. There are no pages on the server, just fields in a database. That about sums up how different things are.

Joomla is the perfect SOHO and SME content management system for many purposes. All straightforward publishing tasks are handled well. Functionality is easily expanded, with the vast range of plugins. It can even be extended to perform radically different roles, such as a magazine, or an ecommerce CMS. However, some tasks are of course wrong for this application, as might be expected: full enterprise use that requires ACL, workflows, versioning, audit trails and so forth is not for this CMS.

Version 1.0.13 problems
You might find that release 1.0.13 - and subsequent - does not suit you, since it was released without checking to see if it worked with some of the most popular plugins. Any community membership plugin - like Community Builder - probably won't work with it, as for some reason they changed the password storage method. Try to get hold of the 1.0.12 version if you are thinking of having a large member-based extension, such as the SMF forum plugin. At some stage in the future, the 3rd-party extension developers will catch up with this, no doubt. Also, FCKeditor doesn't work properly on this version.
[update: most membership plugins were fixed by the time of v1.0.15]

Joomla plugins

Joomla being the king of plugins has a lot of implications. It means firstly that you can do more with Joomla than any other CMS, assuming that such tasks fall within a suitable CMS class. It also means that it will have a lot of 'issues' if you don't choose your plugins wisely. The best policy when building a commercial site (i.e. one you will need traffic on) is to start with the most important extension of all first: the SEF URL plugin. Like 99% of CMS, the raw dynamic URLs are awful and are useless in a competitive commercial market. However, the core app has a reasonable SEF solution, and the resulting URLs are basically OK. They can be vastly improved, though (together with the metadata), so commercial users generally pick a plugin to do just that. There are about 10 to choose from, and whichever one you like - INSTALL IT FIRST. We can't really give you any better advice than that. Don't make the mistake of doing that at #10 on the list.

There is only one exception to this that we know of, and it's when building a multi-language CMS, if you will be using pre-translated content (as against a Babelfish-type instant translator plugin) - here, you should install the Joomfish language pack handler first, before the SEF URL component.

Joomla can get flaky when the plugins don't agree with each other - no fault of the core app of course - so install the most important ones first, then others in sequence, testing as you go. You can then clearly see which one has caused any problem that arises. As there are so many plugins, you may well find that another will do the job and with no inter-module issues.

Joomla ecommerce CMS

Without a doubt Joomla is one of the strongest ecommerce / CMS combinations. Only eZpublish can compete here, for open-source ecommerce CMS solutions, but the costs are nowhere near comparable - eZpublish plus ecommerce is in a different price range by a long way. The Joomla-Virtuemart ecommerce CMS (available as a complete pre-built application, open-source and therefore free) is the best-known of its type, and very well developed now. To say that it is bug-free would be an over-estimation; but you need to understand that something like this is incredibly complex - that's why there is only one contender in full open-source, after all. It may be that this class of CMS is the most complex webapp of all.

Others cost a lot, or are less well implemented. Almost every CMS claims some sort of ecommerce capability; but compared to J-Virtuemart they are just pretenders. There are also other ecommerce extensions for Joomla, so this isn't the only solution. These may suit an owner with some sort of specific requirement that J-Virtuemart doesn't cover.

An excellent feature of J-Virtuemart is that the whole CMS / store can be run either as an online catalogue or as an ecommerce store, i.e. a shopping cart. With a couple of clicks you can show or disable the prices and the whole checkout section. This feature can only be described as superb. Taken together with the amazingly good Joomla backend management, this CMS / online store solution is the answer to many people's prayers. See the example sites following, for a good implementation that shows what can be done.

Maximum product number
Because the core CMS is not designed for very large scale, this affects the ecommerce backend, ie the maximum number of products. Over 1,000 and things will start to get complex. At 5,000 and over the application will be hard to manage. The ideal product range size is from 100 to 1,000.

Ecommerce backend capability
Virtuemart is a capable ecommerce CMS, but cannot be compared with a full ecommerce application such as osCommerce or MivaMerchant. Essentially it is the brainchild of one developer, and it needs a large team to scale an ecommerce webapp up - there is just too much work. You will not find most of the ease of use backend features needed by an ecommerce solution that handles large numbers of products, such as all the spreadsheet upload features, bulk image upload features and so on. As stated, Virtuemart works best for a smaller number of products.

The big advantage of course is the frontend content management is better than that available in any ecommerce application - by a huge margin.

The dream team would be a Joomla-MivaMerchant integration, or perhaps just a bridge - that would give the best frontend content management available, plus the rock-solid, reliable and capable Miva ecommerce backend, with almost unlimited product capability. In fact we install this sort of solution occasionally when clients come to us with one or the other and need an integration. But bridges never offer full functionality, there are always issues.

Joomla admin

There is only one way to describe Joomla backend administration - superb. Joomla admin is far and away the best in CMS. The admin is so good that it actually contributes to the ability of the CMS as a whole; compare that with others where the admin is something that makes the whole task more difficult.

Joomla SEO

In the SEO for CMS stakes, Joomla is superb - certainly one of the top three CMS for SEO that exist. Out of the box it's poor of course, but that is of no consequence. It's all fixed with plugins, in the world of CMS, and as there are so many Joomla plugins the SEO issues are well taken care of. For example there are around ten SEF URL plugins, so you can have perfect URLs of any type or shape you want; per-page metadata with all the vital tags taken care of; and every important page content issue sorted out.

There's only one missing factor, the codebase layout, which is Steam Age - but no doubt that will be taken care of sooner or later. Page code otherwise is very good and of course validates 100%. Beware of poor templates and plugins though - validate every time you add anything.

There are few better CMS for SEO. Plone is an obvious candidate and it's true that Plone has long been the leader here; but even though it's still open-source, Plone is in an entirely different budget range, for numerous reasons. It's a medium-large enterprise-class CMS, and small enterprise (and certainly SOHO) users are not really a good fit. You could say the same about eZpublish, of course.

Drupal is a better comparison. In theory, Drupal is better for SEO; but in practice Joomla has the advantage. Drupal may seem a better choice because of its superior code layout; but this isn't everything. Although it has the necessary plugins, there are many issues that mean if you have a straight choice between Joomla and Drupal based purely on SEO factors alone, then you should choose Joomla. The fact that it is also a lot easier to manage will no doubt help. Note that this is an 'all-other-things-being-equal' situation; Drupal does certain jobs much better - namely ACL and high page numbers.

If you have 50 to 1,000 pages to publish, have a small editing team, want the best templates, need easy management, demand top SEO, might need rich media support - it's Joomla. In the SEO for CMS stakes it's hard to beat. It will certainly beat the pants off many expensive commercial CMS, many of which are poor by comparison. Just check the portfolio sites for big name CMS suppliers - you won't believe some of the trash on display. They may look nice, but 40 or 50 code errors on every page together with tons of JavaScript tells you all you need to know about the competence of the software authors and/or implementers.

And that level of quality - or lack of it - hits you where it hurts, in the pocket. Joomla gets superb commercial results when well-managed. Joomla SEO, for all practical purposes, is near enough unbeatable. Any Joomla site has the potential to be #1 in the SERPs however tough the market is.

As an example this site, which uses Joomla CMS, has had over 60 #1 positions on Google.com, and the total number of page 1 positions is uncountable - certainly thousands. Recently we noted a 1-2-3-4-5 result on one search engine. The amazing thing is that we hardly promote this site at all and so it has very few links. It succeeds on organic factors in the purest sense of the word.

The use of any other CMS for this site would be not just an anomalous choice but less than sane. The nearest candidate would be Drupal, but there are at least 20 good reasons why Joomla is a better choice here.


Update 1
Joomla 1.5 was released in late January 2008. The 1.0.x series is still available though not from Joomla central - version 1.0.15 is the last in the 1.0 series.

Update 2
The Joomla 1.0 series is no longer supported by Joomla central, though of course it will remain an excellent choice for a brochure site CMS, especially till around mid-2010 when it will be time to close the book on it. Of course, there will remain possibly over a million Joomla 1.0 sites out there that will never be changed over to a newer series, as there is no need. They are secure, and have much more publishing functionality than is available to any other CMS without custom work.

At October 2009 the Joomla 1.5 series will be one year, nine months old - and a 1.6 version with core ACL will be released. It is hoped that what is effectively a public beta stage is drawing to a close and the various exploits and other issues will have been resolved. Users who demand a secure and stable solution should be able to transfer to the new series at this time, in our estimation. Normally it takes a good two years for a new webapp to become safely usable, but we are hoping that a slightly shorter timelapse will apply here due to the huge userbase.

Note that the large numbers of unpatched new-series sites running less than 1.5.14 are vulnerable, since there are numerous very public exploits for these versions. Any 1.5-series site must be patched immediately as soon as upgrades become available. A new Joomla 1.5 site cannot be installed and left as-is, it must have a webmaster.

Upgrade from 1.0 to 1.5

How do you upgrade from the 1.0 series - for example 1.0.15 - to the 1.5 series? The answer is that you can't, at least not directly. The reason is that these are two different CMS, it's like saying upgrade from a Ford to a Chevy - difficult. Originally there was an upgrade script but this no longer works for the latest 1.5.14 version.

What you need to do is perform a clean new install of 1.5.14 and then migrate the data. There is a data migration script to help, which can be found at J central.


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PLEASE NOTE: these critiques represent an entirely personal opinion. They are personal reviews. There are some negative views expressed here that are one person's opinion and may be wrong. There are positive opinions here that may be equally wrong. There are many people who are entirely satisfied with webapps that have been criticised in some way, and you should ask some of them before taking this material at face value. There may also be those who are unsatisfied with CMS, or aspects of them, that have been praised.


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