Open source CMSes prove well worth the priceWe look at five free offerings boasting solid Web publishing features that challenge their commercial competitorsBy Mike HeckInfoworld - October 08, 2007
When last surveying open source Web CMSes (content management systems) I provided some common-sense advice. For example, it's important to look for not just functionality but also frequent updates, a healthy user community, and the availability of professional support. Some points are still true today, but new offerings may get you rethinking the role of these products in your enterprise.
That point is one of my takeaways in my most recent foray into the world of open source CMSes, during which I looked at the latest offerings from Alfresco, DotNetNuke, Drupal and Joomla, and Plone.
The one constant among these offerings, as with any open source area, is there's no such thing as free. You'll still need to budget for datacenter staff to install and maintain applications, consider costs for custom programming and commercial add-ons, and factor in training. Today's CMSes, however, are friendlier for IT staff to maintain and generally don't have the extreme end-user learning requirements of a few years ago.
Another positive is more standardization, which may translate to lower development costs. For example, Alfresco's based on a JSR-170 repository, integrates with JSR-168 portals, and can be extended by those with Java skills.
Still, think carefully about each product's nucleus,and how that fits with your existing infrastructure, commercial or open source. The other solutions in this roundup -- DotNetNuke, Drupal and Joomla, and Plone -- were respectively constructed with VB.Net, PHP, or Zope (Python). You can certainly find programmers and other support resources skilled in each technology.,You may find it more difficult, however, to integrate your PHP-based CMS with other systems compared to working with a .Net or Java foundation.
Another potential shortcoming of open source products – especially in high-performance environments -- is the underlying database. There's nothing inherently bad about MySQL (that Dupal, Joomla, and Plone use). But in certain situations (or even just an IT bias), a CMS's database may influence your selection. So remember that you may need to include the license and hardware cost for Microsoft SQL Server, which Alfresco and DotNetNuke support.
Still, across these products you'll probably discover overall cost savings compared to their commercial counterparts. That, and open source products' continuous feature and usability improvements, can make them a very good fit for particular enterprise Web or document management projects.
< huge snip >Open Source Matters Joomla 1.0.13
If there were celebrity breakups in the open source community, Mambo would provide great tabloid fodder. After disagreeing with Mambo Foundation management in 2005, the core developers jumped ship, forked development, and Joomla resulted. Technically, both systems continue to be enhanced, and modules created for one system generally work with the other.Joomla administration, though, is more improved and, based on discussion board activity, Joomla appears to have the momentum right now. There's also more tangible backup, where some hosting providers market Joomla as their site-building solution.
Joomla satisfies Web publishing needs that range from small business Web sites to corporate portals and extranets. The central package is relatively easy to install and those with basic skills can manage a Website. As delivered, this CMS includes fundamental components such as news articles, polls, blogs, calendars, search, and RSS feeds. Add-ons and extensions (some that require purchase), include document management and e-commerce engines.
Joomla lets registered front-end users enter content while back-end administrators change design templates, alter page layouts, add modules, and manage users. My administration testing started at the Web control panel, which has four areas for arranging content, installing features, and handling overall system maintenance. I understood how to use most functions, such as creating folders and uploading media, right away.
The harder part of this CMS is learning the menu system and also managing the various content containers. Still, I believe after a week of reading and experimentation that even relative newcomers could have a small production-ready site -- and that time that can be compressed if you're experienced with a commercial CMS, such as Ektron, Eprise or Red Dot. That's because Joomla Web sites follow common design and publishing methodologies used in the enterprise.
First I created sections, which represent an overall page. Similarly, I customized various individual modules, including RSS feeds, polls, contact lists, and mass mailings. Lastly, templates combine HTML and CSS to define the look of pages. After modifying the templates with built-in editors, I employed the Module Positions screen (that has 50 slots) to position objects until I had the look I wanted.
Additionally, the administration Web interface clearly lists all of your elements and when they were published, and provides access to other functions (such as user permissions, server, configuration, along with wizards to install new modules). Thus, I believe reasonably complex sites can be maintained by IT staff with modest training.
Yet I found a few places where I wondered what the developers were thinking. For example, your site's home page is managed from the Menu Manager, which is normally used to create menus that appear on the top and side of each page.Supporting front-line users
For day-to-day tasks, Joomla is generally accessible. To mirror a typical enterprise workflow, I created roles for authors, editors, and publishers. Authors didn't have any trouble submitting content using a three-part Web form that has expected features to format text, insert links and images, and create tables; other parts of the forms let you define metadata and the time content should be published. Editors follow the same process to modify articles. Publishers may perform all the jobs done by the lower roles, in addition to pushing content to the live site.
There isn't any formal workflow or notifications in the basic system, but publishers can review a list of content and quickly see its state (such as unpublished). In addition, there's basic content control, such as check-in and check-out.
More sophisticated workflow was one of more than 1,000 extensions I spotted for Joomla -- with the majority available under GNU GPL or Creative Commons licenses. Hence, I think without much extra work or expense you can customize your installation for vertical markets or special needs.
Joomla developers quickly built on the legacy of Mambo, especially improving administration. What the basic system lacks in functionality can usually be fixed by installing a component. Version 1.5 (which was in Release Candidate 1 stage during testing) appears to address concerns about the complexity of the menu system while injecting more Web 2.0 functions (such as more design latitude in how pages appear).
< snip >Stepping back and looking ahead
After my intensive test schedule with these five products, there were a few surprises along with verification of what I generally suspected all along.
The lightweight Drupal has a decent following and special features, such as taxonomies, but comparatively weaker CMS functions (lacking rich-text editing, for example) and a somewhat unfriendly development environment mean Drupal is playing catch-up. Joomla, after breaking from Mambo, swept up many core developers and swayed community members to switch, too. Collectively, they've turned Joomla into a very relevant project. With improvements planned for Version 1.5, I'm optimistic about this CMS.
DotNetNuke (the .Net reincarnation of PHPnuke) wasn't originally on my short list, but I'm glad I reconsidered. Although it's Windows-only, this ASP.Net application proved scalable and has a real affinity for handling midrange commerce activities. Plone is a step above, combining multilingual features, workflow, and automated navigation.
With a strong organization behind it and a slew of features, Alfresco's Community Edition stood out in this comparison. That would be true solely considering its content management, but as these applications branch out into document and records management, Alfresco has already staked a claim in the extended ECM space.