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Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems



You may or may not have heard the hype regarding this system, its popularity has been going up since 2005 where it split from it’s previous name Mambo this is known as a fork in the software world. Mambo was built in the late 1990’s when web standards were, well not standard. Unfortunately this has meant that Joomla versions 1.0.XX have lagged behind in terms of accessibility and as a result search engine friendliness.

When I first started to learnt about Joomla I also found that the learning curve to the system was quite steep. The terminology of the administration interface was quite confusing. I didn’t understand what a static item was or a the difference between a section and a category manager. The media manager was also clumsy to say the least but it did offer alot of features. What was also confusing was the fact that you could install the following addons for Joomla:

  1. Components – Extend the functionality of Joomla eg: Shopping Cart, Car Dealer Site, Forums etc..
  2. Modules – Small blocks displayed on your page. It can show anything from a Pay Pal donation box to the latest forum posts. Search box’s, advertising boxes etc..
  3. Mambots(confusing name) now known as plugins – Simply intercept a piece of code and replace it with whatever the plugin does. If you want to insert a youtube clip you need a plugin (unless you use another WYSIWYG editor)

Many other content management systems just call extensions or addons a plugin. Keeping it simple, and although after a while it does get easier to understand when you think about it, it just isn’t necessary to have 3 different names for things that extend the system.

To really know how to use Joomla you need to read the user manual, fair enough right? I mean software isn’t always easy to learn by playing with it. However if you need to have staff adding content to the system you will need to train them. This will cost your business in training sessions or time invested learning the system.


Like many open source projects, documentation is critical to its success. The Joomla site has lots of documentation on it. But if your like me reading through user posts and trying to understand wiki’s is hard work. I’d much rather pick up a book and read it while commuting to and from work, or in my own leisure time. I have found the structure of the documentation on Joomla poor and other 3rd party sites such as and have been much more helpful in helping me understand how to modify and manipulate the system.

You can also buy books on Joomla but I have not bothered as yet. Since I may not continue to use Joomla myself in future for other projects that I wish to undertake. Simply because I find it so cumbersome.


Joomla! is quite flexible in that you can extend it to do a range of tasks, but for this you often rely on 3rd party developers and code consistency and security can be a major issue if you are not careful. Its best to avoid using too many 3rd party extensions if you can avoid it. I also think the core system should include more functionality than it does.

What Joomla! isn’t good for

In my opinion if you want to run a community site with a forum and gallery users can contribute to it might be best to avoid Joomla. Sure there are 3rd party hacks to integrate Joomla with other forum software such as SMF, but in reality the core should support a forum application since so many community sites rely on this feature.

Joomla is also not great for blogging. If you think that blogging is your main goal avoid Joomla, mainly because its more cumbersome to use and slower to respond from the admin interface. Its also more difficult to use as a blogging tool and less flexible with say inserting content such as youtube videos. By default users cannot comment on posts easily, you need a component (extension) for this.

Templates in Joomla!

Probably the best part of Joomla! is its templating system, which is probably another reason why its become so popular. The availability of good free templates is limited but probably easier to find than with other systems. Learning to use the templating system takes time to understand, but luckily there are a few good resources out there, such as You can get good commercial templates alot easier but they cost money. You also don’t get a unique look and feel.

One limitation which I believe Joomla 1.5 may have addressed is the ease of giving a page its own style. This is important for landing pages and the like when you are doing marketing say with Google Adwords. It has meant that changing the layout depending on the page your user is on is more difficult than it should be.

Best uses for Joomla?

Joomla is best used for small community sites, e-commerce sites and simple sites that require less than 50 pages. Its hard to use at first but becomes easier to understand relatively quickly. There are plenty of 3rd party addons you can get to do just about anything but the quality certainly varies. The older version 1.0.XX of Joomla is not very search engine friendly at all and requires many 3rd party hacks / extensions. The new Joomla 1.5 is much nicer and has many improvements but there is alot of work to be done and documentation really needs to improve. I believe this is a to do item and should improve in future.

If you want something that will let you sell a range of products online and let you add pages relatively easy Joomla is a good choice, but if you want something hassle free and straight forward perhaps look elsewhere. Joomla is used more for the amature developer / designer and the quality of many sites that use them overall is quite low. Especially compared with Drupal which we’ll talk about next. There are of course some exceptions to the rule and over time this may change as Joomla! becomes more robust.

Finally Joomla! is a great way to get started using a CMS system and I’ve certainly learnt alot about application design / development from it. I’ve also learnt what I don’t want from a CMS but sometimes lessons are best learnt the hard way.

Stay tuned for my next post where I talk about

  1. Drupal
  2. Plone
  3. WordPress
  4. Modx
  5. Symphony
  6. Expression Engine

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4 Responses to “Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems”

  1. […] the situation. Just call a plugin a plugin. I’ve actually written up an article about Joomla. Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems – Gavin Doolan I plan to cover Drupal next and discuss how it works. You should really really look into Drupal […]

  2. drupal is the best 🙂

  3. Yes, I didn’t get around to finishing this article. I do apologise to anyone who visits this site. I have since built a website using Drupal and I can say that so far I’m most impressed with Drupal because its so flexible and can do almost anything I need it to with the Views / CCK / ImageCache / ImageField modules.

    I will try and finish this article up and review Drupal and give advice as to who I think should use it.

    I will eventually convert all my websites from Joomla / WordPress / Coppermine Gallery / SMF Forum to Drupal because Drupal can do all the above and more.

  4. Hello David,

    I notice you’re already using Drupal. I’m running a forum (about 3000 users, near 70 000 posts) and I am thinking in migrating to Drupal. I know you have to go throught SMF > PHPBB > Drupal, tell me, did you have problems with the passwords? I think SMF use a different way to encrypt than PHPBB and Drupal.

    Please advice,


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Gavin Doolan has been working with Google Analytics since it's launch in 2005.