Choosing between proprietary and open source Web content management systems (CMS)is a hot topic these days. As commercial adoption of open source CMS becomes more common, it means more open source projects to choose from and a variety of commercial products and services to support it.
A content management system is the backbone of your website. When it comes to choosing an open source CMS, you'll need a robust platform that allows for Web authoring, collaboration and document management, in addition to administrative and design tools.
Any Business Can Use an Open Source Web CMS
According to Kathleen Reidy, senior analyst at 451 Research, an enterprise market research company, the acceptance of open source in the enterprise has grown steadily since 2005, and so has availability of open source CMS options.
"There's more acceptance and awareness of open source CMS in the enterprise today, but there's also more options," she said. "Ten years ago the projects existed but there [weren't] many options for a commercial entity to engage with."
Having a commercial partner is key for large businesses using open source software, and for some organizations it might be a requirement. Instead of buying software, what you purchase is the commercial package -- a subscription for add-ons, custom code, updates and support from a reputable service partner.
In the mid-market, companies are more apt to have a team responsible for building on the open source CMS to make it work for the organization.
"In the large organizations, there is often a requirement that you must have a commercial support contract for open source software," Reidy said. "But there are some large organizations with technical teams and they download Drupal or any open source CMS and off they go."
Small businesses might find an open source CMS to be cost-effective, as they might not need a commercial support contract. A small business can create a website on its own, hire a developer or work with a small IT shop with roots in Drupal or Joomla design.
Three Popular Open Source CMS Choices: WordPress, Drupal and Joomla
If you're looking for an open source Web CMS -- and there's really no reason to not look at open source options today -- Joomla, Drupal and WordPress are among the most popular choices.
For a public blog, a newsroom or any type of site where you need to put sequential thoughts in order, WordPress is the best choice. It has a reputation for being easy to use, though you may find it difficult to create a website that isn't primarily used for blogging or news.
The core WordPress software is built by hundreds of community volunteers. You can use WordPress on your own by downloading the latest stable release, or you can sign up with a Web hosting provider that offers a WordPress install.
WordPress has thousands of plug-ins and themes to expand your website, and there is plenty of official documentation, a large community-based online support forum and a number of tutorial sites, like WPLift, to get you started. Some of the high-profile companies using WordPress include TechCrunch, Pepsi Refresh and Comedy.com.
The Drupal platform is an advanced CMS that's often described as more developer-friendly than user-friendly. Drupal falls at the opposite end of the spectrum from WordPress. It's a good fit for a variety of websites, from blogging to e-commerce and enterprise applications, but if you don't have developer skills you might find it difficult to use.
A small business considering Drupal will likely require a developer for installation, set-up and maintenance. Compared to other open source CMS platforms, Drupal is more often used for building industry- and vertical-specific websites where engineers and developers are a requirement. A larger business will find a number of commercial Drupal-related services available, such as installation, configuration, design, module development and support.
Drupal boasts more than 14,000 modules and nearly 1,500 themes to help you build and enhance a website. The Drupal developer community and resources for online support are huge -- there are online forums, a mailing list and IRC Chat to support you with a Drupal-based site. Symantec Connect, Popular Science and the White House are a few websites powered by Drupal.
The third popular option for open source web CMS is Joomla. It falls between the two ends of the spectrum. It's more sophisticated than WordPress, but less developer-heavy than Drupal. While making ground in the enterprise space, Joomla is often the favorite CMS for small and medium-sized businesses.
It has a strong ecosystem of developers, users and businesses that provide Joomla products and services to the community, making it an easy option for small businesses to use. It also has tools for developers looking to create more complex websites and applications.
Joomla boasts an international community of half a million members, and more than 20,000 developers and 9,000 add-ons to extend your site. Joomla is a good fit for many types of websites, including basic brochure or portfolio sites, e-commerce, blogs and sites where secure logins are required. Websites using Joomla include International House of Pancakes (IHOP), Uxbridge College, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Regardless of which open source Web CMS you use, the important thing to know is that once you have engaged and deployed the system and made your "purchase" from the commercial service provider, IT shop or developer, you're not going to be aware on a daily basis that your organization's website is actually running on an open source CMS.
"In the end," Reidy said, "when you use an open source content management system, what you purchase isn't really all that different from a commercial CMS, except there are differences in the licensing and you have access to portions of the code."
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.