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I was recently tasked with the challenge of comparing some of the most popular open source php based Content Management Systems. The aim was to discover which was the best in terms of creating and maintaining websites and their content.

Which systems were compared?

The research tested five common CMS’:

  • WordPress – The most popular publishing platform. It has had some criticism though, namely that a good level of PHP programming knowledge is needed to make full use of the systems features.
  • Joomla – Another very popular system, with a large international community. A criticism of the system has been that it is lacking direction though, and losing ground on its competitors.
  • Drupal – One of the most popular content management systems alongside Joomla and WordPress. It is considered the most flexible of the three, with a vast amount of plug-ins that is ever growing. It is considered a developers content management system.
  • CMSmadesimple – The company website informs the reader that the system is aimed at providing corporate solutions, whilst being able to cater for smaller, static websites.
  • Silverstripe – A lesser known system, but one that has won awards. The system takes more of a desktop application like feel, and so should be more familiar to general users. It has some distinctive features, such as the ability to view site statistics, but has been criticised for its apparent confusing methods, particularly concerning the level of technical knowledge needed to extend the system.

What was the criteria?

Each system was tested in twelve key areas considered to be of importance when choosing an efficient CMS. These twelve areas included:

  • Installation - A good CMS will be easy to install, and should involve little to no coding.
  • GUI – Graphical User Interface – This interface should be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, with a clear structure.
  • Mobile Friendliness – How mobile friendly is the CMS?
  • Accessibility – Has the CMS adhered to accessibility guidelines?
  • SEO – How does the system handle search engine optimization?
  • Security - The CMS should be a reliable one, with its own secure system in place on its servers
  • Customization - How easy is the system to customize?
  • Plug-ins/extensions/modules - What does the system offer in terms of system extensions?
  • Limited / No programming knowledge required - Is the system friendly to non tech-savvy users?
  • Performance and Speed - A good CMS can help improve performance, by the use of caching database objects, feeds and CSS files.
  • Follows W3C Guidelines - All good CMS’ will follow coding guidelines set out by W3C.org.
  • Support - What levels of support does the system offer?

How was it scored?

Each system was tested in each area and given a score out of 10. This score was then added up and divided by twelve to give the fairest possible outcome. Some may view some areas more important than others, but this is normally a matter of opinion that varies greatly between developers, therefore justifying the scoring system that was used.

What was expected?

It was expected that the three most popular systems, namely WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, would easily come on on top. With the two lesser known alternatives, Silverstripe and CMSMadeSimple, performing far worse.

What were the results?

The report itself is over 22 thousands words long so I’ll just provide a brief summary of the content here! Overall, the systems tested all came out with similar scores, with Joomla performing a little worse, coming in last. The two lesser known systems performed extremely well, with Silverstripe even narrowly beating WordPress to come top of the ratings. Below I’ll give a brief description of how each system performed in each of the twelve areas:

  • Installation - True to it’s claim of offering the easiest 5 minute install, WordPress performed best in this area, with the other four also performing well.
  • GUI – Graphical User Interface – WordPress and Drupal were the clear leaders in this area, offering very simple to use interfaces. Joomla was not as impressive whilst the other two performed solidly.
  • Mobile Friendliness – CMSMadeSimple and Silverstripe were by far the best performing systems in this area, offering websites that were far more mobile friendly than their three more popular competitors.
  • Accessibility – Joomla performed best in this area, showing a clear consideration towards all users. The other four systems performed slightly worse, but on a similar level.
  • SEO – All five systems were shown to be quite helpful in improving a websites search engine optimization. CMSMadeSimple was the best performing area in this area, mostly due to it’s impressive handling of images.
  • Security – WordPress, Joomla and Drupal all performed quite well in this test. CMSMadeSimple underperformed due to SQL injection vulnerabilities whilst the clear leader in this area was Silverstripe which proved to be by far the most secure of the five.
  • Customization - Drupal, WordPress and CMSmadesimple all performed equally well. Joomla was a little less flexible, mainly due to its complicated template system. Silverstripe was the most dissapointing system though, with its lack of templates and unflexible link system.
  • Plug-ins/extensions/modules - WordPress and Drupal performed particularly well in this area, having thousands of plugins available. Unsurprisingly, CMSMadeSimple and Silverstripe didn’t perform too well in this area, probably due to their small support community. The one surprise was Joomla though, whos extension system was unnecessarily complicated.
  • Limited / No programming knowledge required – Drupal performed best in this area, closely followed by WordPress, Joomla and CMSMadeSimple. Silverstripe underformed here, mainly due to it’s lack of in-house extension system.
  • Performance and Speed - WordPress was the clear leader in this area, scoring maximum points. Silverstripe also impressed whilst Joomla, Drupal and CMSMadeSimple were dissapointing in terms of load times.
  • Follows W3C Guidelines – WordPress was particularly dissapointing in this area, showing lots of errors for both HTML and CSS. Drupal was also dissapointing, with the validator finding over 150 errors. Joomla scored solidly but the real successes in this area belonged to Silverstripe and CMSMadeSimple, with both systems passing both validation tests.
  • Support – Unsurprisingly, the big three, Drupal, WordPress and Joomla clearly outperformed their two smaller competitors in this area. Amount of support books, forums and members were tested, and the big three clearly had larger communities. Joomla particularly impressed, mainly due to it having over 25 resources in the form of published books.

The final results were as follows:

final table

If you want do download the full report, you can do so by clicking here.

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