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Site builder shootout: Drupal vs. Joomla vs. WordPress

By Brian Proffitt
September 14, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Installation

Installing Drupal, WordPress, or Joomla is essentially a three-stage process: prepare a database for the CMS, download and uncompress the files for the CMS, then walk through a Web-based installation that completes the job.

Of course, you have to install it on the right machine. For this article, I opted to use a straightforward LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql and PHP) server, as plain vanilla as I could create.

Specifically, this was an Ubuntu 11.04 with Apache 2 and MySQL 5.5 installed. I used PHP 5 and installed a MySQL module for PHP too. I also had FTP server software installed on the same machine, as all three CMS platforms need FTP to upload and install add-ons such as plug-ins, modules and themes.

Once all the software was in place, I had to perform the next step: Create a database with MySQL with which the CMSs would communicate. If you're familiar with the command line on Linux, this is not hard to do, and indeed it's not hard on Windows, with plenty of documentation out there to walk you through the process. The important thing to do is make sure that your CMS has the right permissions on the system on which it's residing. Without those permissions, trying to upload files into the host file system from within the CMS can fail spectacularly.

Once the LAMP (or WAMP) server is configured and the MySQL database is prepped, much of the hard work is done.

For this article, I installed the latest stable versions of the platforms: Drupal 7.7, Joomla 1.7 and WordPress 3.2.1. Here's how each system's installation compared.

Drupal

Pushing out a Drupal site was a little harder than launching the Joomla and WordPress sites, though not by much. There were actually fewer steps, but sometimes it was not entirely clear what the system was asking for. At my level of expertise, it was always a matter of "Huh? Oh!" and off I would go. Less-experienced users might get hung up by the requests for database location and usernames, though.

Drupal
The opening screen of a Drupal installation.
Click to view larger image

This brings up an important safety tip: When you set up your database, make sure you keep track of the password you gave your database user that's acting on behalf of the CMS. I didn't jot it down like I was supposed to and it took a bit of time to recover.

That wasn't Drupal's fault, however, and even though the steps in the Web installation were not as explicitly spelled out as those in Joomla and WordPress, there ultimately was no stress getting Drupal installed and the default opening screen open.

Joomla

Joomla's installation steps were more spelled out and more numerous, which made the process feel just a smidge safer as I walked through it. This, admittedly, is a subjective call, but I appreciated having all the steps laid out for me in logical order.

Joomla
The opening screen of a Joomla installation, with content.
Click to view larger image

The one key difference in installing Joomla was the request to install sample data in the new Joomla site, which is encouraged for beginners. Now, I'm of two minds about the inclusion of sample data, which in this case includes two fairly complete subsites (one for a park and one for a store) in the initial site.

First, if you are beginner, then these examples allow you to judiciously reuse the content, layout and templates for your own Web site. That's pretty much why the material is there. But -- and this is strong but -- if you have any experience with Joomla, then you will definitely not want to apply this sample data, because it will burden your site with a taxonomy of content and content categories that you probably will not want. Undoing all of these elements is possible, but time consuming, so think about building from scratch if you're comfortable with Joomla.

I decided to throw in the sample data, which is quite wordy, because I knew my site could work with the content.

WordPress

WordPress has made a point about getting its installation process down to mere moments of your time. In fact, it says so right in the first and only WordPress installation screen, announcing, "Welcome to the famous five-minute WordPress installation process!"

WordPress
The "famous" WordPress installation screen.
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There is little doubt that the "five-minute" claim is true to its word. The single installation screen enables users to get their WordPress site up and running fast. There's not a lot of configuration, though, which means that you have to start with a plain vanilla WordPress site every time you install. In many cases, particularly for newer users, this will be a blessing. More advanced users, however, will need to build from scratch. The use of templates copied from other sites, however, should mitigate this.

Bottom line

The installation differences between Joomla and Drupal are, really, negligible. My personal preference leans towards the explicitness of Joomla's install, but that's not much of a differential. More noteworthy is the option to include sample data in a Joomla installation, something that can be a big help in getting beginners started.

WordPress, however, wins hands down when it comes to installation simplicity. If that is something you need, then this is the CMS to use.



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