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Site builder shootout: Drupal vs. Joomla vs. WordPress

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

Configuration

Configuration, in this instance, refers to how easily each CMS put together my fictitious site for Happy Flights. The site, as mentioned earlier in this review, contains a front-page blog, a forum section, a few static pages and an e-commerce section for selling items to unhappy fliers. Articles on the site needed comments and links to social media sites. These are elements the average business site might have, hence their selection.

Each CMS had different strengths and weaknesses for these elements. (I'll review the social media and e-commerce tools a bit later in this article.)

Drupal

Getting static pages on a Drupal site is easy. Just create a menu option for one of the site's menus, then click Add Content>Basic Page to open the Basic Page control screen. Add your copy, assign the page to the previously created menu item and boom, you're done.

Drupal
Drupal comments are easy to activate.
Click to view larger image

There is a caveat here: The default Drupal setup doesn't include a rich text editor in its content-creation screens, so any formatting you want to do has to be in HTML. You can add a module to get that functionality, so it's certainly not out of reach, but in WordPress and Joomla, the editor is available out of the box, which is a bit more convenient.

There are a plethora of forum and blog modules out there, all of which looked pretty good. Keeping with the out-of-the-box mentality a bit more, I opted to use the built-in forum and blog tools. They were easy to activate and assign to a menu item and while simple, were pretty good for a basic site's needs. If I'd wanted slicker tools, I could have found a lot that met my specific requirements.

Configuring the overall site was very easy. Colors, styles and backgrounds were easy to load using the huge variety of Drupal templates. Ultimately, for fairness' sake, I stuck with the default Drupal template.

Joomla

Unfortunately, overall site configuration was not so easy in Joomla. In trying to keep with the default template, Beez20, I ran into significant hassles trying to change the banner from the default Joomla image to the Happy Flight banner.

Joomla
Joomla forums with Kunena work great.
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I thought it would be a matter of uploading the banner image, but it turned out that the background image remained in place under my logo. Worse, the solution involved going into the CSS file and making modifications there. Now, I'm no stranger to CSS coding, but there's a rule I have about such things: If the user has to see code, you have a problem. I also had to edit the site's index.php to get rid of the default font size controls that appeared on the top of every page. Again, no big deal, but why isn't this an option in the GUI somewhere?

I had similar luck with getting comments on board. I couldn't find native controls, so I installed the Udja Comments component. That turned out to be a mess, because I had to find and activate the component in the Module Manager and Plug-In Manager, and was ultimately foiled by the requirement to set a position for the comments. There was no "end of every article" position, and this was one place where the normally super-helpful Joomla documentation failed me.

Forums, fortunately, had a much better outcome. I installed the Kunena module, and even though I had to activate the thing in two different places (which really got on my nerves), it worked like a charm.

WordPress

WordPress' roots as a blogging platform never show more than when configuring site content. Adding and editing pages or blog posts in WordPress is extremely easy to do, since everything is geared around this central premise: make content creation easy.

WordPress
Tal.ki forums are very simple, but easily configurable.
Click to view larger image

Theme management was simple. In playing around with free WordPress themes, I found a lot of visual and configuration variety, even though I stayed with the default Twenty Eleven theme for my WordPress site. It took me a little time to figure out how to update site elements like banners, but once established, it was easy to manage.

Because comments are so well ingrained into the blogging mindset, it's no surprise that WordPress comes with a very robust comment management system out of the box. A great freebie for WordPress users is the availability of the Akismet plug-in, which, when activated, taps into Akismet's very powerful comment and trackback spam protection tools. You can get such tools in Drupal and Joomla, too, of course, but having it as a featured out-of-the-box plug-in is very helpful.

Numerous forum plug-ins are available in WordPress, just as in Joomla and Drupal. I opted to use the Tal.ki Embeddable Forums plug-in, because it was widely regarded as fitting the best with many themes and was purported to be integrated well with WordPress user administration. I was not disappointed.

Bottom line

After pulling together various elements of the site, I rapidly got the impression that, while Joomla is really great for managing content, it has some issues with site configuration that don't exist in WordPress and Drupal.

This is a key issue, because Joomla sites will require more coding to get the site to look and feel the way you want -- unless you find the one template out there that matches the vision you want for your website.



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