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Site builder shootout: Drupal vs. Joomla vs. WordPress

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

Support/community

Near the beginning of this article, I mentioned that all of these CMSs have very vibrant and active communities. I wasn't kidding. To give you an idea of what kind of ecosystem we're talking about, there are 15,884 WordPress plug-ins, 11,216 Drupal modules and 8070 Joomla extensions available at the time of this writing.

It's not all about the numbers, though.

Drupal

Drupal, being the older product, has a larger and more active developer community. This is certainly reflected in the number of modules, but it also shows in the support for the CMS. The Drupal website has a very good modules directory and solid documentation.

Oddly, when searching for help on some Drupal issues, I was often pointed at sites other than the main Drupal site. This is too bad, because there are some good docs in there.

A majority of Drupal modules are categorized as non-commercial, meaning free, something which is different from the Joomla extension family. Free software users will be comfortable with this, but commercial users may need to get used to the lack of commercial support.

Joomla

What Joomla lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in energy.

Documentation on the Joomla site is wiki-based, updated constantly and well-indexed by search engines. So I ran into it a lot more often when searching for help.

There are far more commercial extensions in Joomla, though not so many you get the idea that "free" Joomla is just a kind of come-on for pay-for-more add-ons. The balance between free and paid extensions is fair, and you get the sense that there's a lot more revenue in the developer ecosystem in Joomla. Take from that what you will.

WordPress

WordPress, like Joomla, has a lot of commercial support and activity, but not so much that you can't find really good free themes and plug-ins on the WordPress site.

I found the WordPress community to be heavily centralized on that main site, which made it easy to locate tools and support for my questions. I sort of liked the one-stop shopping aspect of this community, and found no problems in finding the answers I need when questions arose.

Bottom line

This is, for me, a clear draw. If you can't find help on the main sites for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, then you will almost always find the knowledge you need on a third-party site.

These are strong communities that definitely add to the strength column of each CMS.

Conclusions

After a few days with all three CMS platforms, my observations have gelled into one overarching theme: All of the CMSes are very good, but they currently play to different strengths.

If I were to make a recommendation, I would tell a beginner to use WordPress, no question. The themes and plug-ins are diverse and numerous, and this is a very good starter CMS that can scale quite well into a more complex site.

Brian Proffitt takes a look at WordPress.

I would recommend Joomla for sites that are a bit more complex and are going to be managed by someone with stronger technical skills. For this type of situation, Joomla is perfect: plenty of extensions, easier to learn and enough templates to make site design worries moot.

Brian Proffitt talks about Joomla.

If I were building a much more complex site, though, I might turn to Drupal first. Though it's harder to learn, it has much more flexibility to scale a site in terms of complexity. It also has the ability to scale up into very complex sites to be used for a variety of business needs.

Brian Proffitt shows some of Drupal's features.

Each CMS platform has a very strong developer community, however, and if you are planning to pay for help in building a site, there are plenty of experts out there to build as complicated a site as you need with any of these applications.

Read more about Web Apps in Computerworld's Web Apps Topic Center.



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