Joomla vs. Drupal
In the world of Open Source Content Management Systems (CMS), there are currently two big names. Well, actually three but two are forks of the same original. Those programs are Joomla and Drupal. Joomla is a recent fork of Mambo and currently offer the (nearly) same features. There’s a whole lot of political hoo-haw over the split but for now, I’ll consider them functionally similar.
These are mid-tier CMS’s fine for serving hundreds of web pages from a MySQL database. They both are programmed in PHP, though knowledge of programming is not essential to use them. Both have long lists of features and longer lists of add-on plugins that extend their capabilities. How to choose?
You might try looking at comparative charts of features. Good luck. Choosing a CMS is not the same thing as shopping for a car. Those features come at the very real price of complexity. These are not simple install and go applications. They both have long and steep learning curves.
If you have fairly standard and basic needs, I’d even go so far as to say that both are overkill and could hurt productivity and timely updating. If something is hard to use it won’t be. These are both programs that require a trained administrator.
Website Baker or CMS Made Simple are good choices for small business or organizations. Website Baker is a bit easier to use. CMS Made Simple is a bit more sophisticated. Both work well and are a better choice than either Joomla or Drupal for the typical website.
But you have deeper and greater needs. You need calendars and PDF generation. You need complex directories, news publishing and repurposing of content. You need to tackle these more complex systems.
What sets the mid-tier systems apart from their simpler cousins is that content is stored separately from pages. It can be reused in multiple pages, either in whole or part. This offers an amazing degree of flexibility in creating a site structure but does require more effort to work with.
Both systems have sophisticated user access management that allows an administrator to grant authoring, editing or admin privileges to all or parts of a site. If a person only has to use the CMS interface to write articles and can leave publishing to someone else, they can get by with a minimum of training.
So far we have looked at the similarities but these are really two different animals. Joomla excels at complicated page layouts. Content can be placed in up to a dozen of different places on a page and each page can be totally different, if you choose to make them so. It seems that it was designed from the top down, starting with display then writing the code to make the display work.
Unfortunately, that makes it painstaking to manage and somewhat brittle. The HTML it generates is pretty ugly. Because it makes a large number of server calls, pages are a bit slow to load and Joomla isn’t particularly search engine friendly. The development team is aware of these shortcoming and is working to address them but this is a big program and changes have to be made carefully.
Still, it works, and some nice sites have been built with Joomla. Another plus is that there is an active and talented community of template and add-on builders that give the CMS a lot of added value. One of the modules might just be perfect for your needs. The general level of design sophistication that you can find with commercially sold templates is excellent, much higher than that offered by Drupal.
Drupal is built from the bottom up. Programming functionality takes precedence over complex layouts. The code is clean. Sites load quickly and Drupal is one of the most SEO (search engine optimization) friendly of current CMS’s.
Drupal started in the arena of community building and it has no peer there. CivicSpace, a special selection of Drupal modules, was the engine behind the very successful Web fund raising campaign of Presidential hopeful Howard Dean.
But Drupal is not just another portal. It is actually an incredibly flexible system that can be molded around most site needs. Unfortunately that flexibility is hidden behind the worst jargon I’ve seen in the CMS universe. Instead of sections and entries we get taxonomies, for goodness sake and nodes.
One of the most difficult learning hurdles is wrapping yourself around Drupal’s unnecessarily opaque terminology. However, the rewards are worth it. The system is actually quite elegant, once you figure it out.
For my part, I’m willing to accept some design inflexibility in Drupal for the more feature flexible CMS. Like Joomla, it has a hundreds of add-on modules. As expected from its roots, those related to community building are the more polished. Drupal has fewer commerce related add ons than Joomla. Though both have good shopping carts and image gallery systems.
Both systems have active and avid developer and user communities. Both have enthusiastic tutorials written by their members. Unfortunately, both suffer from the common malady of Open Source projects. Documentation is inconsistent and not of commercial quality. We are not dealing with Photoshop or Dreamweaver here, with whole bookshelves of help or community college classes just a credit card purchase away.
On the other hand both have active and helpful forums that in large part make up for the lack of written documentation.
Unless you are a fairly experienced web designer who has a good understanding HTML and CSS, at a minimum, either of these systems might throw you in the deep end without an adequate life preserver. You will have to learn to swim quickly or drown. A basic understanding of PHP and MySQL wouldn’t hurt either. Though you can do without.
You can create large, feature rich and sophisticated sites with either of these systems. Unfortunately, the dream of a truly simple yet powerful CMS is still a long way from reality.