Free CMS such as Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress are powering millions of websites around the world. Which CMS is right for you?
Putting a website online is not a simple task, at least if you want to do it properly and obtain professional results. That's why CMS are becoming everyday more and more popular, they allow not knowledgeable users to create their own projects and instead of hiring a webmaster, becoming their own webmasters. On top of that you can add that many advanced users such as developers and designers have embraced the use of CMS for different reasons: they significantly reduce the production time, allow to concentrate in the content instead of technical details, most of them are community driven and the best ones are free!
But nothing is perfect in life and CMS have downsides too: achieving a perfect SEO requires an extra effort, security issues might arise from third party extensions, and often, very often, websites look like a carbon copy of other websites due to poor customization of free or default templates.
But before you have to deal with any of this issues, you have to make an elementary choice: Which CMS are you going to use? And this question is, of course, closely related with this other: Which is the best CMS in the market? Well my friend, the answer is going to depend on what type of website are you trying to develop and what service are you willing to provide.
Free VS Proprietary.
Before we go any deeper in the search of the best CMS, let's make an obvious but necessary observation: there are free and paid CMS. Generally speaking, a paid CMS will prove to be easier to use and will have 24x7 support to guide you through any possible hiccups. Free CMS usually have a higher complexity level and are community driven, so support is often reliable but not assured to be always there to do everything it takes to solve your problem. We will take some time to examine the available free CMS in an upcoming article, but now let's focus on the budget friendly freebies!
And the Best Free CMS is...
Here we go again. There is not such a thing as the Best, Absolute, Undisputed, King free CMS. But we can safely say that out of a large list of free CMS out there, three softwares have gained the maximum number of adepts and can compete one on one for blogs, corporative websites, online stores and pretty much any class of website you might think of. They are Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress.
Take a look at this data compilation we have prepared:
Statistics can be deceiving sometimes because no entity has an absolute control of what happens online, that's why we decided to repeat to fields with information provided by different sources: CMS market share and Global market share.
But even though the numbers are not the same, the trends coincide in these points: Wordpress has a huge amount of the CMS market, Joomla was last to join the party but has managed to position itself in second place and Drupal appears as the least popular of our "big three". What are these numbers showing?
Wordpress has become a de facto industry standard for blogging, as a matter of fact, it defeated a 4 ton gorilla named Blogger, and there are no hints of it loosing the first place any time soon. But even though not so long ago WP was not a serious contender for anything else than a blog, right now it is a complete web platform for any, or almost any type of website you might need. It counts with more than twenty thousand plugins, and a very solid programmatic structure. SEO by default is good and themes creation is relatively easy. Notice that people can talk about Wordpress referring to both wordpress.org (home for the project) and wordpress.com (blogging platform), and the difference between this two is very significant (see http://en.support.wordpress.com/com-vs-org/). Wordpress is, in my personal opinion, better than Joomla & Drupal for blogging because it brings a Blog tool built into the CMS it is. Also recommended for start up users with no advanced knowledge of PHP and CSS.
Balance and a strong MVC structure are Joomla's promises. Harder to learn than Wordpress but definitely easier than Drupal, Joomla positions itself as the best option for designers with moderate to zero knowledge of PHP. The community boasts more than six thousand extensions, and even though this number pales compared to Wordpress' or Drupal's available addons, they offer a solution for pretty much anything you might need. Joomla websites are scalable, well suited for intranets and corporate websites. Best of all, Joomla websites usually don't look like "Joomla websites" because of its component-module-plugin system that allows for endless customzations. A word of caution for security: Joomla core installation is very safe and promptly updated when an exploit is found, but third party extensions are the most vulnerable point of the system and you must be very careful when selecting them.
Drupal has long been praised as the best CMS for coders. As a matter of fact, for some time it was its biggest advantage and its biggest problem as well, because themes were not created by designers, but by programmers instead. (insert sarcasm here!) Drupal lives in the line between a framework and a CMS. If you are the type of person that likes to put hands to action and code your own modules then this CMS is perfect for you. If you need to work with CDNs then Drupal is your best option in the universe of free CMS (maybe the only one?) In spite of all this, Drupal can be "scaled down" and used for less complex websites, taking for granted that among twenty one thousand addons, most likely somebody has already developed a solution for your needs.
The good news is that you can try them all. Free. I encourage you to install a local webserver, download each one of them, and create dummy websites with each one. The same dummy website with each one of them. Then, when you actually have to develop a website for a client, the process of tailoring the customer's needs to a specific solution will be easier. Remember that quantity and quality are not always synonyms, so the fact that Wordpress is the most popular and Drupal the most elitist doesn't mean anything most times. Consider how much will the website eventually have to scale and analyze the databases supported by your candidate CMS. Remember that the best tool is the one you know how to handle. Plan ahead and avoid the headache of a migration later on!