Whether you’re setting up a corporate website, a standard blog or just want to announce your presence on the web, the age of hand-coding HTML pages and CSS is long behind us. These days all it takes is to purchase hosting and install a content management system (CMS) and within minutes you can have a website that looks highly polished, displaying the very content that you wish to share with the world.
Of course, there are many different ways in which you might use your website, from displaying a gallery of images to advertising your services, running a technical support page or even an online magazine. This is why, despite the popularity of the WordPress platform, there are many other content management systems available, each with its own strengths.
The following list of content management systems are free to download and use unless otherwise stated.
Easily the most accessible and possibly the most commonly used, the strength of WordPress is in its quick installation and the massive user and developer community that results in a vast array of plugins and enhancements for the platform.
Throw in the added bonus of a vast template library and easy PHP and CSS file editing from within the admin screen and it becomes quite clear why WordPress is used for everything from personal blogs to e-commerce websites.
For an in-depth look at setting up a WordPress blog, check out James’ manual called WordPress: Your Ultimate Guide.
A quick trip to the Joomla website will reveal the claim that millions of websites are running on the software, and the reason for this is simple – it is extremely customizable, suitable for pretty much any purpose.
This is why Joomla is often used by small and medium businesses, large organizations, non-profits and individuals. Joomla’s admin section is easy to use and with the vast array of options from templates and styles to adding feeds, content blocks, menu management tools and more, you can see why this is a popular choice.
You need little or no coding knowledge to use the best CMS applications, and ModX is a strong example of this. With over 100,000 websites ranging from enterprise-scale businesses to sole traders, ModX is easy to use, allows non-technical staff to create content and affords various advantages such as using multiple styles on the same page.
Additionally, ModX – available from http://modx.com – minimises the need for SEO expertise as it is developed as a “blood brother” of search engines, presenting all of the information required by Google, Bing, etc. without additional plugins.
With a minimalist, direct admin interface and flexible design engine, TextPattern is another ideal solution for producing blogs and corporate sites alike.
Equipped with import tools (ideal if you’re thinking of transferring content from another CMS) and featuring a native anti-spam system to block unwanted comments, TextPattern will also allow you to extend its basic functions thanks to a range of plugins that can be installed via the browser window.
Further information can be found at TextPattern.
Based on the Ruby on Rails framework, RefineryCMS embraces the same conventions that have made that platform a success, adopting a strong focus on the end user when developing the user interface and providing an easy hook to add new functions and redesign both the front end and the admin screens.
Featuring a range of different engines (blogs, membership, search, image gallery and many more), this is a CMS that is suitable for businesses of many different kinds.
A popular free and open source CMS, Drupal is often one of the first choices when building a new website. Like many of the other tools listed here, Drupal can be scaled for personal blogs or enterprise mega-sites, and like WordPress there are thousands of modules that can be added to increase functionality.
Clicking on the link above will take you to the home page where you will be able to take a look at the showcase of sites made with Drupal. It is worth noting that questions from the user community about perceived failings in recent versions are yet to be fully addressed by developers; however Drupal remains a popular solution.
Aiming to make it possible for anyone to build and manage a website without investing a lot of time and money, Concrete5 has a tough job on its hands, but appears to be doing well.
This CMS is positioned as the ultimate time saving solution to designers, developers and site owners alike, which probably accounts for its popularity. Easy to use, with a strong focus on the end user, website designer and developer alike, Concrete5 is certainly worth a look.
You can find out more by visiting Concrete5.
The world of CMS solutions is chock-a-block full of software written in PHP. DotNetNuke, meanwhile, is a rare exception. Software written in Microsoft’s ASP .Net is more suited natively to Windows servers, and this consideration (along with the fact that many corporations host their intranets on Windows servers) is one very strong reason to opt for DotNetNuke.
Another is the ease with which developers can customise a web application in DotNetNuke thanks to the open API, while end users benefit from an easy to use system.
Unlike many other of the solutions listed here, DotNetNuke is not free to use, although a demo site and trial can be used.
Full details are at DotNetNuke.
Another ASP.Net solution, Umbraco is free to use, with optional paid-for services such as support and training.
With open source licensing (a rarity in ASP.Net) and that all-important need to keep things simple for the web publisher, this software is hugely popular among corporates, boasting Heinz, SanDisk and the pop group Take That as some of its users.
The user interface for article creation might be more familiar to any web admin who has used a browser-based web server administration console, but its clear layout is popular with website editors.
There is every chance that the solutions listed previously could be complete overkill for what your website is trying to achieve. Sprawling SQL databases and endless pages of active server-side code could be sitting redundant if all you need to do is display a few useful pages with the odd bit of functional eye candy, which is where TinyCMS comes in.
Ideal for small sites and for keeping things simple, TinyCMS uses the TinyMCE article submission tool and a few PHP files to create the website. There is no database, meaning that once the pages are cached on the server they should open pretty quickly.
Full details and a demo can be found at TinyCMS.
If you’re reading this looking for a good reason to choose a particular CMS platform over another, then your best bet is to hit each of the links above and either download the software and install it to your server or find the demo version (these tend to exist on most CMS developer websites).
There are various things you should consider when choosing a content management system, and these are all informed by your own expectations, your aims and the purpose of the website. Simply choosing one and using it without being aware of how you will use could waste a lot of time.
Do you have any favourites among this list? Is there a particular CMS that you felt should be included with these? Let us know, as well as your reasons for suggesting.
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