Lisa Wehr is the founder and CEO of Oneupweb, a leading digital marketing agency representing some of the nation’s most recognized brands for more than 15 years.

The goal of any web development agency is to deliver a website that not only looks attractive but is also manageable. It seems there are new contenders vying to be the top content management system (CMS) every day. Making it easy to add products, articles and just about anything else is a mandatory development skill today. Inevitably, the question always arises: “Do we download something free and open source, or do we buy a solution?”

Ask developers and they’ll probably explain they have favorites from both realms. However, most marketing execs and decision makers aren’t as familiar with CMSs, let alone quick to name drop their most preferred. Feel overwhelmed or torn by CMS choices? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of developing within both open and closed source systems. And for further direction, let’s scope out the top open and closed source ways to manage content for both ecommerce and general content sites.


Open Source vs. Closed Source


Open source means there are a lot of people working on the software. Plenty of individuals are making sure the code is solid and that the software is easy to use. Documentation is usually easy to find, and there are plenty of people out there writing “how-tos,” which make design and development easier and even fun. You can count on regular updates that are continually improving the product. Open source systems let you see what makes the software tick, and you can often change it to suit your needs. Use this to your advantage when it comes to differentiating yourself from the rest of the pack.

However, because of the popularity of open source systems, many people are familiar with open source code, which creates a higher risk for hacking. If you choose to design in an open source system, your development team is going to need to put time and work into preventing third-party tampering. This difficulty will scale based on many factors such as how many people need to have access to sensitive areas of the site (like the admin panel).

Closed source software usually equates to better security and support. For an ecommerce site, it isn’t necessarily more secure to go with a closed source system, but unlike open source systems, developers don’t have to spend as much time securing code. If a developer runs into any issues in a closed source software, providers are more than happy to offer you support. This is a convenience, because it cuts down on the development time and cost.

Unfortunately with closed source, the barrier to entry is a lot higher. A smaller community means less experience and collective knowledge. This usually equates with much higher costs across the board. You often have to pay for the software or service, and if your support package doesn’t include it, you end up having to pay someone else for their expertise.


Top Open Source CMSs for Product Management


Three of the top open source CMSs for successfully managing ecommerce sites are: Magento, osCommerce and Zen Cart. All three of these CMSs provide well-structured source code, which allows for easier collaboration between developers and designers and an overall smoother workflow. It’s important that developers have access to a rich architecture that makes plugin and extension development a snap, while designers have access to a powerful, templating system.


Top Open Source General Purpose CMSs


It seems that there are hundreds of these out there. With its humble start as a simple blogging platform, WordPress has grown into a full-blown content management system. The community supporting this gem has made it into a powerhouse capable of handling just about anyone’s needs. Some big names are using this CMS: The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Ford, to name a few. Although WordPress has achieved notoriety, both Joomla and Drupal are also big names in the open source general purpose realm. Some of the biggest sites online are built with Joomla (Living Well Magazine) and Drupal (The White House, The Economist). Developers and designers have a number of possibilities when creating websites in WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.


Top Closed Source CMSs for Product Management


If taking the closed source route, it’s usually best to make sure the service offers good, customizable aesthetics. Shopify, Volusion and AspDotNetStorefront are all fully functional and secure storefronts to help developers and designers with creating successful ecommerce sites. Though you can’t peek at the code running your store, you do have access to the powerful templating systems such as “Liquid” (if using Shopify), which allows your imagination to run wild while designing. When using any of these three closed source CMSs, it’s a snap to include custom HTML, CSS and JavaScript.


Top Closed Source General Purpose CMSs


Where to begin? Many of the closed source content management systems offer different prices for different needs. There are services out there such as CushyCMS for individuals or small companies with mostly static content, and there are the big kids on the block such as Telerik and Sharepoint that operate on Microsoft’s .NET
Framework.

CushyCMS is a designer’s dream as there is no development involved — just standards like HTML, CSS and JavaScript are used. In the case of Telerik and Sharepoint, the .NET Framework and the powerful editor Visual Studio can make developing and designing much easier.


In the end, it all boils down to the abilities of your in-house tech staff and your budget. Many enterprise companies design with open source because they have qualified developers. If you don’t feel that your team is ready to take on extra challenges, then closed source (and its built-in support) may be the best route. Although closed source companies will offer support, they may not always offer you programming support. For instance, they may outsource a job for you. The very best design work is created with confidence, so be sure you’re working with a CMS that you feel secure in.


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The community behind the open source content management system Joomla released version 1.6 earlier this week.

Along with WordPress and Drupal, Joomla helps make up the group of “big three” open source CMS applications. According to statistics from W3Techs, Joomla powers 2% of the web and holds 11% of the CMS market.

Joomla is used for front facing and internal sites for companies like eBay, Citibank, General Electric, IHOP and more. With Joomla 1.6, the goal was to make the package more user-friendly and powerful.

Joomla 1.5 was released almost three years ago and a lot of work has gone into this most recent release. In the future, the Joomla team will be adopting a six-month release strategy, meaning users won’t have to wait as long between updates.

We’ve spent some time playing with Joomla 1.6 and exploring some of the new features and improvements offered with this version.

Here are some of the big new features of Joomla 1.6:

  • New Access Control System — The user manager from older versions of Joomla has been replaced with a new Access Control List (ACL) that will let administrators have more granular control when creating user groups and offering user permissions to various aspects of a site. This is a big deal, especially since Joomla is so frequently used in intranet environments.

    The fact that Joomla now builds a solid ACL into the system, rather than relying on third-party extensions, is a great step for the platform.

  • One-Click Extension Updates — Just as WordPress has a built-in plugin manager and auto-update tool, Joomla now does, too. This is great for administrators who have multiple sites with lots of extensions to manage.
  • Template Styles — This is one of my favorite new features of Joomla 1.6. In the past, making changes to a template for just one aspect of a site meant basically creating a new template and changing the options you wanted to change manually. That works, of course, but it presents a lot of problems when trying to update a template or design as a whole. With template styles, designers can make variations of the same template that can be applied to specific sections or pages of a site.
  • Template and Layout Overrides –Like template styles, I really like the ability to do layout overrides to change very minute aspects of a site — for things like menus or modules.
  • Better Media Manager — For end users, the content manager is better than before, now supporting multiple-file uploads.
  • Package Installation Feature — For developers who offer a number of different extensions or solutions that are interconnected, this is extremely cool. Basically this lets a developer create a single package that will install multiple extensions at the same time.
  • Sections Be Gone — Say goodbye to sections and hello to categories! You can create unlimited sub-categories (with unlimited depth) for ultimate hierarchy and taxonomy control.

Joomla still hasn’t caught up with WordPress in the ease-of-use department, but as a CMS, it can be considerably more powerful. The new ACL feature is great for large scale sites with lots of users. For designers, we think the addition of template styles and layout overrides will make customizing and changing smaller aspects of a page or site faster.

For end users, there aren’t a lot of dramatic differences, but on our localhost, the software seemed faster and snappier than an identical Joomla 1.5 instance.

Have you ever used Joomla when designing or developing a website? What do you think of this CMS? Let us know in the comments.


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After nearly three years of development, Drupal 7.0 is officially available. The latest release of the open source content management system that powers high profile websites like WhiteHouse.gov features a revamped admin interface, more flexibility options for content and more optimized code.

Drupal founder and project leader Dries Buytaert estimates that approximately 1,000 people contributed to Drupal 7. The Drupal community at large will be holding worldwide “release parties” in 88 countries on Friday, January 7, 2011.

Mashable recently named Drupal one of the 10 websites to watch in 2011, in large part because of the improvements promised by Drupal 7. The CMS already powers approximately 1% of all the websites in world and we expect to see that figure only increase.

Drupal has always been well regarded in terms of its power and abilities; it’s just actually learning and using the system that can take more effort. That’s why one of the big undertakings with Drupal 7 (and something that will continue to be a focus in Drupal 8) is in usability, especially from an administration perspective.

The installation process has also received an overhaul — and Drupal might not quite match WordPress’s famous “five-minute install” on live hosting environments — but on a local host, the process is just as simple.

The default installation includes built-in modules for things like OpenID support, forums and contact forms that you can enable or disable at will.

Check out this video the Drupal team put together showing off all of the hard work that has gone into Drupal 7.0.

Have you ever used Drupal to build a website? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

More About: CMS, drupal, drupal 7.0, open source

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