How to Select a Content Management System (part 3)

This is part three of a four-part series on how to choose a content management system. It is directed toward end-users, but developers may find some tips here too. Feel free to leave your comments.

7. What is the difference between open-source and commercial CMS platforms?

The ethos of open-source projects dictate that a group of developers contribute or approve code to add to the codebase. Generally speaking, the code that runs the CMS is available free for anybody to use. The fact that the code is free says nothing about the feature set. Open-source systems run the spectrum from very basic through extremely complicated, and run sites from very small sites with a few pages, to huge, enterprise-level sites. Licensing is covered by various forms of open-source licenses.

The code for commercial systems, on the other hand, is the intellectual property of the developer. It is typically not an option to install third-party add-ons or to hire other developers to modify the code. In this situation, the customer is buying a service from the developer, and the site is not portable. The platform code may or may not be for sale. Licensing is specific to each developer and varies widely.

8. How flexible are the CMS platforms?

This question refers to two things: Whether the CMS will handle the needs of the design, and whether the CMS will handle the data requirements.

Data Flexibility – Look for answers to these questions:

  1. What are the specific needs you have to collect or display data?
  2. Will the stock platform do everything you want, or is it missing something?
  3. If any features are missing, are these easily available through plug-ins or modules?
  4. If you need to have some new feature created, does the developer have the ability to create them?

Design Flexibility – Some things to consider here:

  1. If you have a design in mind, will the platform easily accommodate it?
  2. Does the platform make use of templates or skins?
  3. Are the templates easy to use?
  4. Can a designer modify the files?
  5. Is there a way to visualize the templates?
  6. To what extent does a developer need to be involved?

9. How easy to install is the CMS platform?

To some extent the options are influenced by where you will be hosting your site. Some large providers offer “standard” packages. Make sure they will do what you want!

Open-Source – Nearly all of these need a developer to be involved in the installation and configuration. The are many options to configure that an experienced developer can work through with little trouble. Some of these include webserver virtual host setup and redirecting, database connections, user permissions, file permissions, storage space, memory allocation, spam prevention software setup, search engine optimization settings.

Commercial – Installation will almost certainly be handled by the developer.

10. How easy to upgrade is the CMS platform?

Some platforms are far easier to upgrade than others. Open-source platforms are usually updated quite frequently. The problem is that your site is not magically updated – somebody has to do it. Is that covered in the proposal? Some developers will automatically upgrade their sites, which can give you “free” new features.

Sites created on a commercial platform may or may not have automatic upgrades. New features may be offered on an included basis, or you might have to pay for a new revision. That is worth exploring, as the cost could be substantial.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.