Joomla vs. Drupal: An open source CMS shootout

Choosing a Web content management system often comes down to one question: Joomla or Drupal?

For many organizations (or individuals) with content to post and manage, blog tools like the highly popular WordPress may be more than adequate. But for companies with greater amounts of content, users, or complexity, including integration with ecommerce and also with other internal and external applications, a more comprehensive content management systems (CMS) is needed.

Here's a look at two popular open source content management systems: Drupal and Joomla! (the exclamation point is part of the official name, tsk tsk, but for punctuative simplicity I'm omitting it for the rest of this article). I've asked developers to weigh in on the strengths, weaknesses and unique features each offers, to help determine which is the best match for your organization's content needs.

Before we begin, it should be noted that both Joomla and Drupal keep getting updated -- e.g., Joomla 1.6 was released January 10, 2011, and Drupal 7 on January 5, 2011 -- and get more add-on modules. This is a good thing, obviously. But it also means that the opinions expressed in this article may become outdated or invalidated. As always.

Ready? Let's get started.

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The players

Being Open Source, the code for both Drupal and Joomla are free. In addition to the free core code, both have thousands of modules, extensions, applications, themes and other add-ons created by developers.

"Every Drupal extension is 100% GPL and free to download," says George DeMet, owner of Palantir, a Drupal based web development company (and co-chair of the March 2011 DrupalCon in Chicago). But the tradeoff for free is choice. "Drupal typically has one extension for a given function (e.g., for comments, Drupal Comments, for forums, the Forum module)," says Joomla co-founder Mitch Pirtle. By contrast, in Joomla, "you may find 15 alternatives, some open source, some commercial."

Some of the 6,876 (as of February, 2011) third-party extensions to Joomla cost money: "A typical extension is less than thirty dollars, and the vast majority are free," says Pirtle. "I've never paid for a third-party extension," says Pirtle. "For one customer site, I paid $45 for a Facebook connect extension."

But like a free kitten or car, acquisition of system code is only a piece of the TCO. There may be some cost to run Drupal or Joomla, (e.g., on a hosting service) and even if you're running free code internally, there are hardware costs. And, of course, there's the cost of in-house or third-party time to design and create the site, maintain it, and manage and administer content.

Data points

Claim to fame

Drupal's arguably best-known claim to fame is having been chosen in 2009 to power the relaunched WhiteHouse.gov website.

Extensions aplenty

As of February, 2011, there are a whopping 6,876 third-party extensions to Joomla available in the Joomla Extensions Directory

Marketshare

About 4.2% of all websites use either Joomla or Drupal. (Source: W3Techs.com)

Comparing and contrasting: Let the jousts begin!

Drupal, according to Target Info Labs' Zaki Usman, "is oriented for the developer rather than the designer. It's not good for small to medium traffic websites -- overkill for such a project. Drupal is really robust in creating scalable, reliable websites. Drupal will cost a bit to maintain, as it requires a team of developers to add new functionality. Drupal is good for sites that require interactivity."

Joomla, Usman says, "is more intuitive to use than Drupal, so the cost of use/training/implementation is lower than Drupal. Joomla is also very scalable, but is used in smaller sites than Drupal sites. Joomla is a good choice for medium sized deployments."

"You can use Drupal for just about anything," says Palantir's DeMet. "Especially with Drupal 7, the list of things that Drupal traditionally hasn't been as good at is smaller. For example, for the entry level client looking maybe for a personal website or a blog, Drupal wasn't the right choice for that. But there are now hosted services like Drupal Gardens that allow you to do it, like WordPress or SquareSpace do."

Drupal is also good, says DeMet, "If you're looking to do something large and enterprise level, with integration with third-party systems. For example, we do a lot of work with higher education, and with cultural institutions like museums. With museums, we have to work with their digital asset systems and collection systems, systems that may have questionable APIs or need a lot of coding. And higher education organizations have course management systems, (e.g., displaying courses on the website). Drupal lets us pull the data out fairly easily."

The biggest difference between Drupal and Joomla is the way that the "communities are structured and operate," says DeMet. "Drupal is a big, large, open, chaotic community, and fairly decentralized. So a lot of stuff tends to bubble up. For example, for Drupal 7, there were about a thousand people contributing code to the release, not counting working on documentation and other things that went into the project. Versus Joomla, which has a much smaller core development team, and I think a more hierarchical structure in terms of how the community is managed."

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