Oct 09

Content Management SystemI’ve had a slew of requests lately from clients needing small web sites they can manage themselves (mostly small businesses).

Truthfully though, I simply prefer the client to manage their content themselves; so essentially we are looking at content management systems (CMS). I’ve had some mild success with CakePHP using my own “home-brewed” CMS for a few sites (thanks for the help Arthur). It works pretty well, but I keep wondering if I’m just reinventing the wheel by building a CMS myself.

So, after weighing the options, here’s my general winner/loser comparison:

Admin Interface Flexibility

  • Home-Brewed CMS
    • I can create an extremely simple administrative side, one that is logical for the client. This allows me to create a dynamic and powerful site, but still allow the client to manage it. I think this aspect is extremely important and often-overlooked in most CMS’s.
  • Open-Source CMS
    • Most of the good ones have too many features for the average client I see. They tend to allow extreme flexibility on the public side of the site (obviously important), but there is little or no flexibility on what admin functions are available. Basically, I need something that is simple to administrate, but has “advanced” options hidden away somewhere. It’s great to have a lot of complex configuration settings for design and administration, but not if that means the client will be calling me every day for help adding a new employee.
  • Winner: Home-Brewed CMS


Relative Costs

  • Home-Brewed CMS
    • It will certainly take some time to develop this product fully on my own. Calling this time “free” isn’t particularly accurate when my time could be spent making money in other ways. However, doing it on my own does guarantee I won’t ever run into any licensing or “upgrade pricing” issues in the future.
  • Open-Source CMS
    • Free (mostly GPL) and generally easy to resell. There might be some issues with licensing in the future, but for the most part, pretty doubtful.
  • Winner: Open-Source CMS

Learning Curve

  • Home-Brewed CMS
    • Obviously becoming a relative expert of my own software is a fairly easy goal. However, the other consideration is the effort required for my graphic designer to adapt to my CMS. In general, it probably wouldn’t be much of a concern in a home-brewed situation (because I can be flexible).
  • Open-Source CMS
    • Certainly a learning curve involved in becoming an expert. Knowing how to install & configure the CMS properly is one aspect, but I’m much more concerned about digging into the code. If I have an issue and I REALLY need it solved, it might be nearly impossible for me to figure out how to solve it quickly. On top of that, it’s likely the templating system the CMS uses would have a bit of a learning curve for my graphic designer.
  • Winner: Home-Brewed CMS

Testing, Security, And Debugging

  • Home-Brewed CMS
    • It’s extremely important to plan for and spend a considerable amount of time testing and debugging. In fact, on most projects, I spend a majority of my time testing. With that being said, the amount of time it would take me to fully test, debug, and check for holes in my own CMS… well, it would consume my life for a very long time. Even after that, there’s very little certainty that I would’ve done a good enough job. It’s just tough to compete with the experienced developers out there who have real-world ideas on things I haven’t thought of yet.
  • Open-Source CMS
    • A single programmer simply cannot compete with open-source testing and debugging of a project. Multiple configurations, multiple types of hardware, multiple security situations… the combinations are mind-boggling. Plus, these projects are frequented by people who are insanely talented experts in areas such as database design, Javascript, XML, and even PHP. I have a good basis on all this stuff, but these people use their hords of pent-up knowledge to help the project achieve much more than I could have on my own… especially in the testing & debugging arena.
  • Winner: Open-Source CMS

Future Growth (Extensibility)

  • Home-Brewed CMS
    • I just have to face it: my own CMS will require constant maintenance and changes as it grows and evolves over the years. I will be rebuilding it constantly and reworking it to solve bugs, issues, and new features.
  • Open-Source CMS
    • The growth and expansion factor is built-in. New versions will be coming out consistantly and will require little or no work on my part (except for dealing with upgrade bugs).
  • Winner: Open-Source CMS

Extendability

  • Home-Brewed CMS
    • Not quite as easy as it could be with an open-source system. With the except of JS scripts and PHP frameworks, cool new features are going to require blood, sweat, and tears on my part.
  • Open-Source CMS
    • The clear winner. It doesn’t take long exploring any of the major CMS extension pages to realize the immense number of plugins available to achieve almost any goal. In fact, I was almost overwhelmed with the number of choices.
  • Winner: Open-Source CMS

Monetary Viability

  • Home-Brewed CMS
    • This is an awkward issue to discuss, but essentially, I am more valuable and can charge more to develop/use my own CMS. It comes down to billable hours and it just takes more to go with the home-brewed route.
  • Open-Source CMS
    • Yes I know I can still charge the same amount for an open-source CMS, but somehow I just don’t think it will work out that way. Just call it a hunch I suppose, but using a pre-existing system just isn’t as valuable (though I realize that for the most part most clients wouldn’t know or care about the difference). Maybe it’s just my consciense?
  • Winner: Home-Brewed CMS

So, by adding up the wins and losses, it appears that the open-source content management system has won the battle, but by just a hair.

Stay tuned for further articles as I delve into reviewing the major open-source PHP-based content management systems available right currently. I might be proven completely wrong once I really start delving into them again, but I hope that’s just my pessimistic nature.

One Response to “Open-Source vs. Home-Brewed PHP CMS”

  1. Yoyodyn Says:

    Have you looked at using a Wiki for as a CMS?

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