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Installing and testing self-hosted content management systems

Apples to oranges

Over the years I’ve installed and tried out countless CMS, CRM and similar applications, usually open source.  In the end, I’ve usually come back to WordPress  for a whole variety of reasons, the biggest being my need for multi-linguality and client ease-of-use.

I am still learning Expression Engine which I like very much but for me, the tradeoff between these two is that overall I find WordPress easier to understand both in the backend and from a theme design standpoint. While Expression Engine is more structure-focused and granular, I feel that it is not as intuitive when building a site. I also DO NOT like having to work directly in the backend for theme design as I have a great Coda- CSSEdit workflow that is not easily made compatible with Expression Engine’s  built-in process. If they could fix that, I’d be using it more often.

I’ve also been doing themes lately for online services like Shopify, which has a very impressive theming setup BUT the problem that everything is stored across worldwide servers so caching is a big problem for using my own workflow. It’s very frustrating to try to edit CSS with CSSEdit in realtime when the page is continually served up by a different server (the stylesheet overrides stop working from one minute to another).

And of course, you must know about the wonderful site where you can read about and try hundreds of apps! It’s almost like going shopping!

Top picks

  • WordPress Open source, free. My favorite choice by far (and now pretty much the most popular everywhere). Easy to install and update, multi-lingual (important for me working in Québec), tons of plugins available in both languages, the client easily gets how to use it, uses the wonderful jQuery by default. Depending on client needs, can be too plugin dependent (but as I learn to code better, I reduce that dependency); sometimes targeted by hackers because it’s popular and in widespread use).
  • Expression Engine Annual fee to keep it up-to-date and have support access (but this is NOT the reason I prefer WordPress at the moment). Based on the wonderful, free CodeIgniter PHP development framework. Super well-designed app, great admin interface, structure-focused and granular. Ideal for complexe sites, excellent security features, easy to customize for the client, a lot less finag. Not as easy to learn as WordPress . Not super-compatible with my own Coda/CSSEdit workflow.


I’m not going to go into depth on all of these but I’ve made a few notes here and there and these are the apps I felt deserved to be at least mentioned.

  • ModX I started really getting into CMS with this app. It is a bit more like Expression Engine in the admin interface but wasn’t too difficult to use. I just fell in love with WordPress and stopped using it…
  • Joomla Very popular, very widespread use, lots of nice features… but not the easiest setup and.
  • Drupal Ditto. For me, both of these last two were a bit “PC versus Mac” with regard to installation and comprehension of the theming systems. Since I didn’t end up using them extensively, I don’t want to make further comments as I’m not qualified!
  • Gelato The original system that gave birth to Tumblr. Very simple, easy to install and a neat little blog engine.
  • FrogCMS Very nice, clean, uncomplicated system. Didn’t have a lot of add-ons at the time I tested it but might be a nice option for some folks.
  • Elgg Calling itself a “social networking engine, it is focused on community and education. All the bells and whistles, didn’t have any problems installing or testing. Might be overkill for smaller organizations.
  • Pligg The original system behind Designed around community blogging and promoting posts to the front page.
  • Concrete5 Very nice CMS that seems to be gaining in popularity, active development and add-ons.
  • SilverStripe Another fast-evolving, well-designed CMS that seems to be taking on Expression Engine-type frameworks.
  • Omeka A CMS for museums and collections. I didn’t have trouble setting it up but I think it might be a little confusing for the uninitiated.
  • Pixie Simple and friendly, more suited to traditional sites than blog format.
  • GetSimple Currently testing this and liking it! Simple (as the name indicates), no database required so a good option for those without access to that on their server.

Also worth a mention

I don’t claim to have put them through all their paces; but the ended up on my list of decent or promising options.

So many apps, so little time…

I’ve also tested wikis, media gallery apps, ecommerce apps, RSS aggregators, project management apps and mailing list managers… but I’ll save those for additional posts!