The Perrennial CMS Question
November 26, 2008 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Replacing legacy software. I'm looking for a CMS or web platform. Help me do my job again, hive mind.

I recently started a new job as a web technology coordinator for a large non-profit institution. A significant portion of my job is to provide support for a very expensive, very dead piece of software that was purchased a few years ago to be used for the maintenance of a variety of public and internal websites. It is almost universally hated by users, is far from a trusted system, and is no longer maintained by the vendor. Additionally, it seems that this system rarely, if ever, met specific project requirements and was therefore replaced in various areas by custom PHP, or in some cases full-blown CMSes (Drupal, in one case). What this software does provide is a decent separation from the actual website (in other words, it does offline processing) so hopefully it won't be too painful to export existing content.

I am now being asked to look into pricing a replacement for this system, with an emphasis on mid-market CMSes. I definitely want to avoid being stuck with an unsupported and closed system again, and pretty much any proprietary CMS runs that risk. Some of the competitors that they didn't go with originally were Ingeniux and Sitecore. Personally, I'm already leaning toward open-source solutions for individual projects, but an implementation of that is much harder to budget for years in advance. I've also seen sites like CMS Watch, but that just seems like a scam to me. We do have a history of relying on open source, so it's less a fear issue than a budgeting issue. Buying a big, expensive tool makes it much easier to say what the money is for ahead of time (whether or not it's accurate is another question).

How have other people dealt with this sort of situation? Have enterprise CMS solutions improved recently? What are some other resources that I can use to help me find a replacement?
posted by mike_bling to Technology (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like Open Source CMS is the site you need. You can try test instances of everything on there. They're limited to PHP and MySQL based systems, so that leaves out stuff like Magnolia (Java based, open source with commercial support) but you already have a PHP system so I guess you wouldn't have much of a problem there.
posted by mkb at 9:49 AM on November 26, 2008

Not Open Source, but I dig ExpressionEngine. Look into it a bit, and I think you'll be impressed. It's what the site uses (and quite a few other high profile companies as well).

Version 2.0 will be coming out sometime, but anything you build in the 1.6.x line will work with 2.0.

It's not that pricey, can allow you to manage multiple sites and sub domains, and I haven't come across anything it doesn't do well (except ecommerce, but people have added on third party solutions for that).

Take a look through their galleries.

With Open Source you don't really get support. With EE the support is rabid.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:21 AM on November 26, 2008

Drupal just keeps getting better. It will probably never be "unsupported and closed." (I'd say certainly never, but never say "never.") I know what cjorgensen means when he says you don't get support with open source, but that's really misleading. You don't get someone to hold your hand, but I've rarely been disappointed by the Drupal community when I was in a jam. You just don't have anyone in particular to yell at when things aren't going well.

You might take a look at the Nov. 17 issue of Information Week. There's the Drupal flag on the cover, front and center, part of the lead story.

You don't get specific enough about your needs for us to assess how precisely Drupal might fit them, but it is endlessly extensible. And my experience has been that 90% of the time, the functionality I'm looking for has already been contributed as a module.
posted by bricoleur at 11:05 AM on November 26, 2008

Seconding ExpressionEngine. You can use it to run any site you can build in HTML and CSS. The data's stored in a MySQL database and you can export it if you decide to switch to something else down the road.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:40 PM on November 26, 2008

Joomla! is easy for non-administrators to use and there are a huge number of third-party themes and extensions. I've gotten absolutely great support at There are also third parties who will do support for you.

If theming is an issue, I checked this a year ago or so and even commercial Drupal themes were very, very few at the time. Make sure to watch for security updates no matter what you get, but particularly on Joomla. I don't live in a technology haven, but the web design people I've talked with seemed to have a strong preference for Joomla over other open source CMS systems, so keep that in mind if you'll be outsourcing any design work.
posted by cnc at 3:24 PM on November 26, 2008

Look at Django. It isn't an application, so it doesn't do anything out of the box. It is a framework and it does a lot to make creating a CMS easy. First off, it auto generates an admin interface from your datamodel, and then let's you tweak it by reordering and grouping the fields, adding custom labels and help text, etc. It has an authentication system built in that integrates with the admin interface. There are generic views for lists and details about objects, help for pagination and more. It makes it easy to produce rSS feeds, and google sitemaps of your content.

Actually there is also very basic CMS functionality for pages that are just blobs of HTML. You'd need to create templates and do a little configuration to use it.

There are also a lot of third party bits that can be incorporated easily, including various CMSs.

I'm not a developer. I spent a fair amount of time playing with Drupal a year or two ago and reached a point quickly where nothing worked quite like I wanted to, and yet, I didnt really know how to start customizing it beyond what you could do via the web UI.

It took more to get started with Django, but I felt more comfortable customizing it because I'd assembled the parts myself.
posted by Good Brain at 4:24 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've dealt with Drupal and Joomla! (currently on the latter). Joomla! is easier to get started on, though I'm not sure about scaling. Also, Joomla tends to be a bit more up-to-date with their documentation AFAIK; Drupal's documentation, on the other hand, is still lacking for version 6 (probably because version 5 is still widely supported/distributed).

My advice would be to try out the two CMSes' demos. I'm not familiar with other CMSes, but these two are pretty much guaranteed to be around for a very long time.
posted by curagea at 8:46 PM on November 26, 2008

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