The Best CMS: Joomla 1.6 vs Drupal 7.0

2 Feb 2011

Just a few days after the launch of the long-awaited Drupal 7.0 version, arch-rival Joomla launched its latest 1.6 release

It’s interesting to note that, apart from some significant interface improvements, 1.6’s two main additions are specifically designed to meet Drupal head-on.

The Most Powerful CMS?

Firstly Joomla 1.6 integrates its previously separate Section and Category Managers to provide a more flexible system built on categories that can now be nested to any depth. Secondly it introduces a new Access Control system where you can create custom user groups and control what they can see via access levels, and what they can do via permission levels.

These are both major advances, but they still don’t go as far as Drupal’s core taxonomy handling and user role/permission systems. For example, you still can’t apply multiple categories with Joomla 1.6 nor get Drupal’s completely granular control over custom permissions. For deep power and granular control, Drupal wins.

Moreover, as Joomla digs deeper to graft on similar power, it actually ends up becoming more complicated than Drupal. To those who have tried Drupal that might sound near impossible but, if you don’t believe me, check out the later stages of the video below (The Art of Joomla's video introduction to Joomla’s new Access Control).

Joomla 1.6 — Access Control from Captain Courageous on Vimeo.

The bottom line is that if category/term or access/permissions handling are crucial to what you want to achieve (especially for Web 2.0 sites where content is contributed by casual site visitors) then Drupal offers the more powerful and flexible implementation.

It’s also important to note that Joomla 1.6 doesn’t offer anything like Drupal 7.0’s biggest new attraction, its field-based handling of content in core (see my full Drupal 7.0 review).

Such granular control can take content management to an entirely new level, especially when allied with add-on field modules (for example, when handling embedded media or maps) and Drupal’s brilliant Views, a semi-core module that lets you build custom queries to pull out and display your field data.

The Best CMS?

Drupal 7.0 is certainly the more powerful CMS on paper, but it’s on the ground that counts

Drupal 7.0 remains the more powerful framework and indeed extends its lead. However that doesn’t mean that it’s the most powerful out of the box. In fact, out-of-the-box Drupal is pretty dreadful; it’s only when you’ve created your custom fields, content types, user roles and module mix that it comes into its own.

This ground-up building block approach is the secret of Drupal’s power but has two important downsides. To begin with, it goes a long way to explaining Drupal’s famously precipitous learning curve, which makes Joomla’s less-than-brilliant usability seem almost intuitive.

It also means that Drupal core is only half of the story. In fact it’s only when all the contributed modules that you want to use have been upgraded to be compliant with the 7.0 core - and with each other - that you’re ready to start building your site.

While Drupal 7.0 is certainly the more powerful CMS on paper, it’s on the ground that counts and here the comparatively self-contained Joomla scores highly. Joomla’s great strength is that it provides ready-to-go power that's more than capable of producing the majority of websites.

Overall then, Drupal wins as the best, totally customisable framework for producing unique state-of-the-art Web 2.0 sites where content is contributed by site visitors, whereas Joomla victors as the best, largely customisable, off-the-shelf system for producing more traditional sites where content is contributed at organisation level by controlled workgroups.

And that still leaves plenty of room for WordPress as the best, partly customisable turnkey system for producing standard sites and blogs for individuals and small businesses (see my WordPress 3.0 review). Other systems, such as TYPO3, press the claims of their own particular mix of content management power and control.

Ultimately the best CMS depends entirely on you and what you want to do.

And the winner is...

That said, if a particularly odd person put a gun to my head and forced me to name the best CMS, there would be one clear winner. For basic photo enhancement Photoshop is complete overkill and most users are far better off with Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro, but we still all accept that Photoshop is the "best" photo editor.

On the same grounds, if you can master it, Drupal 7.0 is the best CMS.

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