Open source CMSes prove well worth the price

We look at five free offerings boasting solid Web publishing features that challenge their commercial competitors

Compared to the other products, the only other weakness I see is authentication, which may be addressed in DotNetNuke 4.6. The product's road map calls for support of OpenID, Active Directory, and perhaps Microsoft's LiveID (when they go live with the service). LDAP is planned for a later upgrade.

Like most open source CMSes, DotNetNuke 4.5.5 offers much to like along with a smattering of omissions. In the plus column go high usability, a large number of stock modules, and a penchant for commerce. But you give up some enterprise management functions, especially versioning, formal workflow, and authentication.

Drupal 5.2

Drupal CMS lets you publish a variety of content to corporate Web sites and intranets -- or build community portals with discussion boards and blogs. Beyond a collaborative authoring environment, Drupal handles tasks such as newsletter posting, podcasting, picture galleries, along with file uploads and downloads.

The system provides good personalization, which lets you control content and its presentation based on each user's preferences. Underlying features are also generally strong, which range from version control and a news aggregator to site-access statistics reports.

Drupal requires some extra time and skills to set up, which mainly involving installing PHP, and a database server and empty database, then manually updating some configuration files. Several handbooks and site recipes (step-by-step instructions) should cut this initial effort to under a day. (I also found a kind-hearted community member who'd packaged Apache, Tomcat, PHP, Drupal, and other essentials in an automated installer for Windows Server).

Drupal's core installation includes essential modules that are easily enabled from an administration page. That said, there are likely features you'll want to add on, such as advanced workflow. So set aside an additional day or so to tweak Drupal to your needs. The overall learning process will likely take at few weeks -- more than other products but certainly less time than if you rolled your own CMS.

The system's user management let me create different user roles quickly, which controlled what they could do on the site. Additionally, I changed the look of my test site by applying different themes. While still in the admin area, I constructed menus and the type of information that appeared in other page blocks (such as the right-hand margin).

Categorization accommodation
Content is added in several ways: as individual pages, stories (news articles), pages within "books" (which are used for longer documentation), and blog entries. In each case I used uncomplicated forms to enter text; unfortunately, Drupal lacks a rich-text editor, so you'll have to stick with plain text or manually add HTML markup code. Another option for posting content is employing blogging software, such as Red Sweater Software's MarsEdit for the Mac or Word 2007.

Drupal's built-in taxonomy system let me tag pages with appropriate topics, categories, and terms.

The software offers several navigation options, including using the aforementioned categories to automatically populate menus. True, this takes additional setup work in the Site Building administration area to initially populate the taxonomy. But I think it's worth doing because it reduced ongoing site maintenance for me. Alternately, you can manually customize site navigation.

I found that other aspects of Drupal follow this same basic formula: There's not much you can't do, but it may take installing a module or some additional steps. For example, translating text is best done with a stand-alone editor. Or consider search: There's an internal site search system, but you need to manually schedule the indexing jobs.

Some of the more interactive features I liked include the news aggregator, which gathers content from news sites and Weblogs; RSS feeds of your Drupal content; and user authentication using an LDAP server.

Drupal has attracted interest among users and developers over the past four years. Usability -- for administrators and content editors -- might be better and the range of functions could be expanded.This application's modular design, however, lets community members keep it updated and in the CMS race.

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