Open source CMSes prove well worth the price

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

DotNetNuke 4.5.5

DotNetNuke's built-in features -- generally broad and centrally managed -- make it appropriate for quickly deploying small Web sites or intranets. This solution is well-suited for moderate-sized e-commerce sites because it supports banner ads and referral programs.

Moreover, DotNetNuke's ASP.Net foundation contributes to its extensibility and usability. Therefore, you might consider it for larger, custom corporate Web projects. One notable enterprise feature is multiple portals within one software instance -- each site with its own identity and access rights.

DotNetNuke doesn't exaggerate its usability statements. Within an hour of downloading the software I had a functional site that incorporated many of this product's more advanced features. One tip is to get DotNetNuke's automated installer utility that you'll find hidden in the company's download area; even if you're familiar with creating .Net sites, this tool may save you time -- it automatically installed .Net prerequisites and configured IIS for me.

Overall site settings, security roles, and user settings are all easily managed from a single administration menu. More important, finding your way around the forms doesn't require much experience. For example, customizing the user registration form to make certain fields mandatory just requires checking off a few boxes.

I followed the same process for other global selections, including changing the look of the portal. (The built-in style sheet editor is available if you want to make more extensive changes). I was especially impressed with the granularity of these options. For instance, I applied one style to a certain section of my site that was designed as an extranet, while public areas received a different visual treatment.

Developing and managing the general structure of your site is equally straightforward. The Pages area let me reorder how pages appeared within the site navigation and move them down to different levels -- changes that were immediately reflected in my site's navigation.

A DotNetNuke page starts as a blank canvas with panes where you easily position modules. After deciding on the main sections of my site, I easily dropped modules in place and then dragged them into different arrangements until I was satisfied with the appearance. I created page layouts with a main HTML area, list of links to the right, and a login area under the top banner. Once a design is set, it's easy to reuse it on child pages or elsewhere in your site, which is done using the Page function menu.

Other standard modules include wiki, blogs, discussions, IFrame, News feeds (RSS), FAQs, event calendar, and announcements. Importantly, each module can be permissioned, thereby keeping itvisible only to registered users who have a particular role.

With my layouts done, entering and editing content for these modules progressed quickly. The rich-text editor equaled other commercial and open source products, including a convenient image gallery browser. Also beyond the basics: the ability to set publish and content-expiration times, and a way to recover deleted pages from the recycle bin.

Still, DotNetNuke lacks CMS features that are available in Alfresco and Plone. Case in point: You won't find built-in versioning or workflow.

Nonetheless, DotNetNuke surpasses other products in e-commerce, as demonstrated by a number of modules. These range from inserting ads based on your Google AdSense account and a basic online store (which uses PayPal payment processing) to very detailed reports about visitors who sign up on your site based on referrals from affiliate sites. Moreover, I enabled banner advertising, uploaded images, and easily tracked metrics for each vendor.

In general, when a core module didn't offer a particular feature, I was able to find a workaround in the DotNetNuke discussion forum or substitute in the DotNetNuke community download area. Many of these third-party solutions require purchase, but the prices are typically reasonable, with most priced between US$100 and US$600.

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