Open Source

The common problem with Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops

Anyone that has worked with Drupal, Joomla, or Xoops knows how powerful, and how frustrating, they can be. But there's a solution that could turn these platforms into massive successes.

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Image: Jack Wallen

This is one of those pieces that is hard for me to write. Why? Being a long-time fan of open source, I love that there are so many tools available, many of which have taken enterprise-level businesses by storm. The internet is filled to the brim with sites that run on open source technology. No matter where you point your browser, it will touch down on some piece of open source coding. This is especially true when you take a gander at the tools that help empower businesses to do their jobs. Web servers, cloud servers, Human Resource Management, Client Resource Management, and Content Management Systems. Even blogging platforms are most often powered by open source.

There is, however, a particular trilogy of open source platforms that have been around for quite some time and have done their best to empower content management.

Over the years, I've deployed each of these on numerous occasions and for various sizes and levels of companies. It has come to my attention, however, the last few years I have personally been tasked for fewer and fewer rollouts of these three particular tools. Taking their place, in many instances, is the likes of Wordpress. Although this seems like it would be a step backwards, Wordpress has evolved from a simple blogging platform into a full-fledged content management system (partially thanks to numerous plugins developed to expand the feature set of Wordpress).

But it's not the rise of CMS-type plugins that has turned many from Drupal/Joomla/Xoops to Wordpress (and other, similar tools). Another issue has become so glaringly obvious: ease of use.

Posting content on Wordpress is astonishingly simple, even after you've tweaked it with ecommerce, content management, and other plugin systems. Simplicity is at the very heart of this particular platform. Not only can you quickly post something to a Wordpress site, you can then easily manage where that piece will be displayed. Slap it on the main page, place it in a parent page, put it in a widget, whatever you want. Drupal, Joomla, or Xoops cannot boast of the same. In fact, publishing a piece of content with Drupal, Joomla, or Xoops ranges from the head-shakingly frustrating to the mind-numbingly painful.

This needs to change.

Why bother?

When there are so many available platforms that boast enough features to get by, with an ease of use Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops cannot touch, one might be so inclined to wonder why bother. That's where things get a bit complicated. You see, extending Wordpress does have its limits, whereas Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops often seem completely unfettered from limitation. They also offer power and flexibility that Wordpress cannot touch. With Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops you can modify your CMS to your heart's content. With Wordpress, you'll find yourself somewhat boxed in.

But what does it matter that you can toss every known kitchen sink into your system when your end users won't be able to figure it out?

With good reason, Wordpress is the world's most popular CMS tool. According to BuiltWith, Wordpress currently stands at over 17 million instances world-wide (17,289,521 to be exact). On the other hand, we're look at the following numbers:

  • Drupal: 733,274
  • Joomla: 2,486,271
  • Xoops: less than 10,000

What is that "good reason"? Simplicity.

If either of these platforms wants to get anywhere near that of Wordpress, they need to do one thing: make the process of posting and managing content simple. Sure, in recent iterations of Joomla, you can quickly post a piece of content — which is a massive improvement from the older versions, but reach beyond the task of adding that simple content to the front page and you'll quickly hit a wall. Should any of the above pull off revamping their platforms, with the added bonus of the incredible power and flexibility they offer, the results would be tremendous.

Open source does not have to be challenging

When I first started working with open source software, there was an unspoken (okay, it was spoken and spoken often) honor in using a more challenging choice. You said "I use Linux" with a prideful subtext that communicated "I'm better than you". Although that really wasn't the case, we all liked to think it was true.

That was then. Now? Linux has become as easy to use as any platform. Had the flagship open source operating system not evolved into a user-friendly platform, it would have failed long ago. The developers of open source CMS tools (Yes, I'm talking to you Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops.) need to learn from that same lesson and retool their platforms to make them such that anyone can quickly get up to speed. Does that mean Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops should be stripped of their power and flexibility? Not at all. Given what these three platforms have accomplished, it should be a relatively easy feat to reinvent the CMS.

Imagine Joomla with a jquery-like draggable interface that would allow permissible users (and admins) to drag and drop interface items to create a 100% customizable UI for their site. Now, add the ability to quickly post content into one of those draggable items and you have a seriously powerful tool that is equally simple to use.

What I'm not saying

Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops have their places. They are each (in their own way) powerhouse platforms that allow a well-trained admin to build a site that can do many, many things. For that, I have the utmost respect. And, given the right circumstances, I will still deploy one of these tools. Given the wrong circumstances and that same tool would create a never-ending nightmare for end users. For the likes of Wordpress, this is not an issue. Those wrong circumstances are becoming the norm and, for them, I am turning more and more to Wordpress.

So if these open source CMS tools want to really, really thrive (and, in the end, that's what I'm talking about) they need to address the complexity of usage. Retain the heavy-hitting power features and shine it up with a much friendlier work flow.

What do you think? Are Drupal, Joomla, and Xoops fine as they are, or should the developers consider bringing them into the modern, more simplicity-minded age?

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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