The Best Drupal and Joomla Comparison of 2013

Submitted By Bryan Ruby March 04, 2013

Sitting on my desktop the past few weeks has been an eBook from the Aluent Group, Drupal and Joomla!: A Comparison of Project Processes and Costs. I probably would have not read this eBook if it wasn't for an acquaintance of mine, Justin Kerr, letting me know that he was a co-author of the book. I'm lucky to have read the book because I think Justin Kerr as well as co-authors Robert Nowak and Jet Pixel have hit a home run in their review and comparison of Drupal and Joomla.

Writing a comparison of any two content management systems can be challenging. This is especially true when the CMSs in the comparison are open source and each CMS has a legion of followers ready to pounce on anything you write that they perceive as false. For the reviewer, there is probably no better two open source CMSs to compare that can provide so much reward or risk than Drupal and Joomla. If you're lucky, have your facts in order, and the mood is just right then you too can take the Internet by storm just like I did in 2006. Don't do your homework and you will fail a miserable writers death. 

Drupal and Joomla!: A Comparison of Project Processes and Costs is probably one of the most well-written comparisons between the two CMS platforms that I've read in a very long time. The authors' intended audience for this comparison include system implementers, IT department heads, creative agency owners, multimedia department leads and Web site stakeholders who are faced with a choice between Drupal and Joomla. In this free eBook the comparison made is between Drupal 7 and Joomla 2.5 with the most significant metric used in this book being cost not in terms of money but in hours to accomplish the various tasks.

For all metrics presented in this e-book, we use estimated “person hours” to provide a relative scale for measuring costs between processes and tasks.  An hourly metric makes more sense than a cash amount, since different organizations will use different rates for evaluating project costs.  As mentioned before, all estimates assume an expert level of knowledge and experience with both content management systems, with no time dedicated to discovering platform capabilities, learning best practices or training. [p. 5]

Topics covered in this eBook include CMS setup, content types and structures, Web design and layout, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), custom development, ongoing maintenance, and many other topics. “By breaking down the subject into project-focused phases, we hope to get around the problems of trying to make a top-down, apples-to-apples comparison,” Justin Kerr said. “The strategy and process of CMS site implementation differs fundamentally between Joomla and Drupal sites. Our ebook uses these comparisons of project phases to highlight the differences and hopefully inspire strong comprehension of how these systems work within real-world deployments.”

While the comparisons between Drupal and Joomla are as fair and non-biased as one could be, I found the actual format of the 38 page book the authors use to also be compelling. Fans of Drupal or Joomla will be pleased to find that the authors have an equal understanding of both CMSs and IT decision makers will be pleased to have found material they can take to their organization's executives. The book is consistent and logical with how it describes business/development processes, how both Drupal and Joomla performs in each process, and concluding at the end of each topic which CMS you will likely benefit from most based on task and desired outcome.

My description of the format and contents of this book can't do it justice alone. So, with permission from the Aluent Group I'd like to show you an example of one of many process focused topics that is covered in this book. The following is one of the first notable significant differences the author makes between Drupal and Joomla. The excerpt below is on the topic of "Content Types and Structures" found on pages 9 to 11 of the book.

Content Types and Structures

Proper construction of a site’s architecture and content structures yields not only a fertile base from which to launch a site, but also a stable, versatile platform for continued growth of site content.  Implementation of content types and structures includes setting out the nature of the content the site is to display, as well as creating the hierarchical structures used to organize and display that content.

This process is one of the first areas where significant differences in approach, capabilities and costs appear when comparing Drupal and Joomla content management systems.

Drupal iconDrupal

In Drupal, site structures are planned and built from scratch using special sets of tools and conventions.  Drupal’s site structures require significant work and expertise to implement properly, but they can support very high versatility, many different use cases, and extremely complex site architectures.

One characteristic of Drupal’s approach to structuring content is the requirement that the implementer define the different types of content that appear in the site.   Building a Drupal “Content Type” requires selecting and ordering a set of Fields for that Content Type, as well as defining other parameters about how that type of content is accessed and presented.  Each individual item of content in the site (which Drupal calls a “Node”) must be built from a defined Content Type.

[...]

Through the process of defining Content Types, Vocabularies and Taxonomy, the Drupal site implementer enjoys a tremendous amount of flexibility in structuring the site’s content items and organization: In fact, this process provides more than enough rope with which inexperienced implementers can hang themselves. Proper planning is essential for project success, and a good deal of time may be required to figure out the best way that Drupal’s organizational structures can support project goals, especially for complex Web sites.

Joomla iconJoomla

Out of the box, Joomla includes several “core” types of content that a site implementer can immediately use; these include Articles (Joomla’s default for a general Web page), Banners, Contacts, Newsfeeds and Weblinks.  Each of Joomla’s core content types contains capabilities and settings supporting that specific type of use, and they are all available as soon as Joomla is installed.

[...]

Third-party software extensions are used to support non-core content types for Joomla, and nearly every type of need for this is met through Joomla’s expansive software ecosystem (headquartered at the Joomla Extension Directory5).  For those who need completely custom content types, several third-party Content Construction Kit (or CCK) extensions are available for installation into Joomla.  Likewise, for projects where content items must reside in multiple categories, third- party tagging extensions are required to add this functionality to Joomla.

Cost Conclusions

Joomla’s default support for basic content types and a structural hierarchy makes it much faster and less expensive to implement structured site content.  Most Joomla sites employ its general-purpose Article content type as the main method for containing Web page content, and use the default categories/subcategories system to keep things organized.

In contrast, Drupal sites require implementers to plan and create content types first before meaningful content build-out can begin.  (Note that Drupal 7 does ship with a very basic “page” content type.)  This process takes at least a handful of hours; much longer for sites with specialized content items and complex content relationships.  In general, Drupal’s site structural build-out will take at least 50 percent more time than conducting the equivalent work on Joomla sites.

That being said, certain types of complex projects and site requirements may even out the costs: For example, if a site requires multi-categorization of content, or specific, custom content types, the process of installing and configuring the required third-party Joomla extensions can escalate to the work required for content structuring and organization in Drupal.

A much higher level of experience and expertise is required to properly manage Drupal’s implementation of content characteristics and structure than using Joomla’s default methods.

The above is not a complete excerpt from the book on the topic of content type and structure, but hopefully I presented enough to give you a sense of how and where the writers are going in their comparisons. In most of the book the writers do not declare either Drupal or Joomla! as a winner but instead attempt to give you what they see as real world benefits and risks when adopting one CMS over another. While there are many topics (processes) covered in this book, besides the topic of content types and structures I also found the topics of site design and layout, editorial tools, SEO support, site membership, and Software Development Lifecycle Management (SDLM) to be quite enlightening.

As I was reading this book I couldn't help but think what most in the open source CMS circles often say, Drupal is for larger complicated sites while Joomla is for simpler smaller sites. Every time I've heard this statement, my stomach literally starts to turn over as I know full well that I've used Drupal on a number of smaller projects. I also know Joomla! is quite capable of being utilized in some very complex scenarios. Again, the authors rise above this debate near the conclusion of the book.

Although traditional rubric will say to use Drupal for large and/or complicated sites, and Joomla for simpler, smaller sites, one or the other could still be the best choice for a large or small project scenario, depending on what the Web site needs to accomplish and a host of other factors as outlined in this e-book.

Deciding between Drupal and Joomla may come down to the native capabilities of the CMS, anticipated support requirements, or future customization needs; it may even tie into marketplace concerns, such as the availability of professional expertise and services at a level which will result in a successful CMS project. [ ... ] No matter what, careful consideration and planning (and a properly scoped requirements document) will help ensure you make the best choice for your content management system. [p. 36]

Over the years, I've recommended less than a handful of articles to readers that wish to know more about the similarities and differences between Drupal and Joomla. Drupal and Joomla!: A Comparison of Project Processes and Costs is a well written work of art and if you're going to read any material on the two CMSs then this one is a must read for 2013. Created by Web development company Aluent Group, the ebook can be downloaded for free from http://aluent.com/ebook .


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About this CMS Enthusiast

Bryan Ruby

Bryan Ruby

Bryan Ruby is the owner and editor for CMS Report. He founded CMSReport.com in 2006 on the belief that information technologists, website owners, and web developers desired visiting sites where they could learn about content management systems without the sales pitch. Besides this site, you can follow Bryan at Google+ and Twitter.

 
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