Word Press, DNN, or Drupal?

I’ve been working with drupal testing out it’s power, and I have to say, the more I work with CMSs like drupal or DNN (dot net nuke), the more amazed I am with Word Press and how much easier it is to create and customize sites.

First and foremost, Word Press is open-source, so are a myriad of modules and themes that go with it. Not so with DNN. Even though it bills itself as open-source, pretty much every developer charges for their modules and skins (WP’s version of themes). Drupal is also open-sourced, so it’s a tie in this area.

Secondly, Word Press, or at least the theme I’ve chosen is standards-compliant. It uses <div>s and not tables for layout. DNN almost exclusively uses table-driven layouts (ugh!). I’m not a fan of tables, mainly because nothing appears in a table until the entire table has loaded. With <div>s and CSS-driven layouts, the HTML will load even if the CSS has not loaded. Just like with the previous note, however, Drupal is pretty much the same as Word Press.

Third, Word Press works out of the box with minimal set-up. DNN works fairly well this way, until you want a theme that isn’t provided, and then, if you want a table-less setup, you might as well clear your calendar for the rest of the day or two, unless of course, you want to spend some money and just pay for a CSS-driven layout (they range from $40 – $125). Drupal, because of its power as a CMS, requires much more set-up. I’m fine with that because it allows me to charge more for setting up someone with a site, but there’s a huge learning curve involved, and you have to understand what taxonomy is and what it has to do with developing a site.

Fourth, customizing Word Press is a breeze, provided you are comfortable with php. Modules are easy to add as long as you are comfortable unzipping files and working your way around folder structures (note: don’t use a cpanel type program to upload modules, it will take you an eternity, you absolutely must work with an ftp program, which does feel ‘old school’ but it’s a must). Themes are even easier to customize (provided you are handy with html and css).

The trick to themes, however, is php include files. They are very simple to work with. Basically, your page is made up of sections or modules, and each one is a separate PHP file. You just need to familiarize yourself with the 4-6 files to see how they all work together (e.g. main index, side bar, header, etc.). Think of each php file as a division (like a div tag) on your master page. If you want to tweak your theme, you just have to concern yourself with the html tags on the php (leave the php code alone), and work on the CSS. In fact, in many cases, you can leave the php files alone and simply work on the CSS. The best part is that the entire CSS is accessible to work on directly. This is clearly NOT the case with DNN.

In DNN you are forced to work on skins and containers. For some reason, the developers decided to separate half of the layout into skins and the other half of the layout into containers. The skins are made by adjusting both the html and CSS for main divisions, headers, etc. However, if you want to decorate the various CSS decorations around individual page divisions (like image boxes, side bars, etc.), you need to work on the containers separately. I won’t even mention how controls come into play. The worst part is that to develop a skin &/or container, you need to compress your files into a zip file, upload it, unpack it, and then see if it works the way you intended. If it doesn’t, you need to work on the files, zip them, upload, unpack, & test. Rinse & repeat until it works. Note: I’m leaving out technical details that are also required, but I think you get the point.

Drupal is great, and I suppose it’s goofy to even try to compare a CMS to a blogging software; there is barely a comparison. The only reason why I’m comparing it to Word Press is that I wish customizing Drupal were as easy as customizing Word Press. It’s not nearly as intuitive, but I suppose you get what you pay for (in time and development). Drupal is more complex, but that leads to a more robust and powerful tool. DNN might make the same argument, but since it barely supports standards-compliant sites, and that with a hefty added cost, it’s not friendly to browsers, users, or developers.