Sunday, June 11, 2006

CMS Disappointment

I have been trying to work out the features and the back-end program to run Holistic - Hudson Valley.

As I would do for any client, I wrote up a sheet of the major features I required. I checked 3 CMS packages that are free/open source, and that I have confidence that they have a large number of add-ons and a strong community: Drupal, Joomla! and Xoops.

I've used Xoops, and I liked it A LOT.

I've used Drupal, but when looking for plug-ins that would give the package the features I was looking for it fell short.

I researched packages for Joomla, and except for true single-sign-on integration with Moodle, it came up with the most promising feature availability. I saw that a couple of the components would cost money. The amount wasn't enough to hamper me, so I dove in. I started working on it, decided to opt for my first purchase of a module, which was more than the original price I thought I would be spending on the feature ($99). I bought it. It's one of those no-money-back things. Then I saw that Joomla! did not include the fine group permissions that I had come to expect from using Xoops.

My first barricade was that the new $99 module only works with a certain release of Joomla! -- that was OK because I'd downloaded two versions of Joomla. I installed the correct one, got it working, fed it the database info, and everything was happy. Or so I thought. I could now install the somewhat expensive module (the other modules were cheaper).

Joomla! comes with a pre-created set of a few user group types. And no way to customize them, unless you want to buy someone's hack. I have a list of about 8 module features I need installed. The group modification hack gives no easy indication of which other modules it plays nice with -- you need to pour through the forums. Maybe they've created patches for it to work with the modules you want -- maybe not. No guarantees. Oh, yeah, and if you want the best version of their package, there's a subscription fee. Not a one-time license fee -- a monthly or annual subscription fee. This stopped me dead in my tracks.

I was looking for something cheap and easy. So far I'd spent about $100 and had at least another $50 USD and £22.50 (probably about $50USD) to spend ahead of me. If any more unexpected barriers came up and I had to shell out any more money for modules that did not guarantee playing nice with other modules --- this was going to end with me going postal.

I'm starting to think that Joomla! is a rip-off -- about 1/3 of the functionality I was looking for as a base to begin was going to cost me money. I think some of the people charging money for components were on the package's core development team. If the component is terribly useful, and should be ported to the main body of the program -- such as flexibility with user groups -- it would probably never happen because the guy who is making money off the module is going to scream bloody murder. That is not the type of open source generosity I'm looking for. I don't mind asking for donations, and I don't mind giving donations if I make money off my project -- AT ALL. But Joomla! doesn't say "Warning, most of what you want to extend this package with will cost you."

I should have considered my choices longer and harder, but thankfully I've only spent $99 so far. Once I spent the other $100 or so, I may have found out that something else essential was missing, and how much would that have cost me?

I'm off to do more research on the Xoops packages. Xoops has a better core philosophy as far as I can tell. The basic package is deliberately made to be extensible without having to hack the core code. Even if I do end up having to buy an add-on or two, they won't come with huge warnings that they are hacks of the core package and may not play nice with other modules. I've used Xoops and was very happy with it. If there's a module I can't find to fill a feature I need, I can try creating it myself.

Xoops had come in a close 2nd place in my assessments, but I was lured in by the promise of everything "just working" with Joomla!. Joomla! is more polished to the eye, but apparently the "just working" isn't true. I'm going to need to triple check that none of the modules I want costs money, but I'm pretty sure they don't. In any case, I have some experience in hacking Xoops modules...and I know the user groups are already fine-grained and fully customizable.

[tags]cms, drupal, xoops, joomla, open source, web applications, custom programming, modules, expenses[/tags]

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