Open Source CMS recommendations wanted

Back in April, I posted Content Management System needed, asking for advice on which CMS to recommend for a client. The client eventually chose to use EPiServer, an ASP.NET-based CMS that is used by many public sector websites in Sweden.

Now I need your advice again, this time for a different client. This client wants an open source CMS, so no $100k commercial packages please ;-). They are not interested in using anything based on Microsoft technology either, so any solutions that require ASP, ASP.NET or IIS, or depend on IE/Win to enter content are ruled out.

Other requirements include:

  • fully web standards-compatible
  • Any WYSIWYG component used must create fully valid, semantic and accessible XHTML
  • URL:s must be search engine friendly
  • easy to install
  • well documented
  • developer-friendly
  • fairly large installed base

The site will consist of several hundred pages and have several editors/writers, whose HTML skills vary from novice to advanced.

I’ve looked at what’s available, and two systems are looking pretty interesting: Plone and Mambo. I’m looking for feedback from anyone who has worked with either of those. I’m a little concerned about Plone being based on Python, which nobody on our team has ever used. How much of a problem would that be? If you have recommendations on other systems, I’m interested in hearing from you.

Anyone want to recommend something else?

Update: After checking the recommendations posted here, and talking to the client, it’s almost certain that we will use Plone. The client is hosting the site on their own server, so there won’t be any problems related to shared hosting. They also have some in-house knowledge of Plone. So, right now I’m reading “The Plone Book” and “The Definitive Guide to Plone”… Installing it was very easy on my Mac OS X machine, so I have it up and running. I’ll be installing it on a Windows dev server in a while.

Some of the other systems mentioned in the comments look interesting as well. Thanks for your input!

Posted on September 10, 2004 in Content Management


  1. I’ve not tried Plone yet but I know many people loving it. A friend of mine actually installed it as the CMS of choice for and says it rocks - you just have to disable some functionality first. I think you can build customized installer files too, IIRC.

    Mambo, on the other hand, is the main cause we still haven’t gotten up and running. It’s a piece of cake to install, really lovely, but extremely cumbersome to administrate. Actually, I don’t get the differences between Menus, Sections, Categories, etc and you can’t toggle between these once you’ve created an item (or it’s really not evident how to do so). I’d say avoid Mambo, if your time is of any value..

  2. Ive heard mambo isnt very standard compilant. The code is supposed to be quite messy and the admin functions hard to reach. I dont know much about Plone, but it seems nice.

    Still, I would consider producing a custom made cms, since the cost could easily be comparable to the learning time of a open source cms. And you would get full control over the markup and have only the functions you want. Just my 2c.

  3. September 10, 2004 by caffènero

    Plone has been used for my faculty’s new website, it seems quite clean and powerful.

    OTOH, I don’t know if it could suit your needs, but you should really take a look to blog:CMS (… it’s kinda blog-oriented, but very powerful and extensible. AND it produces valid xhtml.

  4. I’ve used Drupal for a bunch of intranets, and I love it. It’s gotten a lot better in the past year, and it’s now not quite impossible to modify templates. It’s PHP/MySQL/Apache, and produces very pleasant urls. It doesn’t have any WYSIWYG stuff built in, but supports Textile, straight HTML and wiki syntax (although it was funky when I tried it).

    There’s a huge installed user base, and the support on is awesome.

  5. Take a look at Lenya. It’s a Java-based project over at Apache. Also, take a look at OSCOM or opensourcecms for research.

    You’ll have to fill us in on your final decision. :)

  6. FarCry is an open source CMS that is based on ColdFusion MX.

  7. I’ve researched too many CMSes, and I eventually decided to have something custom built for a big project I am working on.

    The best I have come across is ezPublish, but it’s anything but easy. Yet I think it’s the best of the open-source options available.

  8. September 10, 2004 by Shane Graber

    Mambo vs. Plone: This is something I know a fair amount about since I’ve just evaluated both.

    • fully web standards-compatible:

    Plone is already there and has been for a while: Its Section 508 compliant, has W3C’s AAA rating for accessibility, valid XHTML, and valid CSS.

    The core Mambo that you download from OTOH is not. You will need xMambo if you want standards compliance (its a hacked version of Mambo). Standards compliance is slated for v.4.6 or v.5.0 and they’re just now getting ready to release 4.5.1, which is some added features and bug fixes. Google xMambo to find the URL as I don’t have it off hand.

    • Any WYSIWYG component used must create fully valid, semantic and accessible XHTML

    Plone: use either Epoz or Kupu WYSIWYG editors

    Mambo: there’s a bunch of them, but none that I recall produce valid xhtml (yet).

    • URL:s must be search engine friendly:

    Plone: already there. SEF URL’s are standard.

    Mambo: need to install a 3rd party module called SEF Advance and it costs somewhere around $50 or so IIRC.

    • easy to install:

    Plone: will install on any system and will interface with any webserver (M$ / Apache / etc). If you want to evaluate it, download the windows installer and install on your desktop and follow the directions. I had a Plone instance up and running in about 15 minutes.

    Mambo: I had it running on my Debian box w/ php and mysql and it ran fine. Installation was a snap. I needed root access to the server so I could chmod some config files but other than that I had a Mambo instance up and running in about the same time.

    • well documented:

    Tons of info on Plone’s website under the documentation tab — too much in fact. I found it hard to disect it all. Very active community on the mailing lists. Andy McCay just had The Definitive Guide to Plone published by APress and its available from Amazon. Definitely worth the $$ to buy it. It’s also online here:

    There’s also other books just about to be published:

    Mambo: Only docs are the ones that are published on the website. The community is very active on and on forums.

    • developer-friendly

    Plone: depends on how much customization you want to do with it. If all you want to do is add readily available Products from the Collective (also check CVS for more) and do some skinning, you will be fine. Andy’s book covers this. Making custom products will require some knowledge of python, TAL, and maybe Archetypes. One downside I found was that the products in the Collective are not well described anywhere. You need to download them and read the README to figure out what they do. The Plone folks are working on this tho….

    Mambo: need to know php/mysql to create custom items. There’s also a lot of downloadable Products from along with a lot of skins for free and for sale too. Skinning was very straight forward based on the HOWTO’s.

    • fairly large installed base

    Plone: a handful of the Plone sites out there:


    Personally, I chose Plone over Mambo. Yes, there is a larger learning curve with Plone, but the time spent pays off in customization and features. I started out my project with Plone, moved it to Mambo for a bit, and then returned to Plone. I have very little programming experience and I picked up TAL and enough python to get me by.

    My recommendation would be to pick up Andy’s book on Plone and read through it before making your decision. I think you’ll be very happy with Plone, but I’m biased. :P

    Also, check out to compare other CMS’ too.


  9. Don’t over look the following….


    Expression Engine

    I would recommend these two CMS tools for a client looking for a free or inexpensive solution. I am also recommending these without much detail about the content.

    The two you mention in my opinion require to much of an investment (time) to customize to the client. They might be great, but how much is your time worth. These two CMS tools are lean, versatile, and robust. In my experience they get the job done without having to rack up the hours. Which really means more money in your pocket. However, that is simply my opinion. Expression engine is not free! ($200.00) but has the best GUI I have ever seen. Textpattern is free, and rivals most any CMS tool in logic but not bells and whistles!

  10. September 10, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Thanks for a whole lot of excellent input. I’ll check out the tools mentioned here and discuss this with the rest of my team next week.

  11. I’m a huge fan of [TextPattern] ( The first time I set it up I was upa nd running in less than 5 minutes. It’s not as customizable as MT but it gets the job done extremely fast.

    If they could get the clean url feature to exclude the entry id # it would be nearly perfect.

  12. Just a clarification on TextPattern - it’s only free for non-commercial use.

  13. Kevin Lawver

    Thanks for keeping me honest!

  14. Kevin

    I did some checking and…..

    [Here]( are the specifics about the textpattern license, and for the most part FYI its free for commercial use.

  15. Hi!

    Plone seems very decent! I have not yet tried it out but somehow it seems to speak for itself. There is, though, one drawback if you need to install it on a hosted environment, which many of our customers actually have: you need to have the Zope framework installed in order to run Plone. As I see, the Plone-team has set up brilliant installers for many systems. So if you have root access to your web server, it all seems a perfect and very modern CMS. - People who won’t be able to go on an own server due to cost reasons however might be stuck as they will not be able to install Plone. Here we’ve been working greatly with Mambo. It is NOT 100% Standard Complient, but things to get better; my own site validates compliant XHTML Transitional using a Release Candidate Version of the upcomming 4.5.1, although some structural tables might still appear in some modules… - all in all, Mambo has done a great jump from the current stable 4.5 (subversion 1.0.9) to 4.5.1 RC3 (the current release candidate of the upcomming 4.5.1

    I too was confused by where content would go in Mambo, in 4.5.1 this however becomes much more straight forward and I started using the Actual Sections/Categories at a much greater extend then I used to. Nice feature in 4.5.1 is, that you can have different templates for different menu items, making a site with several different sections very diverse. Also, from an economic point of view, Mambo’s template system is extremely straight forward, making it a breeze to set up new sites with a consistant design!

  16. I have searched for the perfect CMS for a long time. I finally settled on Drupal.

    I have used Mambo, and it has come a long way. It is easier to learn and easier to host. (It requires only Apache, MySQL, and PHP, whereas Plone requires a Zope server.) It is easier to learn, and there are a great number of templates and plugins to customize.

    Drupal has an even greater community of supporters and I feel it has the best developers, support of standards, and easiest administration.

  17. Take a look on blog:cms or b2evolution.

  18. +1 for Drupal.

  19. If you’re into CF I’ll second David’s recommendation of FarCry. I’m building the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s website with it as we speak. Oops, better get back to it :P

  20. Hi, i think mambo it is the best cms, and the new version will be the best version i had seen. I’m fan of Mambo in Portuguese - .

    Mambo it’s cool

  21. I’ve tried Drupal and have yet to get used to it, but lately I’ve been messing around with wordpress (, which incorporates almost everything that I need.

  22. If you want a pretty easy to understand (if you have any php background) system that produces fine xhtml output by default, can be made to do about anything, and meets most of the other requirements, I would seriously look at eZ Publish (

    I’m biased though. I work with it all day long (

    Plone is great, but for most people you have to learn a new programming language (Python), platform (Zope), and have limited deployment options (you can’t slap a Plone application up on a standard hosting account). Sure, I’ve heard the root access argument before — it’s still hard to install, even for a geek. The documentation is so good that it sucks to read, and the learning curve is almost a damn internship. The mantainers need to cull the herd on the docs.

    Mambo is a good system, but low end. A lot of sites successfully run off it, and it’s very easy to get started with. However, it’s not high end software and it’s not very extensible (plugins != extensibility).

    Yea, I’ve tried Drupal, Lenya, Textpattern (though it’s not a CMS, it’s blogging software and while the distinction is being pushed a little with MT, there are differences), expression engine (this is an odd one, and commercial — seems good for community sites and worth checking out), and about six dozen others.

    The bottom line in my experience is that there are two systems that really rock that are open source for building business class websites that can scale:

    Plone and eZ Publish.

    I should say that we run both for clients, so I might be biased, but we wouldn’t be running them if they weren’t popular and awesome systems. I would discount OpenCMS (too complicated), and some of the older CMS solutions aimed at more enterprise sites as generally too complicated or “open sourcy” (aka, built for developers, not users).

    There are some neat CMS systems on the horizon. Check out Magnolia (, and I will say that some the Apache foundation’s stuff is looking cool, including Lenya. Still, lenya is in an incubation phase, and it’s not really ready for the tired to get kicked. Nothing worse than dealing with changing foundation classes when you upgrade.

    My 2c.

    Jonathan Dillon

  23. October 6, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Jonathan: Thanks for sharing your experience. Seems like you have been through most CMS systems out there ;) We’re giving Plone a go for this project. If that doesn’t work out for whatever reason, there are others to check out. eZ publish does look interesting.

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