Get an Overview of Types of Content Management Systems

Find Out Which CMS Is Best for You

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A Content Management System (CMS) is a software application used to create, customize, and manage information. Most CMS can be used alone or in conjunction (i.e., integrated) with other applications. They can be set up directly on a network, the Internet, or even locally on your own computer.

The most widespread use of CMS today involves the quick creation of powerful websites that do not require a high level of programming knowledge to set up, customize, and maintain. CMS can be broken into two main types: Proprietary CMS and Open Source CMS.

Proprietary CMS

Many companies sell licenses to use their own proprietary CMS. Proprietary generally means someone owns the rights to the CMS application and you need permission, or a license, to use it. But even if you have a license, in most cases, license holders may still be prohibited from duplicating the CMS. They may also be restricted from making alterations to the application unless they purchase a developers license.

Some proprietary systems are designed to work outside the environment of the creator. However, you need to know where the CMS will operate properly because many types of proprietary systems only work if the site you build with them is hosted by the CMS owner. For example, most online "build it yourself" website services use some form of proprietary CMS. If you build a website "live" through their tools the site will only work as long as you keep it with that company's CMS. If you try to move your domain somewhere else, the website you created may no longer work or may be converted to another format.

Two of the biggest downsides to using a proprietary system include the cost of licenses and being limited as to where you can host your website and because many web host companies do not support proprietary CMS. This lack of"portability is the major reason most small business owners choose to use Open Source CMS.

Open Source CMS

The most popular Open Source CMS run on PHP (a scripting language well-suit for web development that can be embedded into HTML). These include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal—the White House website is a Drupal site. Open source (OS) programs can be used by anyone for any purpose and do not require a license. You may also customize OS CMS without special permission.

A few of the significant benefits of using an OS CMS include:

  • There are cheaper because there are no license fees or upgrade fees.
  • There are no contracts to sign and no long-term commitments one has to make. 
  • Anyone can develop OS applications—there are already countless free modules, plugins, and complimentary tools so you don't need to hire a developer. 
  • There are hundreds of thousands of free templates (otherwise called themes) available for OS CMS. 
  • Search engines love OS CMS and WordPress, in particular, which is very simple to optimize for search engines using simple plug-in tools.
  • They practically work "right out of the box."

Which CMS Is Best For You?

Start by considering one of the three most popular Open Source applications: WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal—and play with them in that order.

Companies that use WordPress include Ford, People Magazine, Sony, CNN, eBay, and Wired.

  • WordPress. Ideal for personal websites, blogs, small businesses, and those with few technical skills and no desire to learn programming skills, WordPress is the best place to start. It has the most available free themes (i.e., templates) and plugins available. Originally developed as a blogging tool, it is now used commonly to create complicated websites. 
  • Joomla. Olympus, Porsche, Sprint, and Vodafone are just a few of the major corporations that use Joomla. Joomla takes a little bit more time to set up than WordPress but is more powerful and still easier than the mighty Drupal. It also works for blogs.
  • Drupal. The White House switched from a proprietary CMS to Drupal. Other companies using Drupal include AT&T, McDonald's, Duke and Standford Universities, Symantec, and the Linux Foundation. Drupal can be overwhelming for beginners.