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Wordpress vs. Joomla: True Cost of Open Source CMS

Building Technology

It was a great idea in principal and still is: Create software whose source code is published and made available to the public, inviting anyone to copy, revise, and redistribute the software’s source code without paying royalties or licensing fees. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world is as altruistic as the original creators of the open source code concept were.

Certainly the two most popular content management systems (CMS) in use today are Wordpress and Joomla. While the actual core programs themselves are still free, these popular CMS programs have spawned a vast cottage industry of both horizontal and vertical market php developers who make professional mercenaries look like boy scouts.

Perhaps my experiences with Wordpress and Joomla php developers, respectively, are not representative of what others have experienced, but I have noticed a profound difference in the mindsets, attitudes, and business practices between these two very different cohorts.

This observed phenomenon may in fact be predictable as Wordpress and Joomla are not equal in their functionality: While both are classified as CMS applications, Wordpress is quite limited, created primarily for blogging and is essentially used by hobbyists, while Joomla is intended for much more serious, business-oriented types of applications.

While the functionality of Wordpress can be impressively stretched to the limits with the use of plug-ins, Joomla’s core capabilities appear to be entirely unlimited with the use of three different types of extensions: components, modules, and plug-ins.

For those unfamiliar with Joomla, components can accurately be thought of as core-compatible software applications. These components can be anything such as restaurant or product review software, a classified ads application, or even a dating and social network package. Components generally come packaged with their own modules and plug-ins: The former display component information in sidebars (and the home page) and the latter offer functionality at the article level, i.e., can be embedded inside articles, such as in the case of a footnote plug-in. While modules and plug-ins generally come bundled with and support a parent component, they can also be free-standing as in a module that displays the local weather on the home page or a plug-in that allows the developer to insert a pop-up window within an article.

Perhaps it is just my imagination (or bad luck) but it seems to me that as a former Wordpress user I had a far greater variety and much better quality of free plug-ins to choose from than I do as a Joomla developer. Even something as basic as custom templates (themes) vary considerably in price: While one can purchase a very impressive custom Wordpress theme for under $30.00, a comparable custom theme for Joomla will cost two to four times that and, unlike the typically free, after-sales support services offered by the friendlier (and often younger) Wordpress developers, you better have a large wad of money on hand if you are unable to make the kind of customizations you desire on your own with any purchased Joomla theme, component, module, or plug-in.

It appears that php Joomla developers think of themselves as highly specialized and esoteric professionals, just as neurosurgeons might, who do not charge by the hour but by procedure (read project), with a fee that seems to start at $100.00 USD per hour and rises significantly thereafter depending on the impetus of the perceived need, the quality and quantity of increased functionality being sought, and—last but not least—an educated guess at just how deep the clients’ pockets are. I shudder with disbelief every time I think of all the money and time I wasted earning advanced degrees and certificates in mental health and psychoanalysis when I could have raked in as much or more money (as these Joomla php developers seem to expect to be paid) by simply taking a handful of courses in php and javascript programming. Well, it’s never too late to learn.

The bottom-line is that the more advanced CMS applications like Joomla and Drupal should be avoided by those who are not professional developers or, at the very least, tenacious end users willing to invest a great deal of time in learning HTML, CSS, and, to a lesser degree, the php programming language. For everyone else, Wordpress seems to offer enough functionality to get the job done without the need to invest large amounts of time and money.

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