ProcessWire vs. The Big Three

Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal, sometimes referred to as “The Big Three”, are well known and established open source Content Management Systems that have been in development for a decade or more. Many of these systems were developed for specific use cases, when web standards were different, and PHP (the underlying computer language they are written in) was in its infancy. Joomla (originally Mambo) was created for serving news and journalistic content, WordPress was created as a blogging engine, and Drupal was created as a message board. All three of these systems have now been retrofitted as general purpose CMSs. Each of these CMSs has taken a different approach to keeping up with changes in technologies, while preserving backwards compatibility, and the combination of these constraints has led to convoluted, highly complex, difficult to manage systems that are often unpredictable and prone to security holes.

In contrast, ProcessWire was built from the ground up to be content-neutral. The design of the system is at the same time extremely sophisticated, and elegantly simple. Because of the design principles of the CMS, you can easily build a blog, news site, forum, or anything you can think of. Most sites do not fit into the ‘opinionated’ structure that the big three tend to impose, and this is where ProcessWire wins hands-down. ProcessWire now powers sites for government agencies, blogs, podcasts, composers, artists, musicians, record labels, educational institutions, manufacturing, clothing and retail, and covers virtually every type of content and website project category on the internet.

While you may not have heard of ProcessWire, it is well regarded. CMS Critic awarded ProcessWire Best Free CMS (2012), Best PHP CMS (2014), and Best Small Business CMS (2016), and CMS Critic itself runs on ProcessWire. In addition, ProcessWire is backed by thousands and has one of the most active and supportive communities of any open source project. There are developers on every continent launching sites every day, so the system is constantly stress tested across websites of various sizes and functionality. It has been implemented and tested on all major server environments including Nginx, LAMP stack, as well as many types of cloud servers, including Amazon S3, and others. The number of active and skilled developers ensures that your site will never become obsolete or un-maintainable. Should your primary developer become unavailable, finding someone to help is as simple as posting a request on the forum - most posts are responded to within hours, and the community and moderators take these requests very seriously and make vast efforts to provide support and information.

ProcessWire vs. Wordpress

The whole reason why you want a website is so that internet users can find it (and hopefully become clients, if for example you are a small business). A slow loading website, that is not SEO optimized, will rarely earn first page rank for any search terms. Further, a site that contains outdated content, because the site owners can’t update it frequently, or dread the process of updating and adding content, will also tend to have reduced search engine results. And while less common, sites that have been compromised (often unbeknownst to the site owners) will be specifically blocked by google, as well as some browsers. Compromised sites can take months to regain confidence by search engines and efforts of requesting site reviews by webmasters with established google search console accounts.

Consequently, we will focus on these 4 key areas when comparing the capabilities of a common CMS: SEO, Speed, Security and Ease-of-use.

We’ll use WordPress for a comparison, and most of what applies here is similar if not worse in the case of the other big-name CMSs like Joomla and Drupal.

WordPress was developed as a blogging engine, and existed in that state for many years, before it was retrofitted for use as an engine for non-blog websites. Consequently the root level source code of the system is still designed around a “blog structure”. This has proven problematic for developers, as any development you do within this framework is ‘biased’ towards a blog model. Any custom field framework (such as ACF), or modification to the blog structure (such as ‘Custom Post Types’) are essentially hacks to the system, and behave awkwardly, both for the site editors and the developer.

The popularity of WordPress as a site engine (vs. what it was designed for, blogging) has increased exponentially over recent years, due to the fact that there are a large number of developers using it, plugins that can handle a wide variety of needs with minimal intervention from the developer, and many free and paid front end themes. The downside is that if you need a plugin to do something specific, you are then dependent on that plugin developer and may even need to pay for ongoing support, license renewal and upgrades. Many WordPress plugin developers live in far-flung parts of the world – often support requests take days to receive a response, and many free plugins do not have any support. It is somewhat routine for WordPress websites to break from one day to the next with no intervention, simply because an update to WordPress is no longer compatible with the plugin and cause system-wide errors until the plugin is removed. Leaving WordPress installations without updating is a security risk. Often if you use a premium WordPress theme, the themes themselves need updates, which then either reduce the ability for the developer to customize the theme (as the customizations would be overwritten on every theme update), or increase the maintenance costs, since any critical updates to a theme need to be manually integrated with the customized theme.

Other issues with WordPress (Joomla & Drupal) include:

  • Awkward and confusing admin interfaces
  • Security holes - can you really afford to have your site hacked?
  • Lack of caching, and asset combining mechanisms to optimize the page load
  • High cost of routine maintenance
  • Difficult to upgrade, in some cases upgrades to the system will break the site.
  • Monthly fees for commercial plugins and themes can add up over time.

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