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Home » Blog » Review: Content Management Systems - Part 2

Review: Content Management Systems - Part 2

Written by UKWDA on 02 August 2012

Forum Discussion: Review: Content Management Systems

We continue with our review of Content Management Systems. This week we're looking at DotNetNuke, Concrete5, Symphony, Umbraco and Expression Engine.


DotNetNuke is one of the most well known and popular ASP.NET systems on the market. It comes in several different versions catering to anything from a small business, to a large enterprise. It’s possible to try the free community package, and then upgrade later for specific business critical applications.

There is an assumption that the user will have some development knowledge; you may find yourself incorporating a lot of code that you are not familiar with. The customisable nature of the framework means that there is no need to write things from scratch. Existing extensions can be used as the foundation to a project, tailored to suit your needs. This allows for greater flexibility, and the opportunity to create a truly unique site.

There are a wide variety of both free and commercial modules available, and a selection of skins and templates. For such a powerful CMS, it’s relatively user friendly. Unlike other systems, administration is fully integrated which means that when pages are edited, the changes are instantly visible online. It’s designed for corporate intranets and business scale websites, and ideal for both e-commerce and high traffic community hubs.


  • Well established
  • Customisable
  • Flexible framework
  • Wide range of built in functions
  • Quick and easy to edit content


  • No official support for free version
  • Limited to Windows
  • Significant learning curve
  • Lacking in third party extensions 


Concrete5 is ideal for static websites. It’s easy to set up, and designing a page doesn’t need any prior knowledge of programming. Extremely flexible to use, it features an inline editing system that allows for changes to be made quickly and simply. This essentially replicates the functionality of a word processor and makes it possible to edit pages as you view them. Concrete 5 is ideal for sites that are maintained by non technical users.

You can override styles without touching any of the code, or you can use custom templates, and develop you own themes with CSS and HTML. Although Concrete5 offers a simple solution, its simplicity can be restricting. There is no intuitive way to separate the menu system from the pages you create.

Designed with the end user in mind - and not the developer, this system is ideal when taking into account the needs of a client. Adding, editing, uploading and managing are child’s play. It has its limitations - the e-commerce module is not suitable for a large range of products, and the system itself is less flexible than others. However, Concrete5 was conceived as a simple building block system, where you begin with the design, and not with architecture of the CMS.


  • Very simple interface
  • Easy to manage content
  • User friendly


  • Limited amount of modules available
  • Small community
  • Limited documentation
  • Many plugins and themes are costly


Symphony is capable of building anything from a blog, to a complex digital management system. It uses XML/XSLT, an extremely powerful and structured templating language. If you’re a programmer who wants to develop a solution from scratch, it gives you the flexibility to develop whatever you want, with your own data and markup. It doesn’t impose its structure on you. The user interface is simple, and is more or less defined by the way you build the content.

It may be complicated to understand all of the components, but once mastered, you have access to a powerful CMS. It has a vibrant community with good support, on hand to solve anything from problems with installing, to producing extensions. There is an ever growing collection of add-ons to handle most requirements. These include caching, data migration, forums, user management etc.

Symphony has been used to build many different types of website including video sharing communities and a server for Google Maps. By focusing on data structure, it allows complete control over every single aspect of your site. Although capable of producing simple projects, it goes beyond the capability of a standard CMS, and enters the territory of a web application framework.


  • Vast array of extensions available
  • Vibrant community
  • Good performance under high load
  • Extremely powerful
  • Allows complete control


  • Lack of Documentation
  • Difficult to master
  • Requires knowledge of XML/XSLT 


Umbraco is a CMS for .NET web developers, although you’re not limited to .NET systems. It is relatively straightforward to use, but it has a steep learning curve. Built for designers and development teams, it’s not suitable for the novice or non technical users. There are skins and starter kits available to help get things started, and content is easily managed from a tree based view of your site. An open API means that the scope for customising applications is huge.

You can easily add data sources and applications, and it supports previews, versioning and scheduled publishing. You can extend the system without modifying the source code, and it’s easy to integrate any flash content into your website. A key advantage of using Umbraco is that it works well with content generated in Microsoft Word - a definite plus for clients who use Office.

A number of high profile companies have built their sites on Umbraco, including Heinz, and Vogue. A powerful open source system, it is capable of producing large scale projects. There are no default visual or structural templates, and this open system gives developers full control, allowing them to apply it to any design.


  • Flexible
  • Fully customisable
  • Powerful
  • Free tutorials
  • Support for Microsoft Word editing
  • Cross-browser and cross-platform compatible


  • Steep learning curve
  • Documentation lacking in structure and focus
  • Paid add-ons


ExpressionEngine is a flexible system that can be used with little programming knowledge. It allows custom fields to be set up that can be controlled very specifically, and building a custom theme is a simple task. Although the menu system can be frustrating, it makes no assumptions about how you want to organise your content, allowing you to decide exactly how you want it to work.

It is a hybrid of commercial and open-source software, and some impressive sites are built on it, including the Canon Ixus website. Being able to create templates without having to program anything allows for rapid development. There are not as many add-ons as other systems but the ones they do provide are the ones most likely to be used (forum, mailing-list, e-commerce, stats).

Very easy to set up, it comes in three versions – freelancer, non commercial, and commercial. It is not ideal for all projects, it struggles with websites that need a deep hierarchical structure, and file upload management is not as easy as it could be. The flexibility can also make creating a simple website a little over complicated. However, it’s supported with a strong community, and allows complete freedom over design.


  • Excellent security
  • No design restrictions
  • Powerful
  • Good technical support
  • Good community
  • Very flexible


  • Limited amount of plug-ins
  • High cost for commercial sites
  • Over complicated for smaller sites

Forum Discussion: Review: Content Management Systems

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