Top 10 free and cheap content management systems

I spend too much time thinking about cheap content management. Between new sites and new licenses for software I’m already using, I’ve got a couple of reasons. But I think I may just be compulsively fascinated with the idea that my ideal CMS is just around the corner…and that it’s free.
My criteria are simple. A CMS needs to be able to create sites more complex than a simple blog. It needs to be easy to install and use. The software must be mature and apparently bug-free in daily operation. It should have a large community of users and developers. And it should cost less than $200 for a commercial license.
There seem to be four principal differentiating factors among these CMS’s:

  • Platform: Perl, php, or Python/Zope. If this matters to you, you already know.
  • Page generation: Static or dynamic. This is somewhat platform-related. For example any php site is going to be dynamic.
  • License: Commercial, or Open Source. I’m not a zealot about this. I love the idea of Open Source, but I’m currently using commercial packages for my sites.
  • Type of site: Weblog, news site, or Wiki. What you choose depends on what you’re publishing. How chronological do you want to be? Do you want a lot of modules packaged with your software? Do you want your site to look like Slashdot, or do you have an original design in mind?

So, here are what I think are the top ten free and cheap content management systems, in alphabetical order. If you’re thinking about creating a site, this would be a good list of candidates to start with. Examining each would also help you work out your ideas about the ideal CMS for your application. I’ve included a couple of basic blog packages that might not meet my personal criteria, but which I know people are using creatively.
Blogger is free and you don’t have to install any software. If you don’t know why you’re blogging yet, this might be a really good place to start. It’s owned by Google, which is a plus or minus, depending on your point of view.
Drupal is a full-blown site management system (php and MySQL) that has gotten a lot of recommendations since Movable Type changed their license. It’s open source and based on php and MySQL. It’s part of a geek triumvirate with Plone and Slash and I’m wondering if I really need three packages in this category. Other php-based CMS’s in this category are Nucleus and phpNuke.
Expression Engine is the newest CMS from Rick Ellis, who created pMachine, which I use to run Coastsider. It’s based on php and MySQL and seems very powerful and flexible. It will cost you money to run, either for personal or profession use, but it’s inexpensive and the license is flexible.
Movable Type is what I use to run MediaSavvy. I love MovableType. It’s based on Perl, but I love it anyway. It has a huge user and developer community. Movable Type pages are not dynamic and have to be rebuilt every time you make a change. This is reasonably fast, but can be a real pain if you get a lot of spam comments. They have the best templates in the industry and an inordinate market share among A-list bloggers.
Plone is based on Python and uses the Zope platform. It feels sort of like Drupal and Slash, and they’re all designed to help geeks reproduce Slashdot in whatever realm they’re geeky about.
Slash is a perl-based system for Slashdot-like sites. You need to have root access to the server it runs on, so it isn’t going to work for most users. A similar package with the same limitations is Scoop. I seriously considered using Scoop, but it was missing a lot of the things most modern CMS’s should offer, such as real templates and CSS support. I don’t know about Slash.
Some Wiki or other, there are dozens, I can’t tell them apart, and they all make my head hurt. But wikis are undeniably cool, ideal for some applications, becoming a lot more sophisticated, and are beginning to look like an overnight success ten years in the making.
WordPress is another contender who’s profile has been boosted by Movable Type’s licensing misstep. It’s php and MySQL, and its open-source. And it has the momentum of a killer asteroid. It’s biggest limitation is that it can only handle one blog, so you need multiple installations for complex sites. However, at least one thoughtful fellow chose it for his complex site.
That’s about ten, depending on how you count. I’d be interested in more nominations if they’re serious contenders for top ten and genuinely different from the ones I’ve listed here.

18 thoughts on “Top 10 free and cheap content management systems

  1. Thanks for the overview. In addition to your criteria I am looking for a system that allows the easy deployment of listings from a database. Any suggestions?

  2. Have a look at “Ez publish”
    It’s dual license – free open source (GPL) and commercial
    The software is Apache, MySQL/PostgreSQL and PHP with Linux as the native OS, but runs on Microsoft Windows, MacOS and other platforms.

    Looking for a new content management system (CMS) for your blog? Barry Parr at MediaSavvy looks at the most popular (and cheap-to-free) ones, with a little compare and contrast.
    It’s pretty much a mixed bag, depending on your setup, needs and leve…

  4. Preiswerte Content-Management-Systeme für jedermann
    Vor neuen Herausforderungen stehen die Anbieter von Content Management Systemen. Die Preise gehen rapide nach unten. Inzwischen sind gute CM-Systeme selbst für kleine Unternehmen erschwinglich geworden. Open Source Software macht es möglich. Jetzt hat …

  5. Preiswerte Content-Management-Systeme für jedermann
    Vor neuen Herausforderungen stehen die Anbieter von Content Management Systemen. Die Preise gehen rapide nach unten. Inzwischen sind gute CM-Systeme selbst für kleine Unternehmen erschwinglich geworden. Open Source Software macht es möglich. Jetzt hat …

  6. I like the list you posted, but they all lean heavily toward php/MySQL solutions. I use ASP and .NET based server technology and had struggled to find a solution for that platform.
    dasBlog was the solution I choose. It’s all XML backend powered.
    If you run .NET and have SQL availability. A href=”″>.TEXT seems to be a little better of a solution.

  7. Time to Change the Blogger?

    Moveable Type, the software that runs this weblog, recently changed its license to a pay model. MT was never open source, but it’s always been good, reliable code with openness to developers. But now that it…

  8. There’s nothing about PHP that requires it to output static pages. A PHP system could easily publish static pages in the same way Moveable Type does. In fact there is a recent WordPress plugin that does just that.
    Also, with the exception of Plone (which is more of a CMS develoment platform) most of the applications listed here are still basically blogging systems (although some are rather advanced blogging systems) and still not at the level of a true CMS.
    One contender you’ve left out might be worth looking into. You might want to check out Textpattern.

  9. Plone isn’t more of a CMS than pMachine or Expression Engine, or even Movable Type. At this point the line is really blurry. Blogger is probably the only listed product that’s not flexible enough to produce a Web publication, but is so cheap & easy that it simply must be considered as a baseline.

  10. I’d suggest Mambo and e107 … both take 10-30 minutes to setup (php/mysql based) and are fortunate to have large active communities providing plugins/modules/addons. e107’s are almost all free (maybe 99%). Mambo has a lot of free addons, but since it has wider acceptance in business, there are sites selling plugins and themes, too.
    Mambo is a bit ‘steeper’ in the learning curve, but not much. e107 is a teddy bear to learn. However, both are powerful and will give you more options for a ‘portal’ type of site or just a basic site. Just do not enable the ‘extras’ they offer.
    I have seen both used for simple blogs to full blown business and organization sites.
    Mambo is updated through an admin panel. e107 is updated through either the front end or admin area.
    Try and search under the software category for php mysql cms … you’ll find dozens of options.
    The site is also wonderful to ‘test drive’ them. No sign ups, no ‘catches’.
    They have 53 different packages you can try out. I count 27 portal type site systems, 7 blog systems, 3 ecommerce, 5 groupware (project trackers), 5 forums, 3 e-learning (webCT alternatives) and 3 image galleries. (No, I don’t work there. But it is the site that turned me onto opensource cms. Gotta give them credit.) *grin*
    Remember, if you think a portal is too powerful for your needs, you don’t have to use all the bells and whistles. But, if you do want them later on, no changing to another system.

  11. I explored most of the list, but had a fairly specific question that I wonder if anyone here could answer: Which CMS would you suggest for a more publishing oriented site with the majority of the authors as internet experienced as two year olds? (ie: the simplest user interface for a variety of different tasks).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.