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Plone vs. Drupal: Core Features Comparison

written by thomas on Thursday January 13, 2011
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This article is part of the Plone vs. Drupal analysis.

Here comes the magical moment when your content management system is finally installed and you get to play with it for the first time! Although you are legitimately excited about it, you may need a short discovery time to grasp the big picture(s) of the user interface and get used to the way items are structured.

User Interface

For platforms with such a similar goals, there are plenty of differences between Plone and Drupal's user interfaces. One of the most apparent is a single administrative menu to the left on a Drupal site, as opposed to several administrative sections in Plone (the site-setup, edit-bar, and portlet management, for instance).

To try and approach the UI with a complete set of considerations, I'll use the 5 Es* of usability:

  • Effective: How completely and accurately the work or experience is completed or goals reached
  • Efficient: How quickly this work can be completed
  • Engaging: How well the interface draws the user into the interaction and how pleasant and satisfying it is to use
  • Error Tolerant: How well the product prevents errors and can help the user recover from mistakes that do occur
  • Easy to Learn: How well the product supports both the initial orientation and continued learning throughout the complete lifetime of use

* Based on Whitney Quesenbery's site.

My scale here will range from 1 (very poor) to 5 (very strong) based on the following criteria:

  • 1 very poor: my first impression was quite bad, I can find many elements to support it
  • 2 poor: generally bad impression, little counter arguments come to mind
  • 3 neutral: mitigated impression
  • 4 strong: generally good impression, little counter arguments come to mind
  • 5 very strong: my first impression was quite good, I can find many elements to support it
Plone Drupal Comment
Effective 4 4 Both CMSs are fully operational and come ready to organize and publish content
Efficient 4 3 The separation of different types of functionality in Plone definitely helps me go straight to where I need to go. The single admin menu to the left for Drupal is simpler, but can require many clicks to reach the section you need.
Engaging 3 3 I don't know about pleasant and satisfying... neither is it horrible
Error Tolerant 5 4 Plone can pretty much recover every item or revert every action by default. Drupal allows for good recovery of items if revisions are used.
Easy to Learn 2 4 Instantaneous for Drupal: just use the left menu everything's there. For Plone a bit more use is required before the user can master the different administrative menus. Both require a bit of time before the user remembers how administrative tasks are called and structured.

Content Items Structure

Data is organized very differently in Plone and Drupal. Plone differentiates content types between "folderish" (that can contain other content types) and non-folderish. Therefore, to create a new item in Plone, you need to create it within the item which contains it. In Drupal, every item is a standalone element and you structure the site hierarchy by specifying a parent item for each of them.

Let's make is easier with an example, a very basic website with the following structure:

  • Welcome Page (root)
      • Get our Product (1)
          • Legal Disclaimer and Instructions (1.1)
              • Download Links (1.1.1)
                  • Windows (1.1.1.1)
                  • MacOSX (1.1.1.2)
                  • Linux (1.1.1.3)
      • About our Product (2)
          • History (2.1)
          • Use Cases (2.2)
          • Manual (2.3)
Plone: Drupal:
plone_structure.png drupal_structure.png

 

 

Plone Drupal
Pros
  • Items of content are created in or placed into a directory structure which is very similar to the desktop view on a personal computer. This makes grasping the paradigm easier on average users.
  • Moving multiple items around is easier this way
  • A node can easily have child objects linked to it, regardless of its type.
  • Changing an item's location can quickly be done from the item itself
Cons
  • Extra effort is required with each node for the display (need to select a page as default display)
  • Folders may need replaced by pages and pages may need evolved to a "folder + default page view" combo,
    as content is removed or added.
  • Item structure is not beginner friendly

There are ways to overcome each of those issues with a bit of customization, but we really are commenting on out-of-the-box behavior here.

Features

Plone Drupal
Super Feature
  • 3 states workflow: private, submitted, public
  • Nice variety of content types
  • Collections (custom search + custom ranking of items)
  • Forum, Blog, Blog API,
  • Comments
  • Customizable theme
Badly Missing
  • Blog: a CMS without a blogging feature out of the box... Does it still exist?
  • Basic theme customization (color set at least)
  • More content types
  • Any interactive calendar widget/block

Speed

A question that pops up often in forums or channels about CMSs: is CMSxyz fast? Although this question is obviously simplistic, it is of the highest importance not to overlook it! There are plenty of reports from major search engines or web hosting giants about the impact of page loading time on traffic and sales.

A more useful way to ask this question is "what is necessary to make a particular CMS fast enough to not cause user frustration while hosting a particular number of items and providing a specific set of advanced features. We will try to develop what is required to make a CMS "fast" in the hosting and load sections of the Plone vs. Drupal series. For now I'm testing my CMS on my computer, and if a content item is not yet rendered by the time my mouse click noise reaches my ears and is interpreted by my brain, I get frustrated. So far I haven't been frustrated with Drupal 6 or Plone 4 at all. They react extremely fast and without a few features that use a lot of processing power, or without a huge amount of content, rendering looks instantaneous to me.

Conclusion

Rather than comparing the quality of our two CMSs, these differences demonstrate first major contrasts between Plone and Drupal's use cases. While they can both be used for both enterprise and web content management systems (ECMS, WCMS), Plone seems more ECMS oriented and Drupal more WCMS oriented. Indeed, Drupal will let you publish your web CMS in no time and get started with adding pages, blogging, and styling. Plone is a heavier system to get configured and moving but provides several enterprise level features that Drupal doesn't have out of the box (advanced workflows and specific content types for instance).

Do you remember your Plone/Drupal discovery phase? What amazed you, or annoyed you more than anything? Any other feature you see that is badly missing?

 
Posted by Lloyd Pearson IV on Feb 06, 2011 07:30 AM
For a non-developer, drupal is much more userfriendly and alot easier to get the functionality that you need. Plone lacks a CCK type of component, the closest thing i could find was plomino.
Posted by Ken Wasetis on Feb 08, 2011 02:15 PM
I've always heard that Drupal was more of a 'light core' project (where you had to go grab the add-ons you wanted), so I was surprised to see forums, blogs and other collaboration tools built into the core. Most CMS Analysts would describe those as features that are more on the portal/delivery/interaction side of a site, and not as much standard 'CMS features'. You mention surprise that they are not bundled into Plone, but I, for one, am glad. We still do plenty of traditional 'web publishing' CMS projects, where content is only 'pushed out' and the organization wants full control on their site over the content and isn't looking for outsider input. They use Facebook/Twitter/ShareThis/etc. for that, in many cases. I think that Plone maintains a more strict 'CMS core' than Drupal, given the collaboration add-ons that are built into Drupal, as you mention. Drupal and Acquia markets itself as a 'collaboration platform', so I don't think this is a surprise.
Posted by Pavel Bogdanovic on Feb 17, 2011 10:37 PM
May I recommend you an article how to setup a blog in Plone with out of the box features in 5 minutes? http://plone.org/documentation/kb/how-to-create-a-plone-blog-in-5-steps Further more there are currently at least 2 high quality Plone addons which brings blog into plone: Scrawl and collective.blogging.
Posted by Thomas Besluau on Feb 18, 2011 04:15 AM
... for Plone is collective.blog.star. I found it to be lightweight and easy to implement, and it gives you a nice blog look and feel. As a matter of fact, this is how this blog is made. Blogs being more and more popular, some features are emerging as best practices. This includes items like reverse chronological order, tag clouds, archive links, and sometimes full display of the blog body in the landing page. This is not something that can be obtained in a few minutes with out-of-the-box behavior. I'm not saying it's useful or important to have blogging abilities by default with Plone (I'm actually not really a blog person), I'm simply saying it couldn't harm Plone to be democratized a bit...
Posted by tryecrot on Aug 29, 2011 05:08 AM
Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.
Posted by Theo on Nov 28, 2013 09:25 PM
I recently did a bit on research whther to use Plone or Drupal. Drupal is definitely easier on the beginner than Plone, but Plone seems to grow with one. It really is very powerful. The theming issue really is a problem for a beginner, but there are a number of useful theming tools and, in an emergency, just hacking the theme in Zope will help out in a pinch. What Plone definitely does need, however, is better documentation without having to buy books on the stuff.
Posted by Mohd Suffian on Mar 22, 2014 02:20 PM
Thanks for this articles. Really helped me in initializing a project.
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