Best of the Rest: Content Management Systems to Keep an Eye on

I recently went through choosing a CMS for this website, and am now sharing my findings. I’ve just written about the two big players out there: Drupal and WordPress (I ended up choosing the latter). But this can’t be the only choice though, can it?

Drupal and WordPress are here to stay. Most of the less popular CMSs that come and go are not really better than either of the two. But there are exceptions.

Both Drupal and WordPress are certainly safe bets, as they are unlikely to just implode overnight. Having been around for more than ten years, they’re also clearly doing something right — it can’t be just sheer luck that made them stand out from the crowd.

But the only ones? Hell, no. There’s an abundance of CMSs out there. And there is also a website called (yeah, you guessed it!) “Open Source CMS” that allows you to test-drive many of them.

Most of them aren’t really worth your time and effort though. But then, a few are.

Prisoners of popularity

Except for popularity, there’s one more thing shared by WordPress and Drupal. Both of them are millions of bytes of lard. Do you really need a dozen or so megabytes of PHP bloat just to run a simple website? Probably not.

Drupal and WordPress are oversized, and the need for compatibility drags them down. There are CMSs that don’t carry so much luggage.

There’s one more thing: their pedigree comes at a price. CMSs with a long history cannot just do a complete redesign, as this would prevent all the plugins, themes, and websites made for the old versions from working. The need for backward compatibility slows down development and leads to the adoption of suboptimal choices. A lot of legacy, obsolete, deprecated — you name it — stuff ends up lying around, cluttering the big picture. Since you’re building a new website, do you really care for compatibility with some 2005 API? Probably no.

The little gems

So, how about a lean CMS without all the luggage? At about 100 kilobytes total, WonderCMS is as lean as it gets. Version 0.5.1 has just been released, and it offers clean URL paths, and even a visual editor available through a plug-in. Content is stored in the filesystem, so no database is necessary.

WonderCMS is as lean as it gets, and still sports an editing interface better than most other CMSs. Anchor CMS will get you most of WordPress’s functionality at a fraction of its size.

WonderCMS not quite wonderful enough? How about the beautifully minimal Anchor CMS? At slightly over one megabyte, it would fit on a high-density floppy disk — if these were still around, that is. Anchor stores its stuff in an MySQL database, or you can use SQLite. As of the current version 0.9.2, there is no plug-in API yet but it is expected with the next release. Anchor has more than 80% of WordPress’s functionality at less than 20% of its size.

Music to the ears

The next contender, Symphony CMS belongs in a category of its own. Basically, it’s as flexible as it gets due to the use of XML wherever possible. Instead of CMS-specific templating, Symphony uses a standards-based XSLT approach. It might be especially useful if your content is not just “title” and “body text” but more organized than that, and you want it presented in a custom way, not just sorted by date in a descending order. It’ll take some initial learning but the website has a good tutorial.

The special case of specific needs

There are bundled distributions of both WordPress and Drupal providing a community or collaboration website. But what if you wanted to keep things simple? The two next choices are not really CMSs as such but can be used to a similar effect in social applications.

Vanilla Forums is a wonderful message board application that does away with the tired and bloated interface of a “regular” bulletin board (the epitome of this being phpBB), while DokuWiki is an equally excellent wiki collaboration platform that also has very intuitive mark-up.

Long time ago I actually built a groupware intranet application combining both of the above, and there’s still a small memory of it preserved here, in the form of a shared authentication class. The point is, if you have some specific needs, possibly there might be some better options out there than just writing everything around a general-purpose CMS.


  • If you want a simple blog or page-based website, why not try WonderCMS or Anchor before going full WordPress.

Here are the five CMSs to keep an eye on: WonderCMS, Anchor CMS, Symphony CMS, Vanilla Forums, and DokuWiki.

  • If the content of your website will be heavily-customized, try Symphony and escape the Drupal headache at the cost of learning how to write XSLT templates.

  • If you want a community-driven website, instead of going for any of the purpose-made bbPress or some Drupal distribution, you can base it off a nice message board (such as Vanilla), or a nice wiki (such as DokuWiki), or both combined.

2 thoughts on “Best of the Rest: Content Management Systems to Keep an Eye on”

  1. Rob from WonderCMS here. Thanks for the mention!

    And a little fix in the post: WonderCMS doesn’t weight 100 kilobytes – it’s only 8 kb zipped and 15 kb unzipped.

    Cheers to all the other listed CMSes.

Reave a Leply

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