Interesting things about ECM


Things We Hate About Content Management

Filed under: General — Tags: , , — Anthony Fast @ 11:24 pm


– By The Motley Crew

It was a lovely Friday morning/afternoon, and we were Waving. The experiment initiated by McBoof (yes, that one) brought together 6 CMS folks from around the world. The event gathered together analysts, journalists, vendors, system integrators toWave on a topic that was decided at that very moment. We had one hour (in between conference calls and other job thingys) to pick a topic and Wave it.

A little collab on what exactly to Wave about later, we decided to do “a mindmap of things we find annoying in CMSs.” To up the ante, we also decided to take the original bullet points (deemed “too easy”) and convert the whole thing toprose. Was the tool given really up to the task? Were our minds flexible enough to wrap around this kind of realtime collaboration?

In the beginning — we blame the tool ;) — we were Drowning, not Waving. We (almost) didn’t fight about  edits. We almost didn’t step on each other’s toes. All in all, it turned out to be a fun and productive collaborative exercise. Read on to see for yourself.

Cosmetic Issues

There really should be a CMS UI fashion police. As there should be a Magic Quadrant for shoes and handbags. Why? Well, there’s a couple of issues.

For instance, sloppy, non-designed design. You know the kind of thing that has not been thought about and reworked and made to feel right. The sort of thing coders do if you don’t force them. But at the same time, over-designed interfaces can be just as bad: the designers and developers really need to be on speaking terms.

When building a system that works, you can’t have the development team in the basement on a sustenance of Jolt coding away into the night, and the designers in the penthouse in turtleneck sweaters sipping espressos. Too many CMS designs end up being programmer vs. end-user friendly. And this is not the best way to charm away those marketing and web content folks.

Developers and designers need to talk to each other and essentially, both should talk to users – not just eat your own dogfood – but listen to what dogs like to eat. A developer or UI designer are not content editors, marketers or knowledge and information workers.

Some vendors say that the agonizingly and depressingly black UI backgrounds are hip and modern. Well, they are not, really. Who told you that? Especially if you add a Star Trek theme to it and sprinkle in some stars and cosmic swirls, because if Apple does it, it must be cool right? Not pointing any fingers, but I would quit if I were a content manager having to spend my 9-5 staring into the “black hole” of some of the CMS UIs that are out there on the market.

Even pop-ups seem less annoying when compared to dark UIs. Which brings us onto…

Interface Issues

Interfaces need a comfortable lived in feel. Content management is something people work with every day, it is their interface to their job. You meet people who hate the interface, and that makes their work a heap of pain. I have seen people who describe the 44 clicks it takes to insert an image. You have a responsibility to these people, to make them love the content and make the tool disappear.

We all hate it when the interface does something on its own that ruins your context. E.g. a page refresh, or in Wave the jumping around of the scrolled window in some cases ;-) Or the lack of an easy way to bookmark, so you can reference someone to the content. Remember people will be collaborating and need to send links around. Make sure the UI is a proper web application with URLs. And why do tasks that are easy to describe and often repeated in exactly the same way still take more than a few clicks? (Or maybe even dozens of clicks.) With bonus points for forcing users to use dialogs or tabs to enter mandatory information. Remember people do not have all the information in the right order.

Also, we need sane conflict merges. Check in and check out is too extreme for most uses. But people want to edit offline still. Of course Wave doesn’t have an offline: Google thinks this problem is going away, it’s real time so there are never conflicts (that’s defined in the XML protocol; it’s quite interesting if you are that way geeky). Does Google have the right answer here? Well, the Motley Crew is struggling here, and some browsers lost sync during this experiment.

“Power users” (those who use it all day long) of CMSs needed to have a “Desktop” experience. What does Desktop Experience mean? Well, it doesn’t really have to be on the desktop — these days it is perfectly possible to get very close to a hitherto Desktop experience in a browser or similar. these are qualities: very low latency from action to response, no page refreshes, modal and modal-less dialog boxes as appropriate, “push” notification.

Architectural Issues

Architectural issues of the wave overtook any architectural issues of Content Management Systems. The fact that we authored this entire article in a single blip didn’t help, and slowed everything down enormously. McBoof learned the hard way that he really need a new laptop and spent most of the session giving his machine CPR. Next time we’ll do each paragraph in its own blip to stop FireFox going down like a Led Zeppelin.

Monolithic systems. Build it out of pieces that the client can not use all of. Obviously your pieces may work together better, but there should be components. Do not try to reinvent all kinds of wheel. “Best of breed,” though, is just another weasel marketing idea, as if systems are pinnacles not about meeting requirements.

Marketeers are adroit at using the term Best Practice to position Their Way as the only way that a particular matter can be solved. (Many of us live in that netherland of having to pedal that point of view, but it is a falsehood that the careful buyer should try to see through.)I think this devalues genuine best practice, vendors should cite references

Most often a marketeer’s Best Practice view is the only one they subscribe to as their product development has paddled up the wrong stream and cannot or won’t reverse their architectural design (probably because of the cost of doing so). This intransigence most often causes a product to doom itself. (Think of IBM and The Mainframe Is The Only Way To Do Serious Business).

Who really still believes that there is a place in this world for Flash or Java Applet based Rich Text Editors? TinyMCE, FCKeditor and others are filling the gap left by Ektron when they bit the hand that feeds and entered the CMS market. Ephox is trying to spread, but I find it difficult to come up with an excuse to use an Applet over HTML with javascript these days. Stick with the standard.

Business Issues

Where you are buying into something that you may very well need to change or integrate with there is strong benefit in considering Open Source. Open Source used to frighten commercial software companies but we have come along way on that road to understand that commercial organisation can operate in an Open Source world and benefit. This does not necessarily mean that their prized system needs to be fully opened up, but taking the spirit of it to mean that you are completely open to people seeing and learning from your code how it operates.

Exactly what you need to see opened up varies. In a CMS there may be a subsystem that stores the content or one that allows a Rich Text Editor. These arguably don’t need to be opened up, but when a CMS ships with modules for, for example, an RSS feed widget, calendaring tool, prebuilt webforms, users who then want a variation on this module can benefit from seeing how the “pros” did it, they can then use it as a starting point for their own different implementation.

We really don’t need vendors that pay lip service to the buzzwords. When they think the new CMS buzzword “engagement” is just a screenshot of Google Analytics. Or when they add an image picker and call itDAM . And a cross-over between WCM and ECM? Don’t think WCM is like ECM and it’s about organizing content, not about effectively communicating with the audience. And don’t think that if you organize the content, you canaut omatically communicate effectively.

Completely different, but equally frustrating, is procurement (and the procedures that go with it.) Procurement folk don’t recognise the importance of user adoption to the success of the project — of the black background and all the UI issues pointed out previously. If a CMS is procured according to procedure, the selection is a success to them. But those same rules are often a recipe for ignoring what the users really need.

At the same time, budgets that aren’t transparent are an issue – customer and vendor should be able to have a sensible grown up conversation. As a customer, of course you want good value, but how cheap are you?But to vendors: many licensing models don’t make any sense, and force you to do stupid things. People are scared to have that conversation – the best architectural fit first I say, lets figure out an appropriate license around that.


So much hatred rolled up into a tight little ball of anti-CMS rage. Who would have expected it from such a respected bunch of CMS folk. We hate the designs, the interfaces, the architectures and the business. Time for a beer/wine? Wave good bye!



Google Search Volume index for Oracle UCM and Microsoft Sharepoint

Filed under: Oracle UCM, Sharepoint — Tags: , — Anthony Fast @ 10:21 pm

Regions: ALL

Period: Last 12 months

oracle ucm
microsoft sharepoint

Microsoft SharePoint Integration for GroupWise Unveiled at GWAVACon Las Vegas
The Open Press (press release) – Jan 14 2009
SharePoint Solutions Creates Software to Integrate Microsoft SharePoint With
PR Newswire (press release) – May 27 2009
Extend the Power of Microsoft SharePoint with New Edition of Quest Web Parts for SharePoint
Trading Markets (press release) – Jun 23 2009
Metalogix Software Showcases Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Exchange Migration and Archiving Products at Microsoft WPC09
Trading Markets (press release) – Jul 13 2009 Data Recovery Software Contributes to Microsoft Sharepoint…
Legal Tech Base (press release) – Sep 10 2009
Concept Searching Announces conceptClassifier for SharePoint for Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
PRLog.Org (press release) – Oct 19 2009
1. India
2. Australia
3. Netherlands
4. United Kingdom
5. Spain
6. Canada
7. United States
8. Japan
9. Brazil
10. France
1. Bangalore, India
2. Chennai, India
3. Mumbai, India
4. Delhi, India
5. Sydney, Australia
6. London, United Kingdom
7. Toronto, Canada
8. Madrid, Spain
1. English
2. Dutch
3. Japanese
4. Spanish
5. Portuguese
6. French
7. German
8. Chinese



Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant” Goes To Court – ZL Technologies Lawsuit

Filed under: Gartner — Tags: , , — Anthony Fast @ 7:44 pm


Gartner will seek to dismiss claims by ZL Technologies, based in San Jose, CA, that the use of it’s proprietary “Magic Quadrant” is misleading and favors large vendors.

On Friday October 23, Gartner is seeking the dismissal of ZL’s complaint on First Amendment grounds.

Dennis Howlett, over at ZDNet writes:

ZL points up some uncomfortable assertions. Even if it lucks out in court it will have been successful in drawing attention to important issues.

…I spend a lot of time talking to other so-called analysts. Almost to a man/woman (but not entirely) they are 70-80% in the pay of the vendor community. Many believe they are independent. However when I ask who really pays the bills they go silent. Shout all you like about defending your independence but at the end of the day? Show me the money.

Gartner in the dock over Magic Quadrant | Irregular Enterprise |

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant has been very successful for the market research and analyst firm. It has been widely adopted as a way to define the position of companies and their products, within their sectors.

Companies that appear in the top right hand quadrant are considered the best positioned, the higher the position the better.

ZL Technologies provides email and file archiving for corporations. It’s claims are:

– Gartner’s use of their proprietary “Magic Quadrant” is misleading and favors large vendors with large sales and marketing budgets over smaller innovators such as ZL that have developed higher performing products.

– The complaint alleges: defamation; trade libel; false advertising; unfair competition; and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage.

Fair Disclosure on Conflicts of Interest – Gartner generates its revenues from payments made by the same vendors whose products it evaluates. Similar to the new rules now being imposed on financial ratings agencies on Wall Street, Gartner should be required to disclose the revenues received from the vendors it ranks.

– Fair Disclosure on Evaluation Scores – The tech industry would benefit if Gartner were required to disclose more data in its evaluation process and disclose component scores so vendors know exactly where they are lacking and by how much and take corrective action. Currently, there is zero disclosure, which can lead to arbitrary placement, with no recourse and no basis for appeal.

– Better Oversight –Gartner currently has an employee act as ombudsman to handle disagreements. The conflict of interest is self-evident in the way ZL’s concerns were summarily dismissed with little supporting evidence. There is a crying need to establish an impartial ombudsman similar to those found in public media, in order to ensure purchasers that they are receiving impartial analysis.

The legal documents are here: ZL v. Gartner Court Documents | ZL Technologies

Gartner and other analyst and market research firms have long denied that their analysis is biased by their client base.


Looking beyond the magic quadrant to find the nitty-gritty

Filed under: CMS Watch, Gartner, Oracle UCM — Tags: , — Anthony Fast @ 11:37 pm


At first I was hesitant to write a critique of the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for WCM. They’re a worthy competitor, we could learn from them about the value of high-level summaries, and the MQ makes an easy target (Alan has already dissected the phenomenon). But when you look beyond the famous quadrant and review the actual rationales, some important issues emerge for enterprises evaluating vendors and technology.

One tendency is revealing. Many of Gartner’s “strengths” and “cautions” have to do with a vendor’s “marketing effectiveness,” “messaging,” and “awareness.” Things that matter to investors and other vendors, but not so much to buyers. We are about to publish a short statement on sixteen principles behind CMS Watch’s methodology. Principles ten through twelve seem relevant here:

10. We do not rate vendors’ “market leadership,” which is vague and typically not germane
11. We do not evaluate vendors’ sales and marketing acumen, except inasmuch as different sales tactics may be meaningful for buyers to understand
12. A vendor’s “story” doesn’t matter; what they actually do matters

Let’s contrast what Gartner says with a sampling of what our research says about Web CMS vendor CoreMedia.


  • CoreMedia has a solid reputation and proven ability to execute in its traditional “sweet spot” in the media and entertainment sectors.
  • Its regional presence is strong. Even in broader Western European markets, CoreMedia has a presence and a reputation for good engineering.
  • CoreMedia has customers in different regions, but needs to develop its organization in North America more strongly and aggressively.
  • As with many engineering-focused developers, its marketing and promotion currently lag behind its technical proficiency. But recent changes in management appear to signal an intent to focus more on marketing and global expansion.

CMS Watch

(partial list)
  • Flexible, open Java architecture
  • Portal-friendly (integrates with many popular portal products)
  • Streamlined in-context editing user interface could appeal to casual authors as well as marketing experts
  • Strong globalization features
  • FAST InStream search engine included in base package
(partial list)
  • Combination of CPU- and seat-based licensing makes the product comparatively more expensive on larger implementations
  • Internal communication relies on dated CORBA infrastructure
  • Some important integrations (e.g., MS Office, Lotus Notes) have not been productized and remain third-party customizations
  • Power user interface is a thick Java client; some non-traditional UI metaphors
  • Product not well suited for intranet scenarios
  • Comparatively light footprint outside of Germany

There is one other difference. Our research costs money, and this MQ is free.  Or rather, it’s been pre-paid for you by Oracle. (Note the URL:…) This tweet from an an Oracle employee — “Oracle WIN!” — suggests how useful the MQ is for them.

So, vendors can win (and lose) at this game. But what about you the customer? Before you start researching which tool to adopt, first figure out your requirements, starting with what sorts of website(s) you publishOracle might suit your Intranet, but perhaps not your public sites.

Gartner’s observations are arguably more strategic. CMS Watch was founded on the notion that in vendor selection, the nitty-gritty matters. A lot. You see, whatever tool you ultimately select will bring tangible strengths and weaknesses — probably more of both than you ever imagined– that will impact your business. Software developers make trade-offs all the time. Which ones do you want to make?

A Letter to EMC About Federations

Filed under: Documentum, Performance, Security — Tags: , — Anthony Fast @ 10:23 pm


Dear EMC,

Hey there.  How are you doing? It was nice running into you at the AIIM Seminar last week.  I’ve been trying to tell people that CenterStage is not intended to take SharePoint out as we discussed.  People are listening, but only time will tell if it will matter.

I want to talk to you about an issue that I’ve been encountering.  I’ve talked to you about this before, but I’m not sure that you were paying attention.  I just wanted to mention it again to let you know that this is actually important.

I just spent 11 hours of my weekend creating a Federation in a production environment.  It wasn’t the only thing being done to the environment this weekend, but it was a big-old dependency for many other tasks.  We were creating a new repository and don’t want to manage our users (15K), or the corresponding ACLs, in multiple locations. Since a single repository was out of the question, we went the federated route.

Here is the creation process…I create a Federation in the global repository.  It then creates a Federation object in the member repositories and then exports the users, groups, and roles into a file.  That file is then ingested into the member repositories.  The issue is, problems are always encountered during the process.  You’ve told me that there is no recovery or “fix”.  The answer, according to your tech support, is to delete the Federation and repeat the process.  The deletion doesn’t always work and I have to confirm that the data in the database for all repositories reflect the deletion.  There are a few service restarts in there to make sure that caches are clear as well.

This is repeated until it works.  It isn’t helped that if a user is renamed in LDAP that the change doesn’t get reflected in the groups.  This causes the group to fail when it is moved to another repository because it can’t find the user.  Why the rename doesn’t work, or why you still use user names and not your unique object ids to do this linking, is for another day.

I finally got it all to work and my team is wrapping the deployment up, after many had to wait around for the Federation to complete.  Someone brought in Krispy Kreme, so we aren’t starving (though we probably all lost a few days from our life span).  I’m even coming to terms with missing the Tennessee-Florida game and the upset of Southern Cal by Washington yesterday.

Assuming that the process worked the first time, it should have been over and done in an hour or less.  My client is paying for the time. The problem is, I can’t get that 10 hours back with my wife or kids.  Half of my weekend is gone from this process and I want to know…

How are you going to help me make it up to my family?

See you soon.


SAP to Resell Open Text ECM Under SAP Branding

Filed under: Open Text, SAP — Tags: , , — Anthony Fast @ 5:52 pm


What’s a pretty big deal for Open Text (newssite), is a pretty big deal for SAP (news,site) as well. The two, after much courting in the past, have signed yet another extension of the global reseller agreement. In a nutshell, SAP will now be able to resell Open Text Enterprise CMS under SAP branding.

This is the second major expansion of the original reseller agreement between SAP and OTEX. Let’s not forget that SAP is already reselling Open Text’s Document Access and Archiving and Invoice Management products.

The new, reseller-inspired name is the SAP Extended Enterprise Content Management(SAP Extended ECM) application by Open Text.

Open Text didn’t fail to mention that the industry analysts SAP has briefed find this reseller agreement expansion a “game-changing” event for the ECM market from the point of view of how ECM is sold.

So, instead of playing the add-ons game, ECM “becomes integral to how the company operates.” Both companies are guided by the principle of helping customers to “increase business value with content-enriched business processes.”

“By working closely with SAP, we are able to give customers a way to manage all their vital information in a secure… way… We are entering into a new phase in the evolution of content management technology,” said John Shackleton, president and chief executive officer of Open Text.


ECM, CMS and WCM Job Market in Bay Area California USA

Filed under: Alfresco, Oracle UCM, Sharepoint, WCM — Tags: , , , , — Anthony Fast @ 8:44 pm


There are couple of my friends getting laid off from their company, who are working in the Enterprise Content Management, Content Management System and Web Content Management market in Bay Area, CA and in India. Is the job market not good? Is there any implementation going on in companies for ECM? Atleast for WCM and document management and/or collaboration implementation projects are going on in various companies.

I went ahead and did some research on this. I chose three Job search engines –, and I chose an area – Santa Clara, CA 95050 and searched jobs for every ECM technology product for 100 miles around.

Technologies I chose were Alfresco, Sharepoint, Documentum, Oracle Stellent and IBM FileNet. The jobs could varu from implementation consultant, developer, project management, business analyst etc., You know what? The interesting find is – There are n number of Sharepoint implementations going on. Sharepoint is very very popular. Documentum is next, but not that high compared to Sharepoint. All others are just hanging in there.

Market is definitely bad and that kind of says – the situation of Job Market for ECM, CMS and WCM related work/projects. By the way – if you are an ECM company and if you want to definitely get job – learn Microsoft SHAREPOINT for now. You will definitely get job in this market too!!


Price lists and functions comparison for Oracle’s ECM products

Filed under: Oracle UCM, WCM — Anthony Fast @ 8:21 pm


Sometimes I’m being asked about what features and components are included in Oracle UCM or Oracle ECM Suite, what is the difference between UCM and UCM Standard Edition, what are the actual license costs.

So, hope these links would help solving the mess:

Global Technology Price list: Oracle Technology Global Price List

Oracle ECM Features and Products: Oracle ECM Licensing Information

PS. And of course, on Oracle UCM Downloads page there’s a table showing what products possess what exact features.

Sharepoint calculation example

Filed under: General, Sharepoint, WCM — Anthony Fast @ 8:01 pm

For a concrete example of relative costs, assume the management team of a mid-sized company decides to provide next-
generation collaboration software to all of their 5,500 employees. The following shows the anticipated software bill of materials for a Microsoft SharePoint solution. This calculating does not take into account the additional costs to upgrade Exchange, Office or Active Directory, which are also required to deploy Microsoft SharePoint 2007.

Item Quantity Cost per Unit Total
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server License 5 $6,503 $32,515
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server Standard CALs 5,500 $137 $753,500
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server Enterprise CALs
5,5 $110 $605,000
Windows Server 2008 Standard License
7 $1,067 $7,469
Windows Server 2008 Standard CALs 5,500 $44 $242,000
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server Search Server 1 $8,213 $8,213
Office Forms Server 1 $4,424 $4,424
Office Forms Server CALs 5,500 $54 $297,000
SharePoint Designer 10 $187 $1,870
Microsoft SQL Server License 1 $730 $730
TOTAL $1,952,721


Drupal v. SharePoint from a Developer’s Viewpoint

Filed under: Drupal, Sharepoint — Anthony Fast @ 5:28 pm


After working in organizations that adopted both Drupal and SharePoint, I have been asked on several occasions my thoughts on the differences between the two platforms.  While I was developing a Sharepoint site a few years ago I remember looking around for comparisons and was surprised about the lack of information.  In 2007, Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, wrote a post that really inspired me that I responded to in the comment section.

Many of the comparative articles I found were written from a marketing viewpoint, but not actual developers who had hands-on experience with both frameworks.  Here are a few of the entries that found during my research:

Drupal vs. SharePoint
To Compare DRUPAL and SHAREPOINT 2007
Microsoft kill Drupal? (for laughs)

In my experience, SharePoint does not live up to the hype for a variety of reasons. SharePoint 2007 is being positioned as not only an intranet platform, but also a web framework that can power big sites and be on the same playing field as other larger CMS platforms, like Drupal.
To preface, I am not here to argue with SharePoint’s intranet capabilities. The platform has Microsoft product integration and file management features which Drupal does not have yet (other than some basic file manager modules to the best of my knowledge). As I understand, Drupal was never intended to do heavy lifting management of documents, but there is no reason why it could not grow as an intranet platform. However, that is a whole other discussion.
From my vantage point, I have identified six major differences between SharePoint and Drupal. They include:
  1. Setting up a local development environment is difficult and expensive.
  2. Setting up an efficient development/deployment process is cumbersome.
  3. Theming SharePoint is extremely difficult.
  4. Many SharePoint modules (aka webparts) are quirky and don’t work as expected.
  5. Lists and libraries are quirky and also often do not work as expected.
  6. SharePoint is slow and does not give you real access to the database that powers it.
1. Setting up a local development environment is difficult and expensive.
First, SharePoint is extremely difficult to set up on a local box. That is because you need Windows Server to run a SharePoint website and you have to have a SharePoint site to create web parts for that site. Thus, either your local box needs Windows Server 2003 or higher or you need a virtual machine that runs both. Furthermore, developing in Visual Studio in a virtual machine is arduous. Aside from the CALs and licenses you need for each developer you are married to getting four gig or higher machines. Now, maybe we are already to the point where that is not as much of an issue, but at the time, several of my colleagues had two gig macbooks that could not be upgraded. Basically, we had to try to run a VM in one gig, which is basically impossible. What we ended up doing was using remote desktop to connect to our own personal instances of Windows Server 2003 where we could develop against a site that had four gigs of RAM. For the most part, we could run some Visual Studio and Designer Studio locally until we deployed changes that we might have to test on the VM itself. To summarize, getting set up is expensive and requires heavy hardware.
Drupal response:
Drupal is extremely cost efficient to get up and running. You can run Drupal on virtually any platform and you do not need a heavy-duty machine to run most sites.
Drupal and editor tools like Eclipse are both free to use. In addition, the entire catalogue of Drupal modules is open source, and many are very well supported by the community.
2. Setting up an efficient development/deployment process is a pain.
In my opinion, deploying a SharePoint site requires that most organizations have a Microsoft Server sys-admin. I really do not think most organizations that are deploying SharePoint sites (as external websites) can manage without a Microsoft sys-admin on the team. The fact that developers are handcuffed to a sys-admin even while developing is one reason deployment is a pain. Second, there are a multitude of steps for pushing web parts to different environments. And webparts are the easy part. Developers have to deal with compiling dlls and adding things to the GAC and configurations and restarting IIS, so it’s not exactly plug-and-play. However, webparts can be streamlined. Pushing the entire site to another environment is also not really difficult. Basically, what is impossible is trying to push a subset of data. You might think lists and libraries could be exported easily but in fact when we tried we lost the associated metadata which basically makes a list worthless. To be frank, there is not a good way of exporting/importing data to/from environments. Our team had to create one development environment that was “staging” that was treated just like production because we would push to production eventually from staging. Again, all of this can be streamlined to some extent but getting to that point is a very frustrating process. We had three developers, a sys-admin, a SharePoint expert and it was still an arduous process.
Drupal response:
Setting up a Drupal development or production environment is also easy. With svn the development team can check out files onto a development environment and push its db changes. Drupal runs on PHP which runs on virtually any environment, and you don’t have to be a server expert. Many people launch Drupal sites on shared environments without any deep technical knowledge.
3. Theming SharePoint is extremely difficult.
The theming process requires SharePoint Designer 2007. And that means more money will have to be spent for each copy of program, and that is in addition to the tens of thousands of dollars it already costs for all the other licensing an organization needs to get a SharePoint site up and running. SharePoint Designer is not terrible as an editor but the check-in, check-out system of version control can be maddening. It is very frustrating in my experience to work with a team of designers/developers/admins touching aspx files and constantly seeing that someone forgot to check-in a file. What this leads to is either you have to override it (which could make the other person lose their changes) or get the last person who edited the file to check it in. Doing so will not reveal the changes to a public user so you must also then publish the file. Publishing files in SharePoint Designer gives you an error (has this been fixed?). To further complicate matters, you then have to log onto SharePoint and drill down to the file to publish it for anonymous users to see the changes.
If you can get past file management you will find that doing any amount of theming in SharePoint requires some knowledge of XSL. Other Content Management Systems (CMS) use XSL and there is probably some valid reason why though I don’t know what it is, because I find it very limiting. I prefer Drupal templates that are more straightforward and can use PHP to manipulate the theme layer. With XSL, you have to find XSL functions to try to accomplish what you want and again that can be very limiting. And I never understood why aspx files do not have conditionals unless C# is enabled (which is a security risk). Why is that important? Because often times you have markup that you do not want output unless you get a value you are expecting. For example, if you are styling a div a certain way, you might want that div only be rendered if it has a value, I ended up having to use jQuery to get around these limitations.
Finally, SharePoint’s markup is completely terrible, non-standards compliant, and non-sensical. There are some CSS files and ids/classes in SharePoint markup, but they are completely misused. To list a few items: really long IDs, embedded tables, inline css and non-standard compliant html. This is very difficult to style unless you have an out-of-the box SharePoint site or buy a pre-made cookie-cutter template for the site. And that underscores the problem of SharePoint 2007 growing out of an intranet platform into a supposed web-publishing platform. When SharePoint was merely an intranet platform, theming didn’t matter much because it was only seen by employees. Now developers are being tasked with creating widgets and creating layouts but the theming layer is just is not up to par.
Drupal response:
Drupal’s theming layer is very powerful and flexible. It is constructed in a way that scales well with a themer’s knowledge, meaning the more you know, the more powerful it is. But a lot can be done with CSS and a few template changes. It does not require in-depth knowledge of phptemplate functions and form overriding, but it helps to learn such things when you get into advanced theming. Also, everything is in PHP so if you know PHP it is easy to get started.
4. So many SharePoint modules aka webparts are quirky and don’t work as expected.
The Content Query Web Part (CQWP) is supposed to be this heralded feature that allows for pulling content easily, but I contend it is not. First, the output is hard to theme. That goes back to my point about having to work with XSL. And many of the XSL templates are in tables. A big problem with the CQWP is that it does not ship with anonymous access. Developers find out quickly that getting anonymous access to certain features, like the blog for example, is not so easy. You can read more about a workaround to this issue here. It goes back to my central point, the question one must ask – “Why is this so hard?” Why do developers have to waste time finding a work around for something so simple? And this raises the question also, why has this not been fixed? I contend that if a problem like this existed in a Drupal core module it would be fixed immediately. And that is the advantage of having a community supported platform instead of a system that only gets upgraded every couple years and charges money for those upgrades.
Drupal response:
Drupal core modules make sense. The top contributed modules make sense. That is because there is an active community behind Drupal modules and not a large inefficient corporation. The Views module beats the CQWP by a huge margin, in my opinion. The power of Views 2.0 especially is amazing and CQWP simply does not compare. Views allow for ultimate flexibility and have a powerful theming layer. If you want a more powerful CQWP you have to pay for it from a vendor that creates an advanced webpart or search places like CodePlex, which does not have near the number of developers in its community.
5. Lists and libraries are quirky and also often do not work as expected.
We already addressed the quirkiness of exporting/importing list and library content, but there are also strange permission issues that come up. Some list data in particular is not available anonymously, such as most notably the calendar item list. The problem is not viewing an event in a list, rather the problem occurs when the user clicks on an event to view the details. That will by default prompt a popup authentication box which for a public website is typically not the intention. So far all the granular and inherited permissions SharePoint has items like this fall through the cracks. Our team had to find yet another work-around to solve the issue, which involves a small hack to an include file somewhere. It is possible at the time of this writing, some of these issues have been fixed, though let the record show that Sharepoint was released in 2007 and our team had these problems into early 2009. Also, there are inheritance problems when you get into lists in sub-sites that is beyond the scope of this discussion. The point is that lists and libraries which of comparable to “node” content in Drupal, are entirely too obtuse and don’t work in a straight-forward matter when it comes to web-publishing.
Drupal response:
Drupal’s node system is amazingly more powerful and easier to use than lists. The Content Construction Kit (CCK) allows for tremendous flexibility and power with content, often times not requiring deep technical knowledge. For libraries, developers can create files with meta data using CCK that emulate some of the features of libraries though it is not an exact comparison. Namely, there is no messy inheritance to deal with when managing node content types. Instead of inheritance, CCK uses composition which in my opinion is much more flexible and easier to understand.
6. SharePoint is slow and doesn’t give developers real access to the database that powers it.
SharePoint does not give developers access to the SQL database that powers it, well technically they cannot prevent them from touching it, but that can lead to data corruption, so it is really not a good idea. Furthermore, even if one could analyze the database the structure is difficult to understand. One issue I have is that SharePoint stores everything in blobs. That to me does not seem like a really scalable solution. Also, sharing data requires the “Business Data Catalogue” and more confusing tasks in order to share data with another system. Our team did not get into that too deep on the project we worked on so I can’t get into great detail regarding the BDC.
I do find it problematic that developers cannot access the database. I think ASP.NET developers and open-source developers are quite used to dealing with the database directly so it can be frustrating to not have access when troubleshooting issues. Developers do have access to an API they can use from within SharePoint as long as they are running SharePoint on the same platform they are using to write code. The problem is that often time developers need access to the data in another environment like staging, for instance. Copying all that data is a hassle. Another option is to fake it locally, but then problems can occur when that webpart is pushed to production and it does not work as expected. And so SharePoint is not exactly the snappiest site in my experience. I do not have benchmarking statistics. I am just speaking from personal experience. The instance on our local boxes consumed a lot of resources and development was on a high end server and still not very snappy. Our team ended up using a system where we had a content server that pushed data to a static server. That ended up being a pretty efficient solution, but cost can be a factor there as well when you are talking about a multi-node system. The problem with that kind of a setup is that it means updates are delayed – for many organizations that is simply not an acceptable solution. Many publishing sites require content be updated immediately.
Drupal response:
Drupal gives you real access to a real database and it’s actually optimized out of the box and makes sense. Developers can inspect the database tables and make sense of what is going on. This is not required for a non-technical user, but is very handy for a developer. Drupal gives you many out of the box performance features like caching, menu caching, form caching, page caching, CSS/JS caching (a fantastic feature) and block caching. Those default options alone give sites big performance gains. There are still ways for a programmer to create an inefficient site but in my experience most popular contributed modules are well-tested and perform well.
To recap, I hope that this article was helpful for developers or managers looking into SharePoint vs. Drupal. My objective was to give an in-depth look into the two platforms from a developer on the front lines, who has actually developed for both platforms. There are many posts out there on the web from people who have not actually programmed against one or either platform and therefore cannot give an accurate comparison. SharePoint does not fail in the abstract, no platform does. My point is that the abstract features of SharePoint are not the issue, it is the real-world implementations of the platform that leave it severely lacking when it comes to web-publishing.
It is my opinion that this can lead to a development staff being saddled with a platform that can be very frustrating when it is found out it does not live up to the hype. My aim has not been against SharePoint’s intranet capabilities, rather Microsoft’s claims that it can be a major player as a web publishing platform. Also I would warn that businesses investing in proprietary tools of this size could fall into a perpetual upgrade trap – once you put money into a platform this big it can be difficult to leave. Therefore, for all the reasons I have detailed above, I implore managers to save the headaches and dollars and invest in a powerful community supported platform like Drupal. You will not regret it.
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