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Consider the source

Many open source content management systems are mature and boast large developer communities—good indicators that they are stable and will keep evolving

Open source software is free and must comply with the definition of the Open Source Initiative, which states that, among other things, modifications to the source code are nonproprietary and available to the developer community. Of course, they can be commercially enhanced. Many are supported under either General Public Licenses (GPL) or other licenses like the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) one. The first, says Nikos Drakos, research director, Knowledge Support, Gartner, is more common and holds that parties must make their enhancements freely available, while the second allows modifications to remain private or even the foundation of proprietary commercial products.

Many commercial vendors like Sun have even adopted open source code to develop in-house products. Many organizations adopt open source code that's not commercially supported, but they have no warranties governing the changes they make and must support the resulting solution themselves. Commercially enhanced code, on the other hand, is supported by various software and consulting companies and system integrators.

The more commercially enhanced an open source product is, the broader will be the developer community supporting it and the more robust it will be. In fact, according to Tony Byrne, editor and author of the "The CMS Report," more mature open source content management systems like Zope and OpenCms often provide better support from their developer community than do conventional, commercial content management products like Interwoven.

Open source systems must be evaluated differently than commercial products too. An important issue to consider, is who the lead contributors are and their pedigrees. "OSS project owners/leaders need to be responsive, diplomatic and to some extent charismatic if they are to attract and retain developers," Drakos explains. He adds that the size of the user base and the speed of growth are measures of robustness. Key, too, is how closely new releases have debuted to their promised release dates--that indicates the degree of organization and cooperation of the developer community.

In general, says Drakos, open source systems are more scalable and extensible than conventional products but lack their breadth of features. Byrne maintains, "They tend to be created by developers for other developers," so they are usually technically elegant but can suffer in terms of user-friendliness compared to commercial systems. "They tend to get selected when procurement teams are heavily weighted toward technologists," he says. They are more platforms than finished systems and require a lot of customization, according to Byrne, so they tend to work well when there are few content authors and they are technically savvy. For that reason, they're best deployed when content management is technically complicated and developers need access to the source code, not just APIs, as with commercial packages.

The open source content management solutions discussed below are some of the best known and demonstrate varying maturity and technical approach, or are simply consulting services that support the source code. They focus on providing basic CM functionality via browser interfaces like templating and workflow and tend to eschew the value-added type such as Web analytics, though many integrate with such third-party packages. While space prevents discussion of them here, customers might also consider other leading systems like http://lenya.apache.orgApache Lenya, Plone, Midgard and Mambo.

Zope Corp.

Zope is mature source code with a large developer community and is comprised of an application server and its Content Management Framework. Zope Enterprise CMS is a commercial product from Zope Corp. (zope.com) that offers enhancements like its Zope development kit to make the source code more powerful and usable.

Zope Enterprise CMS can integrate with certain external applications like Microsoft Word, but not easily. Rob Page, CEO, Zope Corp., recommends integrating instead with an XML authoring environment like Arbortext (arbortext.com) Epic--it works better with Zope Enterprise CMS and gives users a fat-client experience as well as high-quality metadata. The system does not come with APIs to portal products.

To promote usability, Zope Enterprise CMS integrates with a WYSIWYG editor, so users don't have to edit in Java or ActiveX. The editor also lets users partition metadata into tabs so they are not overwhelmed with screens with many attributes.

Zope Enterprise CMS' Content Component Model also allows facile content fragment reuse. For instance, an article might feature a lead paragraph the system can render as multiple sub-templates on different Web pages. The author just visits pages where he wants to place the paragraph, and the WYSIWYG template editor shows the slots where he can put it. To change the object's location, he just enters the new pages where he wants the object to appear. Zope Enterprise CMS' workflow also offers scripts that, when content is about to be archived, do things like convert it to a PDF.

The system's Real Simple Syndication (RSS) lets non-technical users create and consume RSS channels. Page explains, "RSS is a limited and simple schema, so it has broad interoperability but it's hard to extend. We've extended RSS to carry objects with metadata that are richer than RSS by putting a full XML rendition of the object in the RSS 'Comments' fields, so you can send rich objects over RSS when creating or consuming."

Zope Enterprise CMS' site search, called Z Catalog, offers both structured and full-text indexing and searching. Rather than indexing long documents all at once and slowing down the application server, "we put it in an indexing queue and nibble at it over time," says Page.

Zope Enterprise CMS also has a Registration Manager that lets users perform value-added activities like creating newsletters, forms and surveys, and the system scales well and can create complex Web sites.


Bricolage is an unusual open source package because it does not present Web pages, says David Wheeler, president of Kineticode, the primary consulting service that supports Bricolage. Authors and approvers pass documents through a workflow and when they are ready for publishing, Wheeler says, "they are pushed through formatting templates, and files are written to disc and then sent to another server to be presented to the audience--that server can belong to anyone, and pages can be distributed via WebDAV, FTP, etc."

That way, according to Wheeler, you don't have the overhead of the API and database hookups that can degrade performance and scalability. Wheeler says, "[The system] doesn't force you to select what type of language you want to use on your front-end server, what kind of dynamic server technology you use, so you can have a best-of-breed solution."

For that reason, authors can't create content in external packages like Word or edit content right on the Web page--rather, they preview the document in the system and edit it there. With SOAP interfaces, however, users can load content from packages like ERP by writing scripts to transform the XML. The system also doesn't capture content in multiple document formats--only text documents and files like images.

Bricolage lets users define document elements without writing code--they just represent the structure of the document in their browsers. Users can create metadata by organizing content in categories or associating keywords with pages.

Bricolage offers a formal permissions-based workflow framework with what Wheeler calls "desks" that represent the status of a document as it moves through the workflow. "Workflows for different departments or Web sites have desks that represent the areas of responsibility within that workflow," he explains, "and as documents move through, the system can send alerts based on user-triggered events that indicate a document has arrived at a desk and needs editing, publishing, etc."

Bricolage is a good tool for creating complex Web sites fairly quickly, although Wheeler recommends significant planning up-front to develop templates.


eFoundry is a system integrator that customizes and deploys OpenCms, which is quite mature with a large developer community. Founder and CTO Dan Liliedahl says, "It's one of the few J2EE open source CM packages, so it can be deployed on any application server (though it comes bundled with Tomcat) and scales as well as commercial systems." He says OpenCms is a meat-and-potatoes CM package with basic templating that supports JSP and XML and other third-party templating engines like Cocoon. "Workflow," he says, "lets you author, approve and publish and is not as advanced as workflow of some commercial products."

While it can't author content in external packages like Word, it does have APIs that let users export content to various portal packages. It can capture structured and unstructured content in different formats like XML, PDF and HTML, and it creates metadata manually, using forms where users associate keywords with content or automatically where a built-in search module using Lucene extracts keywords to categorize content. Though it cannot do personalization, eFoundry has added a rules engine that can, and users can syndicate the same bits of content to different channels and pages. Also, though in-page editing is not an option, the system does come with a WYSIWYG editor.

Liliedahl says eFoundry excels at creating complex sites for large enterprises and claims that OpenCms is one of the best documented and tested open source content management systems, which makes it as stable as any commercial system."


Enomaly develops and customizes Typo3, highly variegated source code with numerous "extensions" (community developed enhancements) popular in Europe. Reuven Cohen, chief information architect, however, maintains that Enomaly is its most active developer in North America. Development is done with PHP. Cohen says, "Enomaly has configured the development kit with the most commonly used capabilities to speed implementation." Simple templating can be done with default templates; more complex, by placing HTML content in CSS and formatting it with an external style sheets; and most complex, using XML. Users can also edit content with a WYSIWYG interface right on the Web page, and the system exports content to portals using XML or RSS, he says. While personalization is handled with an extension, administrators can easily reuse the same bits of content on different pages, Cohen adds.

Workflow with Typo3 is basic--author, approve, publish--but Enomaly routinely customizes more complex workflows. The system automatically indexes content with keyword and descriptive metadata, and administrators can use back-end search to make the same edit on multiple pages simultaneously, while visitors can search the site on the front end for product data.

Because the system originated in Europe, says Cohen, it also supports numerous languages. He concedes that because of the system's rich features, development can be time-consuming, although authoring and administration are easy to pick up. Typo3 is fine for both simple and complex sites and Enomaly has done much of both, according to Cohen.

Free but not cheap

Open source CM has become a viable alternative to traditional commercial offerings. That said, customers should be mindful of some caveats. Byrne cautions, "Never go open source if you're trying to save money. If you want to save money, get a low-cost commercial product that's more usable and requires less customization." Customization costs will neutralize the savings in software. Also, while there are 40 or so open source content management systems out there, unless they are mature with large developer communities, they may lack the level of support customers are used to, Drakos says.

John Harney is president of ASPWatch, a consultancy focusing on market, partner and technology strategy for ASPs, e-mail johnharney4@msn.com.

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