Frank Groeneveld's blog

Symphony CMS; the Best CMS?

I’ve been looking for a good Content Management System (CMS) the last couple of days after a colleague and I had some discussion about what CMS to use for our clients. Sometimes we have clients with specific needs, which are difficult to fulfill using WordPress. The solution we used to choose was either build some plugins or use our custom developed CMS. However, none of these are a great solution. WordPress can be complicated for novice computer users, has a messy code-base and our own CMS is not really user-friendly either.

My colleague decided to try out ExpressionEngine. He bought the freelancer edition and he’s been trying things out. Up until now, it all seems to work quite well, although the back-end can still be too complicated for our clients. Also, I hate the fact that you should pay 300 dollars to use ExpressionEngine for a commercial company. Thats an added fee some customers would rather spend on different things.

So, I started to search for open-source CMSes myself and made a list of requirements.

  • It should not be page based, it should allow you to model your own content. If you use a CMS that supports types/entities/resources/sections/whatever you can create your own page type, but you can also create more advanced things like portfolio items, projects or products (yes, even a simple web shop is possible then).
  • The back-end should be as simple as possible.
  • It should be written in PHP, object-oriented if possible, and use MySQL for storage.
  • There should be a good, flexible templating engine for the views.
  • It should have a good plugin API.

Well, using this list it was a lot easier to search for the most fitting CMS, as quite a lot CMSes are only page or post based. The list of possible candidates shrunk by more than 75%. Eventually I found a CMS I had never heard of, but which seemed to have all the things we were looking for: Symphony CMS.

I’ve been trying it out in the last few days and I still haven’t found any deal-breakers. Symphony CMS has a great website, friendly community (because it’s still small I think), great features, simple back-end, small code-base and it can be easily extended by writing extensions.

Some things might give problems for specific clients though: multi file upload is non-existant (there’s one extension that doesn’t do what it should) and the WYSIWYG editor extensions, with support for placing images etc., don’t seem to be integrated well enough with Symphony CMS yet. Well, maybe I’ll just fix those two myself and contribute them upstream. That is, if I have some spare time ;)