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Content Management Systems Come of Age


 
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As you contemplate your next web site, or your first, you may be pondering a fundamental development question: design my own site from scratch with a web design application or use an available content management system (CMS)? Although web site design programs offer minute control over every detail of the look and content of a web site, a CMS can often mean better productivity and easier maintenance for even the fastest growing sites. Below we compare and contrast two of the most popular tools for creating web pages and sites today: Dreamweaver, Adobe's web design application and WordPress, a free open source CMS.

Your Skill Level

To be truthful, the decision to use Dreamweaver or WordPress is one where your level of experience and knowledge will count heavily. Although Dreamweaver is designed to be a WYSIWYG editor (using the Design or Split view features) that allows users without knowledge of HTML, CSS, PHP, and a host of other languages to create, upload, and maintain web pages from scratch, most professional web designers will tell you that the key to using an editor like Dreamweaver to its fullest capability is to already know HTML and CSS. Why know HTML and CSS if Dreamweaver is supposed to allow you to design a web site without it? Because, although good, Dreamweaver's drag-and-drop, word-processor-like interface is not flawless. Occasionally some tinkering under the hood (in Code view) is required to fix problems that it sometimes introduces. In addition, you'll need to be able create, or at least supply, your own graphics as well.

WordPress requires virtually no knowledge of coding. As the name implies, it's designed so that users manage content. With no programming or graphic design skills, a WordPress user can create, grow, and maintain a web site using the web interface to publish the web pages or blog entries. Although it will require user input, WordPress will automate many of the tasks familiar to webmasters but that average users have only heard about: meta descriptions, keywords, site maps, search engine optimization (SEO) and the like. Like most content management systems, WordPress comes with a default color and graphics scheme, so that you don't have to create one.

Room to Grow

Both types of tools know that web site publishers are in the business of growing their sites--and their readership--and both tools deliver on this point. Dreamweaver makes the job of managing a large site easier with features such as Templates and Snippets. The web designer need not create each page from scratch but can instead use site wide features to change only parts of a web page--perhaps a navigation bar at the top, a skyscraper ad on the right, or a copyright statement at the bottom--across the entire site. Likewise, WordPress does the same thing, allowing the user to change parts of each web page across an entire site, easily and quickly, using Themes, Widgets, and built-in features as well.

Two Philosophies

Like Photoshop or Word, Dreamweaver is an application that you purchase and it resides on your computer, where you create web pages, which you then upload to a server. Web design applications like Dreamweaver aim to give web designers and publishers the tools to create the site's content and decide how it's delivered, in terms of graphics, dynamic web pages, or CSS.

A content management system like WordPress however, separates delivery and content, such that WordPress (and WordPress programmers) worry about delivery mechanisms while users take care of the content. A user load sthe WordPress software (open source and free) onto the server where the web site is hosted, sometimes with the help of web interface tools, and interact with it via a web browser. Note that neither the software nor the site reside on your computer. In the administration panels of WordPress, you can manage the look and feel of the entire site with themes and plugins, as well as set up multiple users, make static web pages, create blog entries, or respond to comments.

To use an analogy, Dreamweaver builds the house, the structure of your web site, as well as all the furnishings and decorations. Conversely, WordPress itself is the house and users supply the furnishings and can select from many types of decorations.

The Underbelly (Don't Skip This)

Standards - Internet coding standards (for HTML, CSS, etc.) are changing constantly and if you're creating your own web site with Dreamweaver, you'll need to keep abreast of those changes to remain compliant, sometimes doing the coding yourself before a new version of Dreamweaver comes out. However, WordPress programmers take that work away from you as long as you maintain the latest version (usually done by clicking on a button). The same could be said of making sure that your site looks correct in all browsers on all platforms--the long time bane of web site developers. With WordPress, the vast majority of compatibility issues have already been addressed.

Latest and Greatest - Many of the latest features of popular web sites, such as an RSS feed, a blog, visitor comments or social media sharing buttons become available from the WordPress programming community (almost universally for free) much in advance of new releases for applications like Dreamweaver.

To Blog or Not - Although most people think that WordPress is for blogs only, this is simply not so. WordPress can create static pages that look like any other web site but it was developed with blogs and online community building in mind, so a blog is simply part of the package, if you decide to have one.

Where Exactly Is Your Content - Although Dreamweaver saves all of your site's content and support files in various directories on your computer and on your server, WordPress stores your content in a database on the server. Unless you are familiar with databases and web servers, you may have difficulty retrieving or moving your content, should you ever need to do that.

Dreamweaver Pros and Cons

Pros

- Complete control over every aspect of a web site

- Tools for creating and managing large web sites

- You have a copy of the site on your computer

Cons

- A medium learning curve, although tutorials and forums are available

- Some knowledge of coding is very helpful

- The WYSIWYG editor is not foolproof

- Your site might not have the latest coding standards or display correctly in all browsers, on all platforms

- It can cost up to $399 from Adobe

WordPress Pros and Cons

Pros

- A relatively small learning curve, with many tutorials and help forums

- Thousands of themes and plugins available for customization and added functionality

- Easy to edit, remove, add content by the admin and other users

- Can be used without any knowledge of coding or graphic design (although you can always do this since it's open source)

- Regular updates are performed by WordPress for compatibility, security, and functionality

- Users can combine static pages and blog pages

- It's free

Cons

- Limits what you can do with the website

- Your content is in a database that is likely only useful to WordPress

Summary

As with so much else on the web, you get out what you put in. Although the initial investment in Dreamweaver, in terms of time and money, can be steep, the result can be a web site that is exactly what you need and want. Your coding and graphic design skills will be the only limit to what you can do. However, if you're not a programmer or a designer--or even if you are but want to spend your time creating content and not commit to a cash outlay--WordPress can deliver a rich and up-to-date web site that will meet the needs of the great majority of web publishers. Not long ago, a content management system might not have seemed a viable option for serious web developers, but that is quickly changing. As you contemplate the web design path that you'll pursue, make sure that you understand the pros and cons in some depth, and that they are the right fit your skills, your web site, and its future growth.

 




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