Plone vs. MOSS – round 1

22 Dec

CMS software selection with Plone and Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS) as finalists seems to have become a pretty common case. This is true especialy for “intranet/extranet” projects in which the primary focus is on web publising and collaboration features.

I’ve been asked several times to work on comparing the two and I’d like to share some of this experience. Also note that this can’t be a “vendor neutral” comparison because of my involvement in Plone; but I’ll do my best to highlight differences and strenghts of the two solutions.

This round will focus on very generic features: so… first of all:

What do they have in common?

They share a wide set of core features & focus that makes them pretty strong in: web publishing, document management, collaboration.

Plone, historically, has his main focus on collaboration and web publishing, but evolved providing good document management capabilities. MOSS is instead well-known as an internal collaboration and document management solution but, as Janus Boye is pointing out with his Sharepoint for public sites report, it’s gaining appreciation in web publishing.

This particular combination makes them both very good solutions for all those projects that are not pure public site or  “the classic” intranet: I’m referring here the the wide range of projects from intranets that need to be strong information delivery sites to public sites that evolve to provide contents, collaboration and services to specific audiences (customers, suppliers, distributors, etc.).

They also share a common problem: is’t usually not easy to find expert developers to hire.

What are the main differences?

It would be hard to avoid the classical Open Source versus Commercial (closed source) discussion here.

Plone is open: extremely, truly, faithfully open:

  • The licence is the same Linux has: the GNU/GPL. No licence costs, complete access to the code of the whole stack. Complete control of the technology. Huge flexibility (provided there are enough skills around).
  • The community is wide, distributed, friendly, transparent. A really open ecosystem of passionate users, developers, consultants, supporting companies and local governments (see for updated numbers). No single company behind the software.
  • A multitute of addons, rich documentation, hundreds of experts online.
  • Potentially open to any other system Plone integrates well with a good number of systems, but still you will need a good expert to implement the solution.

MOSS is commercial: extremely, truly, faithfully commercial:

  • License based on server and client access (CAL): Sharepoint per user is much cheaper that Microsoft Office but when it comes to public internet site, adding enterprise search and more features the sum of CALs and other licences alone is superior to the cost of a full-featured, fully customized Plone projet, even for medium sized organisations.
  • Single commercial company behind the software: Microsoft. Microsoft is far from behing a bad vendor or an unsafe choice, especially if you already have several of their products.
  • A good number of partners, specialized in different domains, can help build a MOSS project.
  • Not very open to any other system (with exeptions), on the other hand  MOSS shares with many other MS products the great advantage of working-with-your-other-MS-products.

Another dimention of comparison is related to the main modules available:

Plone has lots of small and medium add-on products to suit a lot of different needs, but lack is the classic-style intranet features like project task management, contacts, calendars, or e-mail integration. I’m personally not a big fan of these generic features, but this is another story. MOSS have all of these components, and provided you purchase another half-dozen of Microsoft Products everything can work fine.

If you wish see also the the CMS Matrix, but please handle with care and look last update time.

When it comes to forms management, an important component in many projects, Plone has the nice PloneFormGen where MOSS has Microsoft Office Forms Server 2007. The two have a really different approach, ARE different things in fact, but be sure PloneFormGen  could prove an excellent tool for business forms and integration, especially if combined with workflow or even content rules.

Critical point of failure?

Plone has no serious multisite management support. MOSS has a desperate need of constant attention and control over time.

Common choice criteria

Despite the huge differences in terms of user experience, features, programming language and more the main criteria for the final choise are very often:

1) Open Source vs Microsoft World

The big advantage is that it’s Microsoft.  If an organisation has committed to the Microsoft stack and has developed .NET skills, then MOSS just becomes an unthinking decision.

The big problem is of course the very well known lock in effect that Microsoft world have.

2) Cost

For large projects MOSS can be really expensive at the end.

3) Flexibility

Depending on the kind of project, flexibility and the ability to control the evolution of the project can be THE criterion. On one side the flexibility of an open source community (and Zope community) and it’s ability to evolve over time, the other is the power of loads of products combined together. They are not really easy to compare.

That’s all for round 1 and the big picture. For the second round I’d like compare them on some common scenarios: if you have an interesting scenario you’d like to see please email me or leave a comment.


9 Responses to “Plone vs. MOSS – round 1”

  1. Matt Hamilton December 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm #

    A great article, and nicely unbiased. One aspect that can be quite important is branding/look-and-feel: some clients have *very* strong brand guidelines which also apply to intranets, and even more so to extranet’s, public sites, and partner portals. This is an area that Plone is much stronger than Sharepoint in.

    Also, on the Open Source topic, I did a talk recently on Open Source and Content Management:


    • francescociriaci December 23, 2008 at 8:46 am #

      Thanks. Branding/look-and-feel could be one of the main scenarios for the next round, indeed.

  2. Alexander Limi December 22, 2008 at 7:18 pm #

    You write: “MOSS is commercial: extremely, truly, faithfully commercial”.

    I’d use the word “proprietary” instead, as they are both commercial systems. The difference, however, is that one system is under control by a single vendor.

    Nice overview!

  3. Dave Lane December 23, 2008 at 8:31 am #

    Overall, a very balanced review of the two technologies. That said, one point with which I take issue is the assertion that “Microsoft is far from behing [sic] a bad vendor or an unsafe choice”. This is a very subjective point.

    I would consider any decision to use Microsoft technologies to involve major liabilities that are not present in open source products, e.g. Microsoft’s discontinuation of unprofitable or non-strategic product lines, poor support for “small” players (i.e. anyone outside the US and EU), forced upgrades, features over security, premature release (i.e. marketing rather than developer driven technology), perpetual charges for extra capabilities, and the total lock-in to a Microsoft technology stack in perpetuity due to a single business decision.

    Although it’s considered a bit rude to point this out, Microsoft are either suspected or fully convicted anti-competitive monopolists in more or less every market worldwide. They are not reknowned for their ethics. Their massive cash reserves come not from “good business” but rather from being able to extract monopoly rents from all of those organisations who have made the decision to invest heavily in their technologies, and now find it’s marginally cheaper to stay hooked rather than to try to break free of the myriad forms of lock-in – in which Microsoft really excels, so to speak.


  4. Matt Hamilton December 24, 2008 at 10:29 am #

    Regarding Dave’s comment above:

    “…poor support for “small” players (i.e. anyone outside the US and EU)…”

    One great tip from a presentation I went to on running a successful CMS procurement was to find a company that ‘fits’ your organisation. And one aspect of that is the size of the company.

    If you are a small business and you go to some large vendor they are unlikely to give you all the attention you need, you are just small fry to them. On the flip side if you are a massive corporation, you are not going to want to go with a one-man-band for support.

    *This* is one of the key elements of Open Source, that there are hundreds of companies out there, from one-man-bands to large consultancies who can help you. So even within a single product you have a choice of vendors.

    With Plone there are hundreds of companies listed on and probably the same number again not listed there. You can pick one that fits your business in terms of size, ethics, location etc.

    At Netsight, we’ve referred potential clients on to other Plone companies we know if they are a better fit for them (and indeed one of our largest clients was referred to us by Francesco as we were closer to the client).

    Again, it all comes down to choice. Open source gives you the flexibility to choose your development partner. And to change it. Should you find that for some reason the company you originally picked isn’t working out for you (maybe you outgrew them, or they are too busy, or just a clash of personalities) then you can switch to another company without having to change your technology stack.


  5. Dave Lane December 25, 2008 at 9:51 am #

    Matt, I agree heartily with your points. I’ve run an open source company since 1998, and we have a lot of customers who have made the decision to take control of their own fates by migrating to (primarily) open source IT infrastructure. We aim to forge ongoing partnerships with our customers – and yes, relative size *does* matter. One of the things our customers say they like most about our business model is that, in supplying open source, open standards-based tools, we have no lock in. Instead, we have this novel approach: we trade on the possibility that they’ll really like working with us because we’re competent, provide good service, and they trust us to do the right thing. Which, I suppose, isn’t really lock-in at all. It’s just the way most of the rest of the world does (or should do) business, at least outside of the IT monopolies.

  6. Ken Wasetis August 18, 2009 at 12:01 am #


    I hope you’ve been well. Sorry to just now be stumbling upon your blog post on this subject. There was a pretty nice in-depth account by one of the folks at that provided some insights into what situations they were more likely to leverage Sharepoint vs. Plone, Drupal, or other open source tools.

    Idealware generally helps non-profits evaluate different types of software in order to get the most of their technology investments. They put together a nice, free evaluation report of free open source software (FOSS) CMS solutions too. I list both links below.

    Here is the ‘Why Sharepoint Scares Me’ blog post:

    The open source CMS evaluation report:

    They allowed my firm, Contextual, to redistribute their report at the CMSExpo that we sponsored/had a booth at this past Spring, so if you find it useful and contact them, you might want to do the same. The report was funded by all sorts (200+) vendors, received input by experts on each of the CMS tools reviewed, and is quite objective and pretty accurate in my opinion.

    Their Reports and Articles section is a treasure trove, so I spread the word when I can.


  7. Ken Wasetis August 18, 2009 at 12:07 am #

    As an addendum…

    My own two cents on the Plone vs. Sharepoint topic:
    Sharepoint is still geared more toward being a document management system that lends itself toward intranet sites rather than nice-looking public-facing sites, and it lacks the sophisticated workflow and flexibility in structured content types definition and management, as well as taxonomy management that Plone provides.

    Sharepoint also provides much deeper integration with Windows/Microsoft-based apps, which only makes sense. People sometimes forget, though, that with Plone you can deploy External Editor and save Office files right from Word, Excel, PPT, etc. right back into the Plone CMS when you click the Save icon in Word, Excel, etc. PloneDesktop is another tool that provides a level of Windows desktop integration (file check-in/check-out, etc.) via WebDAV.

    There is a helpful Sharepoint calculator that I ran across some time ago that can help you in assisting your clients in comparing the cost of implementing MOSS vs. Plone as well:

    If a client is evaluating Plone vs. MOSS as DMS/Intranet options, then it can be a tougher call and MOSS is more compelling. For external-facing sites, it’s tough to beat Plone.

    Also, in my opinion, while Plone can do what MOSS does, outside of some of the deeper integration features, Plone blows it away still for dynamic public sites – especially those with Web 2.0 / community requirements. The tool that is more similar to MOSS in the open source world is Alfresco (more geared toward document management.)

    You might want to take a look at the comparison done on those two tools by CMSWire, as it might add to the conversation regarding Plone vs. MOSS as well:


  8. francescociriaci August 20, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    Thanks Ken. I’ve integrated your resources in my new post today: round II.

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