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