First of all, I apologise if I'm not posting in the correct place - I'll gladly ask elsewhere if deemed necessary.

I've got a reasonable amount of experience with HTML and CSS and so far have only ever built websites that I know I'll be maintaining. So although updates might not have been carried out in the most efficient way, I've known the HTML and CSS inside out - never needing further assistance.

More recently, I've decided that I'd like to start building websites for other people, that they can then alter at their own free will - the first of which is for a small restaurant business. I also have a working partner who has a limited knowledge of PHP and JavaScript, but seems to take more easily to actual programming than I do.

From looking around the web for our first foray into the world of CMSs, it seems like a rather daunting place. The options are plentiful, as are opinions regarding each possibility. So, although it seems like there's no 'good' or 'bad' CMS, it would seem that suitability largely depends on the person using it and the task in hand.

With that said, I'd like to ask for some opinions on which CMS is deemed most appropriate for our current needs...

  • The websites we make are coded in Dreamweaver (HTML & CSS) - an application we're both very comfortable working in and would like to continue to use. So we have no real need for design templates in a CMS package.
  • Our first client (and presumably most/any others that will follow) is a complete technophobe, and so needs to be presented with as few options as possible when they come to alter any content.
  • Because we don't/won't use any templates, all content that is to be changed will need to be able to be 'found' by the CMS in question (a process I would rather take place within the CMS as opposed to altering div IDs or Classes).
  • Lastly, our first client would like to utilise e-commerce within their site, so any plug-ins or add-ons that make the development and maintainance of this would be a definite plus.

Oh, and I should also mention that we don't have a great deal of capital, so a free one would also be great - but worthy exceptions will definitely be considered.

Thanks for reading this far...

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If you don't go for a CMS, and you want the client to do his own content updating, you'll end up having to create your own mini-cms. This will entail an admin area and a WYSIWYG editor for updating said content. That said, updates can also be done via FTP file update, circumventing online editing. As far as projects go, it isn't too bad, but if you don't have the experience of dealing with security, SEO, etc, it may take a LOT longer than you envisage. Integrating an open-source e-commerce system may pose technical problems as well if you're using a custom system. However, there are good robust systems out there that may suit you.

CMSes like Joomla have e-commerce extensions. You should investigate these CMSes before flatly deciding against them. Spend as much time as possible looking at the use cases and essential functionality required. Decide whether you and your partner are up to the task of completing the work in the time available, with a custom setup. Be aware that all CMSes also require considerable time to get to grips with the way they operate - some have steeper learning curves that others.

Thanks for your reply, ardav - in an ideal world we would definitely write our own custom mini-CMS, but we currently lack the programming experience to undertake such a task.

But I think maybe I didn't make my question clear enough in my original post - I'm actually after some recommendations for a pre-existing CMS that would fit the criteria as outlined above. The focus really is on an environment that can be dramatically streamlined for the client, whilst offereing us huge flexibility and control.

From my experience with using FTP, even this would prove too confusing for the current client - they need a highly simplified interface.

Something like Joomla certainly looks like it could be a contender, but before I invest too much time into learning it, I'd like to know if someone has experience of using it, and can tell me whether it fits my requirements. And if not, whether there's any more suitable alternative.

I appreciate your response though - thanks.

I don't understand your wish to keep using Dreamweaver and avoid using the CMS templates. All of the CMS's that I am familiar with have templates that provide the front-end look and the interface to the rest of the system. The free ones generally use some combination of php, html and css. You may want / need to make modifications or build you own templates from scratch and that might be the only place where Dreamweaver might fit.

I have built web sites for people who aren't very high tech. They have been able to maintain them on their own with minimal help from me. I looked at all the best known CMS's and decided to stick with Website Baker because I find that it is simpler and more straight-forward then the others (to implement and to maintain). I suggest that you look at it and compare it with Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress and the rest. Each system has it's fans who will claim that their CMS is the best. There is no definitive answer. Most CMS's have some sort of e-commerce plug-in. That might become a key distinguishing factor as you will need to match up your e-commerce need with what the various systems provide.

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I second chrishea's answer. If you're going to use a CMS, use a CMS. Tinkering with a template in Dreamweaver is probably more complicated than it sounds. Before you start dissecting a template, or even devise one from scratch, you need to know the system inside out - a number of CMSses I've used, don't simply have a plain html page, but a php object-orientated system for providing output - which, unfortunately aren't always implemented as a model-control-view system. Modifying template elements through the interface should be easy - colour schemes, background images - that sort of thing - a noob could do that.

The Ardav and Cherishea answers still concerns. But I would add that, if your friend have some knowledge on PHP and have guts to face the issue he can use some frameworks. I was looking at CodeIgniter video last night. It is really simplified even for non mega-PHP-know-how. If that is hard the only best plan B is given by Ardav already :)

Forgive me - I had assumed that CMS templates were for controlling how the final website looks, not how the CMS itself looks.

So, with this in mind, the type of websites that we will be making aren't your average header at the top, navigation list and 2/3/4 column layout that most sites seem to adhere to. I'm sure that it's easy enough to get Joomla to write content to an 'alternative' layout, but will the options that Joomla presents to my client make sense to them when attempting to add content to a specific area?

I don't understand your statement because the only look that the CMS has, independent of the website look provided by the template is what you see in the back-end admin facilites. Some CMS's even have separate templates for that. You seem to have focussed on Joomla and that's ok if you know that Joomla is what you need / prefer. I don't have the impression that you've done enough research to reach that point.

You're right that the standard templates tend to be variations on some standard format formulas. You can build your own template to be almost anything that you want it to be if you have the knowledge of the CMS interface requirement, PHP, CSS and so forth. If you look at some of the galleries of sites developed using various CMS's you'll find some very customized formats. The user interface won't change regardless of the template layout (at least for text and picture content). If you want to get into introducing a lot of javascript / ajax features, then it will depend on the support provided by the CMS and how integrated it is with the other CMS capabilities.

I believe that you can do almost anything within reason using a CMS if you are able and prepared to do some customization. You get a lot for free using a CMS but if you are a skeptic or if you really like to do things from scratch then it may not work for you.

All of the CMS's that I am familiar with have templates that provide the front-end look and the interface to the rest of the system.

I misunderstood this statement, I took 'system' to be referring to the CMS - I see what you're saying now. If it were me, I wouldn't be using a CMS at all, but I was under the impression that it would be a useful tool to get to know so that any clients could update and change the content of their sites at will, without having to look at any code.

I suppose in the long-term it doesn't really matter to me which tool I use to build a website - I have enough knowledge of HTML and CSS to do it in notepad if need be (although far from ideal). What I want is to be able to code freely, and implement JS and PHP as I go and learn more about new languages; whlst at the same time feel comfortable handing over a site to someone with zero coding knowledge.

And you're right that I'm focused on Joomla at the moment - the research I've done hasn't exactly been in depth, but the strength of the Joomla community seems a definite plus. I suppose asking in here was one way of kickstarting my research in a less erratic way - trying every and any CMS that may possibly fit the bill.

I'm building my own CMS (alone, from a scratch, with exception of borrowing account management from phpBB-forum, and MySQL-class), and I can say that making "mini-CMS" is relatively easy. While on the other hand, the more editability for appearance it has, and the more easy of use it has, the more work it demands. My aim is to make fully customizable appearance with ability to write content without a need to know anything about (X)HTML or CSS (I bet BBcode rings bell), and I can say that I'm not even half-way, and I've worked with the frame for over a year.

One way to really learn the stuff is building something (least) "semi-big", like mini-CMS, and taking advantage of things like AJAX. :)

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