François Planque, the creator of b2evolution, wrote a post on May 4th, 2019 titled Why we make b2evolution (vs. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal) which covers why b2evolution was designed the way it was, making it better-built and designed overall — all of which I completely agree with.
Like François, I’ve tried plenty of CMSs over the years and been disappointed by all of them. The ones that promised super-simplicity were exactly that — too simple and unable to cope with more sophisticated and complex sites. (And a key reason for why we also chose Silverstripe, the subject of next week’s post, as our other go-to CMS.) Others were more sophisticated, yet lacking in other ways. Still others were just outright nightmares to work with.
In his article, François summed b2evolution up best with this sentence: “No other CMS (content management system) is as integrated as b2evolution. No other CMS is as easy to maintain.”
I wholeheartedly agree, and this post is my take on that statement, and with my reasons for choosing b2evolution over the plethora of alternatives out there. Mind you, I’m not so blinded that I can’t recognise b2evolution’s deficiencies — of which, for me, there are two which I’ll also cover.
Plugins (or rather, a lack thereof)
The more famous CMSs that can cope with complex sites — WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the best-known — look very slick and professional on the outside but are absolute horrors to maintain on the inside. They rely on too many third-party plugins for maximum functionality, whereas b2evolution has everything — and I mean everything — built right into the core software.
Take WordPress for example, probably the most popular CMS out there. It began as a dedicated blogging platform, but over the years more and more things were bolted on to make it more like a CMS. Unfortunately, adding ‘things’ to software for which it was never intended has consequences. Worse is when adding those ‘things’ relies on external, independent developers to provide them by way of third-party plugins. For WordPress especially, many of its ‘best’ features are only available as installed third-party plugins. Even making a WordPress site search-engine friendly requires a third-party plugin!
There are a few problems that come with relying on third-party plugins for key functionality. One is that the quality of the plugin is completely down to the proficiency of the developer, and some developers write incredibly poor code. Some deliberately write (free) plugins with the sole intent of compromising your site and infecting it with who-knows-what!
Another common problem is that some plugins may clash with others. Fixing a site that has broken because of a plugin clash is an absolute nightmare — do you hope one or another developer issues a patch quickly, or do you uninstall one of the plugins? In which case which one stays and which one goes?
And absolutely the worst problem is when an upgrade to the core software breaks some or all of the plugins you rely on, and round and round you go again with patches, clashes, and fixing breakages.
What would be an external plugin for other CMSs comes already built into b2evolution’s core, though documentation is available for those wishing to develop their own bespoke ones. The few external b2evolution plugins that are available to install are intended for users of older versions of the software that need the feature but don’t wish to upgrade for whatever reason. New b2evolution plugins are routinely bundled into the core software by the development team and are easily activated within the software with a single click. And because they are part of the core code, and added by people who actually work on the core code, they never break any other part of the site.
Maintenance of a b2evolution site couldn’t be easier, with no plugin clashes to worry about, and with plugin updates automatically carried across with core software updates. One upgrade installation upgrades everything, in one go and without fuss or breakage.
Multiple Websites on the One Installation
Admittedly this isn’t needed by most people, but is an incredible feature nonetheless, and unique in the world of CMSs. One installation of b2evolution can literally handle any number of completely different websites and domains. Which means a single upgrade propagates immediately to each and every one of those sites and domains. And all accessible by one login! Absolutely ideal for anyone with a blog on one domain and a completely unrelated site on another domain — combine the two (or three, four,…) within one installation and one hosting account!
Completely Integrated: Built-In and Ready to Go
b2evolution comes with a site-builder, a blogging engine, a photo gallery, online manual/book documenting software, and forum software built-in and ready to go. Better still, because of the ability to run multiple websites with one installation, any number of each and every one of these can be set up in the one installation as described above. Case studies here show the different ways a b2evolution installation can be moulded for specific requirements.
Internal Messaging Software and User Levels
Anyone who creates an account on a b2evolution installation can message anyone else with an account and who allows themselves to be messaged. This is particularly useful on a site with forum activity, for example, where some conversations between participants evolve into private ones, or an administrator needs to be contacted privately. It’s also a handy way for collaborators on a book project or several editors of a large blog to keep in touch with each other.
Users can be further assigned permission levels that allow degrees of accessibility. A user could have administrator, moderator, or editor permissions for example. Other users could have special access to private sections of a site — a good example of this is where a blog is mostly public, but paid subscribers are entitled to access private content.
Again, I stress that all of this functionality is built-in and ready to go with every installation. This is not the case for many other CMSs out there, such as WordPress, which require any number of plugins for the same functionality.
This is definitely the most common criticism of b2evolution in the community. A ’skin’ or ‘theme’ is a collection of files that change the appearance of a site without touching the content. Compare one of our b2evolution sites, The Jujube Tree Nursery, with this very Broad Ribbon Designs one, for example. They have different home page and internal page ‘looks’, and this is because each uses a different theme. However, you may notice similarities as well, especially concerning the look of the blog on each. (The look of the blog can be changed too, but I stuck with the default version for both as it’s the best for my purposes).
These similarities are due to a lack of off-the-shelf themes together with a lack of flexibility in modifying them without some serious coding. Developers can still create their own bespoke looks, as they can create their own plugins, of course. WordPress and others definitely have the advantage here with themes, and whole markets exist that cater just for this alone.
A lack of built-in ecommerce ability is a lesser criticism in the wider community, but very much a major one for me. b2evolution shipping with a built-in shop would be my every dream come true! While I get around this problem by simply installing separate, dedicated ecommerce software, this isn’t ideal as it requires separate logins, databases, and behind-the-scenes tinkering to make the two installations appear as one. Without question WordPress is superior with its WooCommerce plugin (albeit a third-party plugin at that!) which not only does do a good job, but more importantly is accessible via the same login as the main WordPress one.
I’ve included b2evolution’s steep learning curve here as some people would definitely name that as a criticism. But I regard this as an unavoidable consequence of the software’s incredible power. b2evolution, as shown above, can handle a wide variety of situations and complexity with ease. Some incredibly sophisticated stuff has even been added with experienced and seasoned web developers in mind (and can be otherwise safely ignored without consequence!).
But this sophistication does come at a cost: firstly knowing how to access this functionality, and then knowing what to do with it once you do find it. This can be intimidating or even overwhelming to a newcomer, especially one without much web development experience, which is why there is an option to include sample data with a first-time installation. Exploring the sample data and set-up is a great hands-on way to get up to speed on the software while learning as you go. Alternatively we can set up an installation and populate it with enough real content to hand over to you, with full support always available.
On that note, if b2evolution appeals to you as a solution for your own web site(s), or you’d like to explore further the possibility of using it, by all means don’t hesitate to get in touch!