Symphony vs. Drupal 1:0

So that's it! On this very day I am going to finally replace the Drupal installation on my domain to a Symphony CMS based site I was developing since about a month. What led me to this decision? In this article I will try to summarize some experiences I had with these two systems trying to do some comparisons.

The summarizing and comparing by no means will be objective, it is probably rather subjective. You see, I was not quite satisfied with Drupal, so I decided to switch over to something else. Contrary what usually happens such times: that one who switch over from something unsuitable will rather go into something else at best abysmal which he tries to justify in his struggle, I experienced something different. Drupal was not bad, but not good for me. Symphony on the other hand seems to actually do just what I need! So I will go down to the business among these lines.

Drupal CMS

I had some experience with this content management system between 2010 and 2011 when I tried to run some personal site over it. At first I started with Drupal 6, then as Drupal 7 came out, I switched over to that. I did not much get in the arcane depths of the system, just what was necessary to properly create themes for it. So basically I could be considered an user of it.

What I liked in the system:

  • Completeness. It has just about everything one needs.
  • Vast user base. This implies good development rate and probably more security.
  • Easy to start, no programming required.

What I disliked:

  • No proper separation of the presentation layer making any reasonable theming a pain.
  • Relative rigidness of the system.
  • Conflicting external modules (Well, not entirely the system's fault, but see further).

I also have to mention that I liked the transition between Drupal 6 and Drupal 7. In this transition many parts of the system seemed like it got streamlined, gaining some more logical and coherent construction.

From my dislikes the most important is probably the topmost: When you theme a Drupal site, it is just a pain that you can be sure that any external module you come across would stuff it's own JavaScript and style sheets in your site. This is usually not too disturbing for simple black-over-white designs, it may look bad, but useable. However as soon as someone either starts building more advanced JavaScript based theme components, or just want a bright-on-dark design (Like how most of my designs look like), modules will start to wreak havoc. Especially some of the fundamental external modules like CTools (Which, being a base for Panels, Views and stuff, you will definitely need).

My other dislike is what I called rigidness. This will come apparent probably only when one would compare Drupal to Symphony: In Drupal you have the node based structure which you just can not form too much to fit your tastes.

The conflicts I mentioned between externals is rather hypothetical. I didn't much experience broken database and such during my experiences with Drupal, but with a site with more of these modules in place you could really be on the edge of the seat when it starts pulling down updates. Will it work or will you have a sweet dip in the moors of backups for days, that's the question (I had a friend who ran a Drupal 6 site which I helped some with: Probably a little he overshot on the amount of modules installed. No wonder there were problems with his site).

So that's for Drupal, and what I had with it. Now onwards to Symphony!

Symphony CMS

Well, I was peeking in this CMS for several months before, but never had the guts to actually get it up and running some of my stuff. Nice promises, but oh my god, learn XSLT, chain data sources here and there, and figure out the whole thing reading an eyesore dark on #FFFFFF white text all the way? No way! Or is there a way? Yes there was. First I took a small dive in the admin theme to get rid of that #FFFFFF(uuuuu... Associate whatever you want), then things started rolling like muck-trucks downhills on a six lane highway. So let's summarize it:

What I like about Symphony:

  • Set up and link your data however you want.
  • A nice separation of data management, logic and presentation.
  • After learned, it is really easy to tame the system to do just what you need.

What I dislike about it:

  • The system still looks somewhat like being in an experimental stage.
  • Support for members still looks experimental in external modules.
  • You need to wade through loads of black-on-white pages to learn it.

So basically the main thing I like in it is that it is sort of programmable. I have no problem with the choices of languages here, XSLT is fine for putting together the presentation even though it might be new for ones coming across this system the first time. It also responds well to customizing: I never felt the system would "go on strike" not wanting to do what I imagined. The system is plain and simple all the way, and wherever one goes in customizing it, it seems to work as expected.

The bad part is the experimental look, and the partial lack of members. This latter is not terribly bad for small sites out in the wild. If one needs, the members extension seems to integrate nicely in the core system in a logical way. The experimentalism may feel like it would be a problem in security: for me the system based on it's usage as I see should be past that point where it would be more insecure than other content management systems.

Whites are probably just my problem, nevertheless it might be important. I might not be the only being in the world cursed with an excessive eye sensitivity what makes my eyes bleeding out their sockets staring at white on a monitor. It is true though that Drupal is also white by default, so I could mention this there too. The difference was that with Drupal the admin interface could be switched to a different theme right at start, and in Drupal, one just doesn't do all the site building on the admin interface anyways. With Symphony for most part you have to work in there, so you just have to look at it's design a lot no matter if you like it or not.


So that's it, roughly what I thought about the two systems in comparison. It is apparent that the two serve two entirely different audiences, so it is not like one is better than another. For me Symphony worked since I am a programmer and like to fiddle with the bits and stuff. Others may want a system right on the table, done and functional, not having or wanting to waste time on picking up the necessary knowledge to put it together themselves. Drupal works for those: It gives a system ready to use just needing the content to fill it with.

So that's all with it!


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