Blog Archives

Idealware publishes updated Open Source CMS report

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of Idealware, the nonprofit that does research and publishes information on technology for other nonprofits.

So it comes as no surprise that I have been delighted to co-author the  2010 Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Plone report. It includes unbiased detailed reviews with a feature summary,  as well as a directory of consultants. Read more ›

In transition

Welcome to the first iteration of the new gardner-madras | strategic creative website. I know it looks a bit barren at the moment but there is more to come.

For now it just has the most basic basics while I am busy updating things in the background. You can still see past blog posts, find out a little about the company, or get in touch in the meantime.

Some recent work that I’ll be adding to the new site include: Read more ›

From the Idealware Blog

More Fun with Open Source Content Management

(originally posted at

I’m really thrilled that the Idealware report comparing 4 top-notch open source content management systems is now available. I think it will prove invaluable to nonprofits of all shapes and sizes for a long time to come and know I will be recommended reading for many friends and potential and future clients.

Even if you have already seen the CMS Showdown and the competition sites implemented on WordPress, Drupal and Joomla now that the report is out they are worth another look.

If you didn’t make it to SXSW conference or haven’t heard about this brilliant project – here is an excerpt from the site:

Originally presented at South By Southwest Interactive in March, 2009, the Ultimate Showdown of Content Management System Destiny is an “Iron Chef”-style competition pitting three teams of all-star Web developers from the Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress communities against each other to develop the same Web site in each of their chosen open source content management platforms.

In addition to a fascinating look behind the scenes at each teams decision-making process, there are lots of productive insights to be gained by looking at the finished products of their labors. Many of the key points in the Idealware report are evident on the demo sites and by reading the team notes.

Despite (or maybe because of) the 100 hour total development time limit, each site demonstrates its system’s strengths and weakness fairly accurately or I should say in keeping with my own experiences of them. Not all of them managed to accomplish all the requirements, which points out what takes more time or work to implement for that particular system.

One thing that can be confusing is that the specifications for the site required that most of the content be available only to authenticated users. The sites for Drupal and Joomla, who were able to achieve this, seem a bit bare, especially Drupal where they didn’t create any publicly viewable items in some areas. So you can’t access the galleries, blogs or member listings and its a pity that there doesn’t seem to be a demo user/password available anywhere to see the full sites. If anyone knows of one, I would love to take a look.

Also, sadly there was no invitation for a Plone team this time around, but if you want to see it included next time I’d suggest you contact the organizers.

Check out the CMS Showdown as a handy companion piece to the Idealware CMS report for a real world apples to apples demonstration (sort of) of how each system looks at some familiar features. And read the team notes on for some helpful hints and tricks the they used on the sites.

Eating my own dogfood

If you have visited my site before you are probably noticing some drastic changes and long overdue upgrades.

After years of being too busy to update my built-by-hand HTML site I have finally taken the advice I give to all my clients and moved the site into a database driven solution. Although it was a tough choice between Plone, Drupal, Joomla and WordPress I finally decided on WordPress.

One reason is that my site is small and basic and I wanted to demonstrate how nicely WordPress can serve as a content management system for simple sites like this. I have added a couple bells and whistles for usability and fun.

In the middle of this redesign, or more toward what I thought was the end really, WordPress released a new version that had me going back to the drawing board for a while since the plugins I had planned to use were not up to date and compatible with the new version. Needless to say I was not such a happy camper at first, but in the end I think the site is better for the changes.

For the curious and technically inclined, here’s a list of what I have used on top of WordPress 2.7:

Its still not perfect and I hope to find the time between clients to keep improving the site but hopefully having a CMS and all the nifty plugins will result in making it easier to keep this site up to date and useful for my visitors. I have plans for expansion in the near future and am also starting up a Email newsletter that I hope folks will find useful and fun. Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave your thoughts about the redesign in the comments.

From the Idealware Blog

Making a case for updating to WordPress 2.7

(originally posted at

One of the lesser joys of using open source & free software has been the need to do important security and core feature upgrades manually and sometimes frequently. Although I have been a long time fan of WordPress as a super simple CMS for small sites that need dead easy administration for non-tech types, I have not loved the continual updates it requires. I will admit that this has been known to make me crabby in the past and perhaps not as diligent about keeping all my sites up to date as I should be.

Well, WordPress just released another major upgrade – 2.7 (Coltrain), but this one is clearly worth doing and doing right now. Especially since, from here on out, they are automating the upgrade process and making it available from within the administrative interface. Woo Hoo!

If you are using Word Press and need to upgrade here are a few good reasons to bite the bullet and do it now. These are primarily from the perspective of using WordPress as a lightweight CMS and not as oriented to hardcore blogging, where there are also significant improvements, especially with comment management.

The value adds:

Last manual update ever (almost). As mentioned – they have pretty much automated the upgrade process for future releases. If you have gotten fancy and tweaked core files you will need to save your changes and incorporate them of course but for most users this will make it possible for non technical folks to keep their systems up to date without as much help.

One of my favorite improvements is the integrated plug in browser and installer. This little feature not only lets you see if a plug in exists for what you are trying to do but lets you know if its compatible and automates updates, meaning no more need to download, unzip and FTP. Its very nice, but maybe a bit dangerous since they have made it way too easy to load up your site with a ton of bells and whistles.

Themes also now provide alerts when updates are available but as of yet, no automated one click install.

Most secure version yet. Current WordPress users might remember the onslaught of hacking that occurred last spring and hopefully already had upgraded to at least 2.5 and avoided the pain those of us that had to dig out of a hack experienced. Although more security was introduced with 2.5 and subsequent releases, every new version protects you from more known vulnerabilities, so having the latest is always a good idea.

New and actually improved interface. Through a community wide effort WordPress enlisted some top talent to make the administrative experience so much smoother and shinier and more usable to boot.

The vertical navigation might take a few minutes to get used to but it does make a lot more sense. Another neato but also practical feature is the ability to choose what tools and content display on each administrative screen – if you don’t care about the latest theme news you can hide that feed and you won’t have to scroll past it anymore.

Faster, easier, writing and editing. Quick edit and bulk editing for pages and posts is really useful for larger sites and much faster than loading individual post editing screen for simple changes to the non-content areas. I’m still waiting for a faster method of ordering pages but this is a big step in the right direction.

And the behind the scenes speed enhancements they have included are a major bonus for those of us on shared bandwidth. The fancy 2.5 “new and improved” editor was a bit buggy and heavy to load but 2.7 seems to have smoothed things out.

The more robust media manager is another nice addition for anyone that wants to offer PDF and zip files for download on their site without the hassle of FTP’ing files to the server.

The downsides.

Lack of plug in or theme compatibility. While I could see clearly that this particular upgrade was a huge step forward and well worth it, I almost decided to wait on one site because it would mean losing a particular plug in what was not compatible. And looking up the author it was clear he wouldn’t have time to update it in the near future. In the end I made the leap and will just have to wait for some of my favorite add-ons to catch up. If you use a specific plug in that is very important to your overall site functionality or your theme is heavily customized and you have hacked core files, this can be a tough call.

The good news is that the WordPress community is pretty intent on promoting core improvements to help theme and plug in developers make their work compatible and create new options more easily.

You have already put off upgrades for too long. If you are on an older version of WordPress getting to 2.7 may be a bumpy ride. For anyone using WordPress versions below 2.5 there can be some headaches in making the leap – often around the changes to the way the database works in the newer versions. Making the switch through a series of progressive updates can start to look like shoving a square peg in a round hole. It might be possible to export your existing content and import it into a fresh install of 2.7 but you might lose some information along the way.

Upgrades from later versions (2.5 + 2.6) have been fairly painless but as always, backup before you start making changes, turn off all your plug ins and follow the instructions. I look forward to a pain free upgrade future, let’s hope it happens.

Archives by date