As a new web designer it’s often difficult to choose which platform you’re going to develop with. Do you use one platform for everything? Or do you use a different platform for each project? Truth be told, there is no correct answer. In this article I will outline the tips and thought process’ Tob Studios used to determine its platforms of choice. To begin with, Tob Studios typically uses two platforms, Drupal and WordPress. For highly customized projects we tend to stick with Drupal, while simple project are done in WordPress. As you may have guessed the Tob Studios website is built using WordPress due to is simplistic nature. So how did we arrive at these platforms? Below I will list the topics we took into consideration for our choices.
Ease of Use
One of the most important factors to use when choosing platforms was how easy they are to use. Although more advanced platforms like Joomla and Drupal are fine for our use. How will our customers react to them? You’re most likely reading this for a project for a client and not for personal use. A lot of the time the client isn’t completely technical, and they shouldn’t have to be. The idea of choosing a platform is to make it easier for all parties to maintain the website. Ease of use is an extremely important factor. If you’re unsure if the platform is easy and intuitive simply ask a non-technical friend or family member to try and use the platform. See how they react, if even with your helping tips they aren’t quite grasping the system, move onto a new one. You may not agree with that statement but consider this. If your client is struggling to update their website they are going to get frustrated as well as be contacting you more often for support. I have yet to meet a single developer who enjoys doing phone support with a frustrated client.
Typically all platforms have some form of template/theme system. The idea behind such systems is to allow you, the programmer, to make the website more quickly and efficiently. By using a template system you can break up your web pages into smaller files, allowing common portions to be reused throughout the website. Typically your webpage will have a similar header and footer for all pages, so you can create header and footer files which the template system will render onto all of your content pages. That is the general basis behind a template/theme system, but how well did the platform implement it? Some platforms complicate this theory while others are more easy to use. When choosing your platform, if you plan on creating custom themes, look at how the template system is setup. Is it easy for you to use and understand? Will it save you time? If the answer is no, then you should move on to another one. Some template systems such as Smarty, use their own custom coding language, which adds a small learning curve but can greatly speed up your project. A great way to find quick answers on the system is to do search the platforms forums to see what others are saying.
The amount of support you have with a specific platform can be a life saver when you’re in a jam. If you’re choosing a platform with a smaller user base it will be harder for you to find answers to the problems you will inevitably run into. It’s extremely frustrating hitting a roadblock midway through a project and not being able to find an answer. You’re then left with two options; do you scrap it and start over? Or do you keep trying to find the answer yourself, which is often a time consuming decision. Investigate the forums and communities of the various platforms; see how often they are updated and how busy they are. Look at the support forums and see if questions are being answered or if problems are being posted without resolutions. Do you want to risk using a platform that has very few answered problems and bugs? Most likely not. You want a system that has strong community support to help you out of that jam and hopefully stop you from being up at 3am.
Some premium platforms such as X-Cart and Expression Engine offer premium support from the developers themselves, which can be a great help when you need something fixed immediately. If you’re working with a mission critical system or are not completely comfortable with programming, spend the extra money to get the better support.
Another aspect of support is server/hosting support. If your platform can’t run on your hosting or server then it is pretty much useless. Many platforms use the PHP language, so make sure your server/host can run PHP code. Other systems run on different languages, sometimes less common with hosting providers. Ruby On Rails and Django support is less common with shared hosting plans. Will your client want to spend extra money on hosting to support those languages? Does your clients project warrant the use of those languages or can you get the same results from a more common language? Learn more about choosing a hosting provider in our “Find your hosting Provider” article
The extensibility of a platform is an important factor for some projects, but not all. If you are to working on a fairly customized project you want to see how easily you can input your own code/plugins. Many systems are very closed off so it’s extremely hard to add your own additions and changes, while others have greater extensibility. An easy way to check is to see how many community made plugins there are available to download. Although this isn’t a completely accurate method, it’s a good starting point. Once more, viewing what plugins are available for your platform is a great way to save time in your next project. Why reinvent the wheel when you can modify an existing plugin to fully meet your needs? Many of the plugins available for projects such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are open source and you can legally modify them for your project.
As you can see there are many aspects to consider when choosing a platform, this article only highlights a few. A good tip to remember when choosing a platform is that the platform should work for you and your clients. You want to choose a system that will make everyone’s life easier now and in the future. These are some of the tips that Tob Studios used when determining the platforms we develop with. There are other aspects that may impact your choice and we invite you to put them in our comments section. We would be happy to hear them.