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Plone vs. Drupal: Core Features Comparison

Learn more about Plone

This article is part of the Plone vs. Drupal analysis.

Here comes the magical moment when your content management system is finally installed and you get to play with it for the first time! Although you are legitimately excited about it, you may need a short discovery time to grasp the big picture(s) of the user interface and get used to the way items are structured.

User Interface

For platforms with such a similar goals, there are plenty of differences between Plone and Drupal's user interfaces. One of the most apparent is a single administrative menu to the left on a Drupal site, as opposed to several administrative sections in Plone (the site-setup, edit-bar, and portlet management, for instance).

To try and approach the UI with a complete set of considerations, I'll use the 5 Es* of usability:

  • Effective: How completely and accurately the work or experience is completed or goals reached
  • Efficient: How quickly this work can be completed
  • Engaging: How well the interface draws the user into the interaction and how pleasant and satisfying it is to use
  • Error Tolerant: How well the product prevents errors and can help the user recover from mistakes that do occur
  • Easy to Learn: How well the product supports both the initial orientation and continued learning throughout the complete lifetime of use

* Based on Whitney Quesenbery's site.

My scale here will range from 1 (very poor) to 5 (very strong) based on the following criteria:

  • 1 very poor: my first impression was quite bad, I can find many elements to support it
  • 2 poor: generally bad impression, little counter arguments come to mind
  • 3 neutral: mitigated impression
  • 4 strong: generally good impression, little counter arguments come to mind
  • 5 very strong: my first impression was quite good, I can find many elements to support it
Plone Drupal Comment
Effective 4 4 Both CMSs are fully operational and come ready to organize and publish content
Efficient 4 3 The separation of different types of functionality in Plone definitely helps me go straight to where I need to go. The single admin menu to the left for Drupal is simpler, but can require many clicks to reach the section you need.
Engaging 3 3 I don't know about pleasant and satisfying... neither is it horrible
Error Tolerant 5 4 Plone can pretty much recover every item or revert every action by default. Drupal allows for good recovery of items if revisions are used.
Easy to Learn 2 4 Instantaneous for Drupal: just use the left menu everything's there. For Plone a bit more use is required before the user can master the different administrative menus. Both require a bit of time before the user remembers how administrative tasks are called and structured.

Content Items Structure

Data is organized very differently in Plone and Drupal. Plone differentiates content types between "folderish" (that can contain other content types) and non-folderish. Therefore, to create a new item in Plone, you need to create it within the item which contains it. In Drupal, every item is a standalone element and you structure the site hierarchy by specifying a parent item for each of them.

Let's make is easier with an example, a very basic website with the following structure:

  • Welcome Page (root)
      • Get our Product (1)
          • Legal Disclaimer and Instructions (1.1)
              • Download Links (1.1.1)
                  • Windows (
                  • MacOSX (
                  • Linux (
      • About our Product (2)
          • History (2.1)
          • Use Cases (2.2)
          • Manual (2.3)
Plone: Drupal:
plone_structure.png drupal_structure.png



Plone Drupal
  • Items of content are created in or placed into a directory structure which is very similar to the desktop view on a personal computer. This makes grasping the paradigm easier on average users.
  • Moving multiple items around is easier this way
  • A node can easily have child objects linked to it, regardless of its type.
  • Changing an item's location can quickly be done from the item itself
  • Extra effort is required with each node for the display (need to select a page as default display)
  • Folders may need replaced by pages and pages may need evolved to a "folder + default page view" combo,
    as content is removed or added.
  • Item structure is not beginner friendly

There are ways to overcome each of those issues with a bit of customization, but we really are commenting on out-of-the-box behavior here.


Plone Drupal
Super Feature
  • 3 states workflow: private, submitted, public
  • Nice variety of content types
  • Collections (custom search + custom ranking of items)
  • Forum, Blog, Blog API,
  • Comments
  • Customizable theme
Badly Missing
  • Blog: a CMS without a blogging feature out of the box... Does it still exist?
  • Basic theme customization (color set at least)
  • More content types
  • Any interactive calendar widget/block


A question that pops up often in forums or channels about CMSs: is CMSxyz fast? Although this question is obviously simplistic, it is of the highest importance not to overlook it! There are plenty of reports from major search engines or web hosting giants about the impact of page loading time on traffic and sales.

A more useful way to ask this question is "what is necessary to make a particular CMS fast enough to not cause user frustration while hosting a particular number of items and providing a specific set of advanced features. We will try to develop what is required to make a CMS "fast" in the hosting and load sections of the Plone vs. Drupal series. For now I'm testing my CMS on my computer, and if a content item is not yet rendered by the time my mouse click noise reaches my ears and is interpreted by my brain, I get frustrated. So far I haven't been frustrated with Drupal 6 or Plone 4 at all. They react extremely fast and without a few features that use a lot of processing power, or without a huge amount of content, rendering looks instantaneous to me.


Rather than comparing the quality of our two CMSs, these differences demonstrate first major contrasts between Plone and Drupal's use cases. While they can both be used for both enterprise and web content management systems (ECMS, WCMS), Plone seems more ECMS oriented and Drupal more WCMS oriented. Indeed, Drupal will let you publish your web CMS in no time and get started with adding pages, blogging, and styling. Plone is a heavier system to get configured and moving but provides several enterprise level features that Drupal doesn't have out of the box (advanced workflows and specific content types for instance).

Do you remember your Plone/Drupal discovery phase? What amazed you, or annoyed you more than anything? Any other feature you see that is badly missing?

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