What Composr is not

When evaluating which CMS is right for you, you might find it helpful to consider what Composr is not.

This is probably the most honest product page you'll ever see. Most of the points here probably also apply to any other systems you might be considering. We're particularly keen to emphasise that business users of Composr should carefully budget for things like ongoing support, that some of the more advanced things in Composr do require some level of technical experience, and the inevitable need for some level of custom development on most projects.

Sometimes we intentionally do things that make us stand out from the crowd, when we feel other people are doing things wrong; but also there are a few real cases where perhaps Composr is not optimised for a specific environment.

We believe in laying out the facts and letting people make informed choices, so here we go…

We're glad Composr is not:

Designed to meet fads

We don't specifically design our system just to match the passing trends like 'social media', 'web 2.0', 'cloud computing', 'SaaS', and 'platform'. Don't get us wrong – many of these are great ideas and Composr does include most of it. But we don't toss these phrases around simply because they're fashionable – we use them when appropriate and always develop to meet rock-solid established needs. The truth is many of these trends aren't new at all – there's a cycle of technology, and often Composr can meet trends before they come back again. It's just we might not call it the same thing!

Chaotically organised

Sadly, much of Open Source software is presented in a disorganised way. With Composr, we intentionally present it as a very organised, “easy out of the box” solution. Our approach prevents you having to kludge together a solution from a disparate mess of third party contributions, and trawl a whole scattered community of documentation for help.

A closed environment

Composr is Open Source – in other words, free. Users can customise it how they want, using and employ whoever they want to do it. Competing systems (true competitors – not basic CMS's) typically cost over $10,000 – which you only find out after making a phone call to a sales representative.

We don't limit you to what you are allowed to do with Composr, and you can even fork the software (distribute your own versions). We give you the code and you can do what you want with it. Unlike some other CMS we don't charge for de-branding: in fact we have made one simple inbuilt option to de-brand your copy of Composr.

We also strongly believe in creating an open marketplace where people can use our software freely. We do offer our own professional services but we hope users will choose our services based on quality and our relationship with the software – not by vendor lock-in or monopoly.

Strict software as a service

This may be the latest buzzword, but it's a buzz with a sour taste. Many SaaS services run on remote servers and you can't make your own modifications. This sucks as much as closed-source software. It's very easy to get a hosting account, or cloud hosting, and install Composr (many hosts can auto-install it for you) – with all the advantages of strict SaaS but without any loss of control. If you're creating a novel website, you need the option to fully control its code!

A front end to third-party sites and services

Composr is best for building whole websites, rather than “mash-ups”. We intentionally try and incorporate the features you will need inside the software itself.

When we design Composr we try to be neutral and not directly incorporate features for integrating with specific third-party services, such as Adsense or Amazon affiliates. Instead we provide the flexibility for users to add in this kind of integration as required.
This way we aren't constantly catching up with a changing market, or making commercial decisions or implied recommendations on behalf of other people.

Awash with addons to install

Composr doesn't have hundreds of addons to dig through but that is by design. The majority of features you'd ever need are built in, which is our equivalent to the hundreds of addons you might want to install for other software. Our inbuilt features are wonderfully integrated and organised and can be uninstalled if they aren't wanted (the Setup Wizard will recommend to you what you probably do/don't want).

Full of options you will never use

It is important that Composr is flexible, but if we did it by adding 1000s of options for controlling every part of it, it could never work:

  1. We'd be second-guessing users, so would always be missing things, however many options we added.
  2. The administration would be so complex that it would be unusable.

We solve this problem in three ways:

  1. We remove any unneeded complexity. We pick one good way of doing things that works for most users rather than giving choices that very few would care about.
  2. We allow for enormous flexibility by implementing everything on top of a highly customisable framework. For example, you can override any template to change layout, using our Tempcode language to great effect.
  3. We are an Open Source non-compiled product, meaning programmers can make changes to the underlying PHP code easily. Further to this, we have a sophisticated override system that lets you change all parts of the system in a pin-pointed way.

Split into separate front-ends and back-ends

Composr does not have a segregated admin section in the common sense. Composr gives you complete permissions & privileges control, allowing you to control exactly what you want areas you wish to give users and staff. The divisions are not hard-coded how a third party developer thinks it should be.

A cynical attempt to check boxes

We don't have advanced inbuilt analytics and we don't try and replace image editing software. The reason is simple – there are already great options for these out there, and there is no disadvantage to just using those options. We really believe very strongly in the importance of integration in order to create a consistent website and brand experience, and to make administration saner, but we don't need to reinvent the wheel when these kinds of advantages don't apply. So enjoy Google Analytics and Paint.net, and we'll continue to invest our time in the great innovative features you love.

Drag and drop

We don't give the webmaster a drag and drop feature to place blocks because you need more control. For example, you might want to make a block only show to certain groups, have subtle layout changes for different tablet sizes, or add some randomisation logic to conduct split testing. We've seen many CMSs that provide drag and drop and end up really limiting what you could achieve and we know from experience it would not work for the sites people want.
Instead of drag and drop we have an 'Add block' button, which adds the code for the block to your content. You can then preview the block via a tooltip. It's just as easy, but far more powerful!

A static content exporter

Composr does not export content to static HTML files for you to upload to a conventional web server. While this approach might result in very fast websites, it is extremely limiting: social applications need dynamism and a deal of interaction which static sites can not offer. This said, there is a Composr option to cache full page content for guest users, and this provides incredibly high performance. We do actually have a static export addon too, but we don't bundle it and it naturally can't support most of Composr's dynamic features.

One solution to rule them all

There are some features we are unlikely to build into Composr, if we feel they are too obscure, unbalancing, would be costly to maintain for little benefit, or would lead to 'bloat'. For example, we are unlikely to release gaming addons in the Composr distribution.

We also consciously avoid certain kinds of feature if they don't fit into the Composr design or philosophy. For example, 'form builders' are very popular and common in other software, but we have not implemented them because Composr has a different but more flexible alternative – catalogues (for which notification e-mails can be sent and data saved and searched).

Run by an unreachable organisation

Composr is commercially-backed, so there is always someone to turn to if you need help.

Composr is not optimised for these scenarios:

A document management system / Enterprise Intranet

Some CMS have repositories (aka asset management), complex web services, JSR-286 portlets, and the like. These are necessary for organising sprawling document libraries and integrating with business applications, but Composr doesn't fit into this particular bracket. Rather, Composr is primarily designed for feature-rich websites. Conversely, Intranet/document CMS's can't do what Composr can do. We don't try and replace native filesystems, we feel that sharing files is easier done with something like Dropbox or network drives than sharing it through web apps.

The above all said, Composr does in fact have many enterprise features such as The Repository, which includes an implementation of webdav.

A glorified blog, basic CMS, or “site builder”

Composr is designed to be able to meet advanced needs, not just create very simple websites with a few articles or pages and maybe a contact form. To this end Composr is a very different system to what most CMS vendors market.

A way to quickly clone popular websites

Composr is not a Facebook clone, or a YouTube clone, or a clone of any kind. We don't design Composr to replicate features of any specific websites, but rather to provide the best flexible features we know of or innovate ourselves. Because Composr is a general purpose product we intentionally design for the majority. For example, most sites use galleries for maintaining something like a simple portfolio or team photo gallery – you can do far far more with Composr galleries, but our default configurations and templates tend to favour the majority use-cases.

A standalone framework

The Composr core assumes it is used to power a website designed via the Composr CMS features. In this sense, Composr is not suitable for programmers looking to create a new system from foundations.

Designed just for programmers or entirely point-and-click

With Composr, you can get a very advanced website 'out of the box', that you may start adding content to after only setting a few options and filling in a few 'blanks'. You can get a website up really easily, with minimal skill.

The system is also extremely flexible and configurable, so as to make sites highly personal: however, this level of customisation requires an understanding of the various concepts of the system, as described in our tutorials. We can't make everything point-and-click because we can't anticipate every need a user might have. There are cases where we've achieved flexibility through general-purpose technologies, some of which are moderately complex. Users should not expect to be able to substantially reshape the system themselves without first gaining a reasonable understanding of our underlying technology.

Many of the points in this document come back to this. Composr is designed to be simple to start with, and to provide a ladder that lets you progress to building incredibly sophisticated websites. It's important to understand that complex custom sites are not at the bottom of that ladder. The beauty of our system is that we have designed it to work great for novel ideas, not just as a template for cloning other people's ideas.

A mixed content-tree CMS

Composr is a modular CMS. We have modules for news, galleries, polls, and so on. Some other systems take a mixed content-tree approach – a single shared tree/node structure with different types of content bolted on. Both approaches have positives and negatives.

The advantages to our approach:

  • Simplicity for webmasters. You can just go to the Content Management zone and choose the icon for the content you are interested in. You will not be distracted with anything related to different content types or your site structure as a whole – just what exists for the particular content type you are working with.
  • Cleaner feature coding. When programmers try and squeeze everything through shared subsystems it can become hard to customise things for different cases. For example, imagine you are customising the Composr code so that the submitter of a video gets a community point every time someone views their video. If videos are implemented as a node in a shared tree, then you have to squeeze your extra code into what is already a complicated and abstract mess – it can become unsustainable and unmaintainable, and require exceptionally smart programmers. With a modular system the programmer simply targets the code of the galleries module.

The advantages of a content-tree approach reside around having broad and deep rich hierarchies. For example, you might put a poll underneath a news story and have that automatically display as a subitem on a menu. You might have a single browsable category containing both news and videos. You might have a pets custom content type, with news stories, videos, and topics underneath it.

Some modular CMSs don't allow mixed-content structuring at all, but Composr has advanced functionality to make it possible. Our features include breadcrumbs configuration, aggregate content types, custom URL monikers, unlimited menu creation, advanced filtering (Selectcode and Filtercode), zones, virtual-roots, content blocks, and transparent redirects. In Composr you therefore get the best of both worlds – simple by default, but extremely flexible.

A web-app trying to be a desktop app

We have designed Composr as a web system, which is based on a publishing/magazine metaphor. We're not trying to look like a traditional desktop app. If you open up parts of your content management to end user's (for example, by giving them blogs) we intend the content management functionality to look like it is naturally an extension of your website, rather than some utility they have been dumped into.

Our “Why we're different” page has a whimsical view on the CMS market but actually for some scenarios our competitors are better, and we won't deny it. Wordpress is better for simple blogs. Gallery is better for simple galleries. eZ CMS is better for large and complex Enterprise Intranets. Magento is better for eCommerce. Do you think our competitors would dare link to us from a major page of their websites ;)?

About our website and marketing:

We don't exaggerate

It's scary how often major features in other CMSs are advertised as if they are ready for use but are only implementable by programmers.

Our website is not a contact details farm

We believe in being open which is why we have transparent pricing for our agency services listed on our website and a free online demo (of course Composr is free anyway). We're not just trying to grab your contact details so we can hassle you to buy our services.

Nothing is:

A magic bullet

No CMS can eliminate the need for programmers in all cases. If your site has complex or relatively unusual requirements, then you will need a programmer.

We make Composr as powerful and flexible as we possibly can (without making it an over-complex mess), but we acknowledge occasional real-world limitations – and we provide professional services when they are needed. Composr catalogues are not a 4GL system and even if they were, 4GLs have not become predominant because they usually fail in their goals.

A way to get “a world-class website on the cheap”

There is no way to get a complex fully customised, world-class site cheaply. Most world-class sites have a full-time team of programmers and designers behind them. Composr represents significant cost-savings and accelerated time-to-market, because you can build on the existing foundations, is future proof for easy growth, and helps you tap into talent. But these are savings, and not eliminations.

If you're trying to operate a world-class website you probably at the very least need a part-time web designer, a few days of SEO per-month, a day of content writing per month, and an ongoing relationship with a programmer who can solve technical issues and make small changes competently and swiftly. That's before considering the time needing to manage daily operation, do marketing, and the time taken to develop the website in the first place.

You'll need to treat the people working for you well, either paying competitive salary, or market hourly rates – if you try and negotiate the price for each few hours of work done for you, or get people to work outside office hours without over-time pay, or expect free maintenance without an ongoing maintenance agreement, you'll likely either get very unskilled workers, or have a bad relationship with them.

It's important to also understand that Composr has had very large investment to get it where it is at. Good code takes time to write, and it's a big mistake to think that just because Composr is given for free that things are easy to do. Due to the number of considerations involved for a quality job, each small feature (even if it's just a small option on a screen), typically takes a few hours to write if a developer knows what they're doing and is working in an efficient environment.

World-class sites are expensive to run, even with the cost-savings Composr can give, because modern sites are far more than just the technology behind them. We can't understate the importance of making sure you have the budget to achieve what you're trying to achieve so that your project is sustainable.

We recommend consulting with people who run successful websites with a similar skill level and ambition to your own, and what it costs and takes to do it – the answer is usually venture-capital investment, or the founding team having a high level of their own technical skill, or both.

If you're looking for a site that just does what it needs to without being too flashy, you may well be able to avoid all these costs and just get something up cheaply and quickly. But please please think your budgeting and requirements through, and if necessary build a business and financing plan to suit.

A free lunch for web design agencies

If you run a web design agency you should absolutely never expect to be able to lean on Composr as an immediate way to meet complex clients needs without a programming budget. For a complex project (and in reality – most people want a complex project, even though they don't want to acknowledge it) it is absolutely essentially that you have either:

  1. In-house PHP programming skills to back things up with where needed;
  2. Or, you budget a chunk of your quoted price for ocProducts support (or from a third party)

It is frankly very poor business to quote extremely low (to undercut the more established companies that do employ programmers) because you'll “just deploy Composr” because for 99.9% of projects there will be some proportion of project-specific things that Composr can't quite do out of the box; or generally there may be a need for good support on how to configure more advanced features in clever ways.

We hate to see cases on the forum where a non-programmer user is building a site for their client, but then expects free support from the staff to help them finish the hard parts of their project. Web development on commercial projects is never simple, even with Composr, so you need to prepare for the total costs when you give a quotation to a client.

So, please see Composr as a way to make a great cost-saving, or deliver a better result for your client. But, don't see it as a cost elimination. Plan sustainably.

100% bug free

Feature-by-feature, we probably have far fewer bugs in Composr than other software. We do not have a back-log of bugs that need fixing. However, as Composr is a vast and flexible system, you'll probably be using a lot of features and using them in ways other people might not have been regularly doing. Very occasionally when we introduce new features, or fix bugs, we can accidentally cause some new bugs. So you should expect to find a few bugs as you go. We try really hard to avoid this happening, with a whole suite of testing tools and processes, but at the end of the day some amount of human fallibility can't be prevented and the small mistakes of computer programmers tend to be far more consequential than the small mistakes of other professionals.

The staff have a great record for fixing issues very quickly and usually the first person to report a bug is provided a hotfix. All hotfixes are posted publicly into the tracker, and all fixes posted into git. The development team can't, however, provide free one-on-one hotfix deployment to each user – so we release patch releases occasionally to fix everything people have found.

If you are working on a commercial project then it is quite conceivable that a bug could be a business issue for you, and a hotfix might not be immediately available. Therefore it makes business sense to budget some support time for having hotfixes manually applied to your site if you do find any issues. As with other points made above, it's important to not assume Open Source software is a free lunch – Open Source is a philosophy that dramatically increases value for users, but the philosophy can't remove the fact that developers can't fund a warranty for software given away free, so individual attention needs to be handled through a support relationship. We try and avoid this situation as much as possible through our systems to avoid bugs, and by releasing all the fixes out to github so that there is no monopoly on bug fix support – but realistically business customers expect expedient responses and the best way is often to use the paid support system.

We include more information on where Composr sits in our Web-applications, Composr, and PHP tutorial.

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