The TYPO3 content management system is in the news again. What does the latest version give you that is not in all the top CMSs?
TYPO3 is described at typo3.com and typo3.org. The .com site provides commercial support and limited marketing speak information. You can tell the .com site will be of less use because the heading contains the give-away term
enabling. The .org site offers the community created download, community created documentation, and features a pathetic 1990s style annoying constantly animated banner wasting most of the page. Visit typo3.com first to minimise exposure to the harmful banner.
A quick historical perspective
The first time I looked at TYPO3, many of the pages were in German or contained sections of untranslated German text. TYPO3 was an advantage to Web developers in Germany and is reflected in the many German Web sites featured in the TYPO3 portfolio. Today I do not see a difference between the TYPO3 support in English and German.
TYPO3 used to have a different content editor to all the competing CMSs. Now TYPO3 can use different editors and the original editor can be used in other CMSs.
The current version (in March 2011) is 4.5 and 4.5 is offered with LTS, Long Term Support, three years of support. LTS is something you hear about when using Ubuntu. The people behind Ubuntu bring out two new versions each year and one is offered with LTS. TYPO3 is probably the first CMS to offer support for more than a year.
The rest of TYPO3 4.5 is a set of incremental improvements.
TYPO3 offers 3000 add-on modules. By comparison, Drupal offers 7000. There is a lot of duplication in both cases and lots of half developed modules. The important thing is that you have choice. There will often be something you can use without further work. If there is nothing ready made, there will be something you can use with minor modification or as a template for your own module.
Millions of Web developers start on Windows and hate setting up a dual boot computer to learn a Linux based product. TYPO3 is based on PHP, a database, and a Web server. PHP runs on every useful operating system, including Windows, and on a lot of not so useful operating systems. TYPO3 works with a wide variety of databases including databases on Windows. TYPO3 works with Apache on Windows and even on IIS.
Microsoft is currently pushing Drupal as the PHP based CMS for Windows but there is little difference in their requirements. TYPO3 had more flexibility for a long time, compared to Drupal 6, and Drupal 7 catches up in every area. For a new project, you would compare Drupal 7 to TYPO3 4.5 and find both equally flexible on Windows.
TYPO3 works with everything. TYPO3 stood out on database compatibility a few years ago but there is nothing to make TYPO3 4.5 stand out against the latest releases of the main competitors, including Drupal 7.
Just about every framework and major CMS has some sort of database abstraction to make the application work with a choice of databases. PHP 5 introduces PDO and PDO has a level of database abstraction. Drupal 7 leads the CMS area by using the PDO database abstraction then building on that to produce a better abstraction while retaining some efficiency. This level of detailed difference is really only relevant to programmers developing new modules and processor usage. Processor power is cheap. None of the database abstractions solve all access problems at the programming level. The remaining differences are not enough to choose one CMS over another.
There are times when a book is really useful. You are learning something for the first time and want to step through your first project in a logical manner recommended by an experienced guide. You work on a small notebook, netbook, or one of those iThings with the tiny screen, and want to keep all the screen free for eotking instead of reading documentation. You are tired of online documentation that is randomly fragmented.
Save your eyes. Get the book. Read offline to relax your eyes and to let you skim ahead to see what is required next.
There are a selection of documents online. Some are in several languages. Some have downloadable versions in Docbook and other formats. The downloadable versions are useful for people with very big computer screens who want the documentation continually open and want to add extensive notes. The downloadable version create problems when you add notes then have to update to a new version of the documentation.
The Getting started tutorial is a good starting point for someone comparing TYPO3 to another CMS. You get to see the basics of what TYPO3 does.
Installation and upgrade guide in English, German, and French. The installation guide will tell you what you need to test TYPO3.
The main disadvantages of TYPO3 are the use of Typoscript and templating systems. Typoscript is a special configuration file scripting language created by TYPO3. You have to learn the language and the unique way the language is processed. Learning something yet another programming language is always painful.
What do the competitors do for configuration? Some make all the configuration options available in Web pages for easy configuration. Drupal places most of the configuration settings in Web pages and lets you set some initial defaults in PHP .ini style files. .ini files are useful because people learn the .ini format when configuring PHP and other software. They do not have to learn something new when using the same format in Drupal. PHP also provides a standard function to return the contents of a .ini file as an array. There are CMSs using XML format files for configuration and there are excellent XML editors to create files of the right format.
TYPO3 also uses unique templating systems and offers two systems to further confuse matters. One is a basic system competing against SMARTY and similar templating systems. The alternative templating system, Templavoilà, offers more interactive flexibility and competes against some of the new templating systems offered for Drupal. Templavoilà is discussed in the comments under Drupal themes vs TYPO3 templating.
The following case study of a TYPO3 to Drupal conversion suggests the Drupal Taxonomy system makes Drupal the better choice for news and media. A great taxonomy system is valuable for many more uses and is a frequent winner for Drupal.
TYPO3 to Drupal migration - KNR Case Study.
TYPO3 had advantages for Web developers in Germany who wanted to use a database other than MySQL. There is now no specific advantage of TYPO3 over the main competitors. Choose the CMS with the best range of readily available experienced developers.