I realize that this type of question gets asked over and over again. Nonetheless, I want to ask a more specific version.

I'm in a university math department. Long ago our sysadmins (or just one at the time) switched to a web content management system. At the time, Zope looked like an informed choice. We have used Zope for years, but at least in my opinion, it has always been a controversial decision. At the time I didn't understand why it was so important to have a web CMS. Now I see that it certainly is important, but I don't know that it should be Zope.

The good (even necessary) features of Zope for us are:

  1. It's free and Linux-based.
  2. It is a true CMS and not something else (e.g. wiki or blog)
  3. It lets you write HTML and scripts.

What I really don't like about Zope is that the outcome of using it is all-or-nothing in a lot of ways. At least in convenient use, it ends up dividing the enterprise into superusers who can do everything, and lusers who can't do anything (except write their own home pages in plain HTML). It has a huge user manual, which end users won't have time to read. Somehow with the access permissions, the simple thing to do is to let a few admins access all of the source and data and that's it. Since this is a math department, the user base varies from real novices to people who understand computers reasonably well. But as it stands, any change that involves Zope has to go through the sysadmins. When the sysadmins are in a hurry, sometimes they will also just add plain HTML pages to the web site instead of using the Zope framework.

It doesn't help matters that Zope is fairly disk-intensive and fairly hype-intensive.

Not to dwell on Zope too much, but I am wondering what is the right web CMS for a mixed user base of terminal novices, quick studies, and experienced users. Some users might want intermediate permissions, e.g. read permission but not write permission, or permission to change some subset of the pages or see some subset of the database tables. Also it should be Linux-based and open source and a little bit scalable, and of course widely used and well-supported is a good idea. I might guess that the answer is Drupal just because that was the general answer before, but I don't know if it is the right type of CMS for this purpose. (But note that Python is a relatively popular language in a math department, among other reasons because Sage is based on Python.)

I can see that I didn't completely define the question and that people are guessing what type of site it is. It is the UC Davis Math Department. The main structure of the site is not suitable for a wiki and it is also not the same thing as a course environment like Moodle. Rather, the site is mostly structured as a generic medium-small enterprise. Some components of the site could be a wiki, Moodle, LaTeX plugin, Request Tracker, etc. However, the main issue is not these components.

The main issue is that it would be better to decentralize management of the site. Right now, everything that is in the Zope CMS has to go through the sysadmins. Every other user in the department either has to put in a request to them, or write their own web pages with no help from Zope. There are two main reasons for this: (1) Other people in the department don't have time to read the Zope manual. (2) It's a hassle to set up intermediate permissions in Zope.

However, there are other people in the department who know how to write computer programs and use markup languages. I wouldn't want a solution that assumes that users either can't be trusted with much more than drag-and-drop, or that they are IT professionals who sleep with documentation manuals. I'm wondering if Plone/Zope still has this quality, since certainly Zope by itself does.

But I also wonder sometimes if common-sense flexibility is unfashionable these days, and that things in general have be either mindlessly easy or incredibly powerful.


Zope by itself is more the Lego or Tinker Toys of CMS. It provides a great platform for storage and retrieval of data, but as you've discovered, it's not for the faint of heart.

Plone is an add-on to Zope that provides a simpler interface tailored to CMS functions. I don't know how flexible your IT department is, but I think they might be willing to install the Plone add-on because it runs on top of Zope and provides a simple path to the CMS functions you need. If it keeps you from bothering them, well that's all the more incentive for them to install it!

You can try a live demo of Plone to see if it provides the ease-of-use you want.

Good Luck!

  • That's an interesting remark and I should consider it. But the thing is, I'd need to be persuaded to want an extra layer on top of something that looks overengineered to begin with. If you want a bicycle and I give you a yacht, then adding a crew and a red carpet to the yacht does help but might not really be it either. Jun 28 '10 at 5:04
  • Rather than see it as an extra layer, think of it as a higher level of abstraction. Plone hides a lot of the complexity of Zope, so that you're dealing with web content management features rather than a web development platform. Jul 31 '12 at 14:21

It really depends on the functionality you want... if you want a wiki, have a look at some comparisons of wiki software, specifically whether they have LaTeX support (which I assume a maths department would enjoy as a feature).

Otherwise, to add to David Smith's answer, Plone has a good LaTeX Math Image plugin.

  • As I said, I don't want a wiki, for various reasons. Now, a LaTeX Math plugin is an interesting and potentially useful feature. But what I really want is something that (a) allows decent markup and scripting, (b) makes it convenient to allow intermediate privileges, and (c) isn't hard to learn for intermediate proficiency users. Not, "either we'll keep it as simple for you as Facebook and iPad, or ideally you have 5 years of IT experience." Jun 28 '10 at 6:03
  • Sorry, I missed what you said about not wanting a wiki...
    – Andrew
    Jun 28 '10 at 6:28

There is rarely one tool which satisifies every requirement. And in the case of Open-Source CMS there is no end of starting points to choose from.

I suspect that there are at least 3 customer bases you need to address, and I suspect you may need seperate products for each:

1) external (in which case Plone is a good choice, but there are )

2) internal - teaching (you might want to have a lok at moodle)

3) internal - collabarative work / research (wiki's are a very good tool for this)

There's also targeted applications (e.g. mrbs for resource booking / scheduling, web-based mail front ends)



  • Thanks -- but see the extended question above. Jun 28 '10 at 18:47
  • If the issue is managing devolved access rights, then you have to choose whether its a free-for-all or if you have a complex system of ACLs. IMHO Zope does a much better (and simpler) job of devolving permissions compared to other products which try to do the same thing :(
    – symcbean
    Jun 30 '10 at 8:36

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