Why I love Textpattern

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Want to choose an open source CMS for your website? Know HTML and CSS? Like designing and doing things differently to the one-click crowd? Try Textpattern.

In the open source CMS battlefield, everyone has their favourites; the market leader is currently WordPress. In the supermarket wars, the current UK market leader is Tescos. That doesn’t mean either are necessarily the best in terms of quality or features, just that they’re the lowest common denominator that suit the majority of people who don’t have the time or inclination to explore further afield.

So why do I stick with Textpattern — the perceived underdog — when surely WordPress or Joomla or Movable Type or Drupal are “better” (=more popular) according to the press? Here’s why, in no particular order:

  1. It is stable. Updates are few and far between for a good reason: security is paramount so there’s no rush to release a bug fix which could introduce more bugs.
  2. It is secure. By default there is no PHP in templates so injecting malicious code into your sites is tricky.
  3. It is lightweight. Everything is stripped back and bare so it does only what is necessary to get the job of rendering a page done. For everything else there are a wealth of plugins or admin side themes.
  4. It uses tag-based rendering so pages can remain small, allowing the tags to handle the complexity that other publishing systems require you to code in PHP. Great for designers and non-coders alike.
  5. It is fast due to its lightweight nature.
  6. It is insanely flexible. I have not yet come across a situation in which I cannot bend Txp into the shape I want. There is nearly always a plugin or a way of tweaking tags-in-tags to reach the end goal. Failing that, there is always the fallback of using a line or two of PHP if absolutely necessary.
  7. The community spirit on the forum simply rocks. I have never — ever — encountered such a bunch of helpful, level-headed, clever, helpful, polite, helpful and downright decent folk in all my 17 years of webbing. And whether you’re learning the ropes or looking for advanced tips to make your site stand out, that’s the sort of group you need. Did I mention they’re helpful?

Sure, as a one-click blogging tool or those that want a super-crunjo-whizbang shiny admin interface out of the box, Txp may be deemed far from perfect. And where it has shortcomings I aim to help improve it as the product evolves. But currently Textpattern’s sheer unassuming character offers everything I — and thousands of others — need to make unique and cutting edge websites.

It has power, it has flexibility, it has a tiny footprint and it does what I need with no fuss, no superfluous frills and little bloat.

In short, for designers who wish to make beautiful, maintainable websites, Textpattern can be as individual as you or your client are, and a niche tour-de-force worthy of serious consideration. Those who don’t have the desire to learn the considerable craft of HTML or CSS — or are content with upgrading their sites monthly to fix security flaws — can follow the crowd to the market leader.

I prefer quality. I prefer the design process. I prefer Textpattern.

9 of you left a mark

    Jonathan Stubbs

    Great post Stef, and you are one of the reasons that Textpattern is so good. Thanks!

    And the community does rock – its incredible how polite and helpful it is. Rock on!

    Lawrence

    I fell in love with Txp back in 2006 and it’s still my preferred CMS for the freelance work I do.

    As a designed with zero programming skills Textpattern allows me to include behaviours I need that go beyond the typical blog or website functions. Conditional tags are VERY useful.

    Every article template can hold different types of information and display things differently, if necessary.

    The way I see it, textpattern allows templates within templates — giving the designer the opportunity to get the detail 100% right.

    Flexibility with navigation means that I can design the information architectures that best suit the scope of the site. This benefits usability and SEO a GREAT deal.

    ilya

    Great post Stef.

    DoozieWD

    Great read,

    I pulling my hair, hoping for your opinions.

    I’m a designer, developer part-time since 2005, I’ve designed custom joomla! & now WP3 sites in the past. I’m bashing my head not knowing what to do w/current client. i built a joomla! Custom site for them but I’ve tried everything to educate them (complete emailers only tech IQ) and they just don’t grasp. I wanted to redevelop there site in a different more user friendly CMS so they can maintain there personal (church) site on there own.

    My goal was to find a Open-Source version of Adobe’s CQ5 (previously DAY owned) only cause it seems perfect for my client being a drag & drop easy to maintain your website type of CMS.

    Your opinions are greatly appreciated

    Thanks a million,
    DoozieWD

    Stef Dawson

    Thanks for getting in touch.

    Choosing a CMS for non-tech people is always a challenge. The good thing about Textpattern is that if you set it up so all they need to do is login and type to add blog articles, there’s not much else they need to learn as long as they can type and click. The other great thing is that if it doesn’t do what you want immediately there are plugins that can help. For example:

    * If Textile’s markup is too tricky to master, you can install a more WYSIWYG formatting tool (e.g. rah_textile_bar).

    * You can limit other things they see by setting an appropriate role for the users or by using the smd_user_manager plugin to tailor what interface tabs they can see.

    * Another plugin (bot_write_tab_customise) allows you to completely re-layout the Write tab, turning things on/off or moving things around to make the flow fit the user experience.

    * The place where Textpattern really falls down at the moment (at least by default) is image handling. If you want visitors to associate images to articles you either need to show them how to visit the Images tab, upload the image, make a note of the ID and then put that in the Article Image field of the Write tab, or install a plugin that allows people to choose an image graphically from the pool. The downside here is that there are currently (at least that I know of) no plugins that allow you to upload AND assign multiple images to an article in one step. I do, however, have plans to write one; I’m partway there.

    * Alternatively, since you’re a developer, you can use a plugin like smd_tabber to create a new ‘dashboard’ tab and then create a custom workflow that suits your user base. I know people who have done that very succesfully.

    The bottom line is that I’m confident Textpattern can meet your needs. It is ideal for designers such as yourself because you can set up the HTML and CSS templates then leave the client to maintain the content. How smart you want to be about it depends on your imagination and design skills alone because there are plenty of plugins available that can make things simpler for people to use the CMS.

    Hope that helps. The fab community are here to help if you need any guidance.

    DoozieWD

    Stef,

    Your response is much appreciated & much respected, thanks a mill. For your advice will definitely take it into consideration.

    Cheers

    Robin

    I'm primarily a Publisher and I am a Drupal flight risk. Out of the box (+ the 20 essential additional modules) Drupal gave me exactly what I needed. Wonderful, immediately however there were problems. Modules were of variable quality and support for non-coders was limited. My time steadily became sidetracked into Drupal away from content creation and "design" until it became all about Drupal. Then a module crashed the system. Having never been able to understand the Drupal conceptual world (D7) and therefore the backup process that ended my voyage just as visitors were engaging with it. Now there is D8 and the fast-food ethos of the IT world combines with the demands every few years to begin to learn another conceptual framework and to figure out how to adapt to that. Drupal is too big for me yet installing basic and effective security modules e.g Captcha is impossible "out of the box". Your description of Textpattern sounded great but then you ended with "Those who don't have the desire to learn the considerable craft of HTML or CSS — or are content with upgrading their sites monthly to fix security flaws — can follow the crowd to the market leader." I don't have a problem with markup but don't want to have to use it more than I do for instance as a Wikipedia editor i.e I don't want to have to dive under the hood all the time and write HTML and CSS. Now when I came to write this I saw that your site has only one level of menu and wondered if that was what Textpattern is designed for. I am struggling with comparing the different offerings without writing/designing one of each.

    Stef Dawson

    @Robin. Thanks for getting in touch. The fact that offerings like Drupal and WordPress are so behemoth is precisely the reason I sought Textpattern in the first place. Everything is just so… blank-canvas.

    That’s not to say you need to spend days configuring it or writing markup. The built-in template is commented well. Once you have set up your template(s) by sprinkling Textpattern’s dynamic tags among regular HTML tags, you can leave the design alone and concentrate on the content.

    I have still yet to find a site I can’t realise in Textpattern, and I’ve been involved in a great many. Are there things that can be done better? Sure. And we’re working on them. Do you still need a plugin to do Captcha? Thankfully, yes. Do you need a plugin to roll a multi-level menu? Not at all, but there are plugins to help you do it if you don’t fancy rolling your own with the built-in tags.

    I only needed one level of menu and a simple, responsive structure on this site. There are many other examples in the wild from fantastically complex government sites to corporations, bands, restaurants, wineries, blogs, you name it.

    If you post on our forum or G+ page about the type of project you’re thinking of tackling, our friendly community will rally round and offer advice on a) whether Textpattern is the right choice (probably!), and b) how best to go about making it happen.

    Hope that helps.

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