Orchard CMS vs. WordPress

At Planet Telex we work with both Orchard CMS and WordPress on a regular basis. When we decided to re-platform our website, we knew we wanted to use one of those 2, but which? Clearly they are built on different technology stacks, but we have the ability to host both. And although we have a robust C# library, the ability to use it didn't factor into the decision much either because for our company site we simply didn't need much of it. That which we did need could have ported over to PHP without too much fuss. Bottom line, the technology stack was not a determining factor in our decision, which was Orchard CMS.

It is true that we choose Orchard in small part because we wanted more experience in this younger, emerging platform. But at the same time we weren't going to do that at the expense of usability, reliability, or performance. We're happy to report that Orchard is on par if not better than WordPress in these aspects. Here is a high level overview of the pros and cons of these two systems:

  Orchard CMS WordPress Advantage
Usability The Orchard CMS administration interface is a carefully studied replica of WordPress. Since this has always been one of WordPress's strong suits relative to other CMS, this was a smart move. It also has the benefit that users that are familiar with WordPress with quickly acclimate to Orchard. Until Orchard came around, this was one of the primary reasons to choose WordPress. When a site is built using WordPress, the client feels happy and in control. Other CMS usually result in less happy clients as they struggle to use the tool. None. By copying WordPress, Orchard CMS neutralized this potential advantage WordPress.
Reliability While a relatively young platform, Orchard is built on a modern and reliable technology stack including ASP.NET MVC and nHibernate. In practice, we have not experienced any reliability issues. WordPress is tried and true. As a mature platform that has undergone many upgrades and is used by millions of websites, it is evident that it is reliable. None. They are both reliable platforms.
Performance Although we had some reservations in the way Orchard deployed modules as complete Visual Studio projects as opposed to compiled assemblies, it doesn't seem to lessen the performance at all. The upgrade to 1.4 saw even more performance improvements. Orchard CMS is plenty snappy. Since it runs on PHP scripts rather than compiled binary code, WordPress has a native disadvantage but in practice, this difference rarely matters, since there are so many other performance enhancements that dwarf this modest performance hit. None. In both cases, good performance depends mostly upon the themes you use and modules you install.
Extensibility Orchard structures its extensibility mechanisms in much the same way as WordPress: you can install themes and modules. But while the mechanisms are very similar the marketplace for Orchard pales in comparison to WordPress'. If you aren't developing a custom theme, you will probably find better templates on the WordPress marketplace. WordPress has been around much longer and has a much larger user base. When it comes to out-of-the-box extensibility options, Orchard CMS will lag behind WordPress for many years. WordPress. There is simply a larger marketplace.
Designer Control This is the first category where Orchard is the hands down winner. It was designed so that you can create many template alternatives to anything- any module you download or field you use. In addition to that, there is a handy placement metadata file as well as a run-time tool that makes some high level formatting a cinch. If you have ever implemented a site using existing themes and modules in WordPress, you know that customizing their look to be exactly what you want requires some degree of hacking. Either hacking at their module or theme, or using JavaScript to finesse some section of the DOM you can't control the rendering of. Orchard CMS. This was a big deal for us since we had a challenging design to implement in the first place. The last thing we needed was to not have absolute rendering control, even when using third party modules.
Semantic Modeling Here again, Orchard took some time to innovate. In WordPress you can create "pages" or "posts," but any custom types of content past those require a developer or custom plugin. In Orchard you start off with those two content types, but via the administration  interface you can create any custom content types you can conceive of and put them together with reusable content parts and fields. Sorry WordPress, the concept of semantic modeling is mostly foreign to you. This is an area where WordPress's entrenchment hurts rather than helps. Starting from the ground up with WordPress for a model, Orchard was able to architect in some flexibility that would be very hard for WordPress to achieve. Orchard CMS. In our opinion, this ability is the "killer app" that made Orchard win out in our decision making process. The ability to create a dynamic, domain modeled site without writing custom code is a revelation. One caveat- there is certainly a limit to how large a domain model the system is capable of. A site like NetQast, for example, is far better off as a custom ASP.NET MVC application.
Search Engine Optimization Routes are fully customizable, as are themes and modules. Routes are fully customizable, as discussed earlier though page rendering control is easier in Orchard. None. Its tempting to award this to Orchard too since it can make rendering custom markup easier (and hence is easier to transform an SEO unfriendly module into a friendly one), but in the hands of a good developer both can be equally SEO friendly.
Community A smaller community as you would expect, but the people involved in the project are surprisingly accessible, even though overseen by Microsoft. We logged a bug on CodePlex and had one of the principle developers responding to me before the day's end. No way would that happen with WordPress! Large and varied: for just about anything you could want to do with WordPress, you are likely to find a module that does it, a video that explains how to do it, and a blog post that details it. The community and marketplace remain one of the most compelling reasons to choose WordPress. WordPress. Although Orchard CMS is building a good documentation base and the marketplace is growing, it has a long way to go to catch WordPress in this regard.

For those keeping score, we have a 2-2 tie. This is good because we still recommend WordPress to a lot of our clients. First there is the technology stack. It is often more expensive to host Microsoft infrastructure. Then there is the marketplace, community, and familiarity of the WordPress interface. When the functional requirements are analyzed, it is not uncommon to find more value in the WordPress marketplace- i.e. you can buy instead of build more often, a tried and true way to maximize ROI.

But while WordPress has these advantages, Orchard CMS is a clear improvement in many ways, most notably in the areas of designer control and semantic modeling. If both the WordPress and Orchard marketplaces offered the same level of value for a particular set of requirements and the technology stack isn't a consideration, choose Orchard. If the WordPress marketplace has the plugins and themes that will save you a bunch of money, then by all means do it. WordPress is still a great platform.

Orchard CMS is a competitor to WordPress and built on a very different platform, but we view Orchard CMS as more of a successor. It copied all the best parts of WordPress but innovated in areas where it falls short. Planet Telex will continue to use both Orchard CMS and WordPress, and as always will choose one of those or even a different platform for any particular set of requirements.


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