WordPress versus SharePoint, another big smackdown

Previously I did a compare and contrast entry about DotNetNuke versus SharePoint. Now its time for WordPress to have a turn. Don't worry, there's more to come (Drupal, Joomla, Central Desktop, Box.net, etc.) but I've been working with WordPress for a few years now in personal blogs and sites and frankly I'm really, really impressed at the software. Architecturally it's no SharePoint and isn't the silver bullet that everyone touts SharePoint as, but for what it can do it does a good job. So here we go.

Break it down!

There seems to be a plethora of choices when you venture into standing up web sites where the content isn't completely created by a developer in Visual Studio. Call it content management, call it dynamic web delivery, call it modules and web parts and user centric assembly. Call it whatever you will, it's the the ability to empower people to contribute content (files, articles, etc.) to a website without the need for an "IT guy" to be the one doing all the work. Recently we just moved away from using CMS 2001 where (for whatever reason) all content was done by a guy in our department. Someone would send him an article, call him, or direct him to a website and he would create the content in CMS and publish it. As you can imagine having a single resource doing this all the time is pretty taxing and basically ignores the fact that users have been able to do this for hundreds of years themselves. No software in the world is going to fix a process where you rely on someone to do this for you, but these packages help you empower users to do it without having a lot of technical knowledge (the desire to create it still needs to be there, or a pointy haired manager with an equally pointy stick).


WordPress is (IMHO) primarily a blog tool, however it does offer the ability to upload and serve up media (photos, videos), author pages of content, and with the vast number of 3rd party add-ins available the ability to hook into other resources (Twitter, Flickr, RSS, Paypal, etc.) and create a dynamic site that can no only serve up content but help you run a business. For this reason it seems appropriate to compare it to SharePoint. While the two are somewhat different in principle (and vastly different in architecture and infrastructure) they share the notion of delivering a user driven content site. You can just as easily accomplish most of what you can do in WordPress using SharePoint and vice versa.

Looking at some showcase sites you can see that both tools can deliver content in a similar fashion. Best Buy is hosted on WordPress (a surprise to me as I write this article) while Ferrari.com recently launched on the SharePoint 2007 platform. One thing to note about Best Buy. I went to the "showcase" site which is the WordPress driven site and essentially a store blog. I also launched the link to one of my own local stores. The local store site seems to be driven by ASP. When you visit the "store blog" site, the front page is fine but when you say select an item from the menu you're whisked away to http://www.bestbuy.com/ and in JSP land. Do they use ASP in Canada but JSP in the States? In any case, the WordPress site is really just a nice place to visit but isn't actually powering the entire site (including purchasing or reservations). In contrast, the entire Ferrari.com site and other SharePoint sites are 100% SharePoint and don't "shell" out to a "real" website to handle eCommerce. So as you're looking through the WordPress showcase sites understand that some sites are just window dressing for the real non-WordPress site.

As far as SharePoint goes, head on over to Top SharePoint Sites which showcases the best of the best and over 1200 internet facing sites running SharePoint. Ian Morrish also has a (bigger) list of about 1500 sites using Live Labs Pivot. It’s very cool and can be found here. Of course it would be highly entertaining to have a window dressing site hosted on WordPress that backs onto a SharePoint site.

A Fair Comparison?

For the record, we’re talking about the current version of WordPress 3.0 against SharePoint 2010. They’re pretty similar in the grand scheme of things. You might think it would be fair to compare WordPress to SharePoint Foundation 2010 but WordPress is a CMS as much as any so IMHO it better compares against SharePoint Server than it does against Foundation (or WSS if you’re looking at 2007). Feel free to debate what versions should be measured here and write your own damn review.


These two ducks couldn't be so vastly different in architecture and infrastructure than Michael Jackson and Fidel Castro are. SharePoint is an ASP.NET application using a MS-SQL backend while WordPress is written using PHP and a MySQL backend. While WordPress sites can be snappy in terms of performance, it still is running on an interpreted language vs. a compiled one like ASP.NET.

SharePoint is designed to run either on a standalone server (up to 1,000 users comfortably on typical hardware) or scale out almost indefinitely. I know personally of SharePoint deployments housing millions of sites across multiple data centers with many web front ends, dedicated index servers, etc. Microsoft itself hosts SharePoint team sites internally which at last count was around 50,000 sites. It's unclear how scalable WordPress is. It is a web app and basically any kind of load-balancing scheme to serve up multiple web servers will work. The MySQL backend database can scale out in a cluster scenario just like MS-SQL and with WordPress there's no intermediate app server so really it's just web and database servers all talking to each other. From what I can find out there I don't know of WordPress limits in this regard (there's a 32,000 blog limit in WordPress itself, much like the limits on SharePoint sites, subsites, etc.). Even wp.com, the WordPress blog hosting site (in addition to Wordpress.org, see here for a comparison of the two) doesn't talk much about it's architecture but it does run on hundreds of servers with "several separate data centers" spread throughout the U.S.

Another clear winner here is the setup. SharePoint in a stand-alone scenario still requires you to remote into a server, run a setup program and create your site, then shuffler over to Central Admin to do a fairly lengthy setup. On a good day I can maybe get a new system up and running (so that it doesn't fall over in a week) in a few hours. Compared with WordPress this is a lifetime of despair. Time to create a new WordPress site (including creation of the database and website). 10 minutes. WordPress offers the "5 minute installation" (which frankly has *never* taken me more than 2).

SharePoint still tried to compete in the hobby hosting scenarios and there are plenty of knowledgeable sites out there offering hosting (pretty cheap too) but even in that scenario you're still at the mercy of the host and their ability to setup (or not setup) SharePoint properly. WordPress on the other hand simply requires a server that supports PHP and MySQL. Create a website, FTP up the files and you're pretty much 90% of the way to your new site. Perhaps someday WSS is going to be packaged in such a way where you can upload it to a shared host via FTP and as long as the site supports MS-SQL and .NET you're golden. Until then, turn to your hosting people to provide a SharePoint site.

Core Functionality

At it's core both products are web content delivery tools. If you look at MOSS, we're talking about content authoring and something more aligned with WordPresses page authoring model. WSS is much more static in terms of page design (for example if you don't like the layout of the default home page of a WSS site it's not that easy to change it) whereas WP can pretty much be anything you want to be. While the flexibility of WP outshines SharePoint's more rigid constraints, SharePoint blows the doors off of content collaboration. I'm sure there are some plugins for WordPress to upload documents and potentially rate them but it's going to be pale comparison to SharePoint lists and collaboration features.

WordPress is primarily a blog engine although it supports “Pages” which can contain any content. Like SharePoint’s publishing pages you can create the content just as easily in both tools. Creating custom layouts in WordPress requires a little bit of knowledge of PHP and some HTML skills. With WordPress you can just upload a layout page and create pages using it. With SharePoint pretty much the same except you’ll need a few skills in understanding ASP.NET Master Page markup and a copy of SharePoint Designer to get your page into the system.

Other than posts and pages and some admin functionality, WordPress really doesn’t have much in the function category. There are no built-in polls or discussion boards. It does have a userid/password registration/login system which is basic. On the flipside you could argue that SharePoint doesn’t have these things either as they’re really a bunch of Features that you just activate (most are already activated by default) and light your site up. With a few (free) plugins you could easily bring WordPress up to snuff with *most* of what SharePoint can do (sans the document stuff).

WordPress works off of PHP template pages, themes, and widgets. Basically the entire site can instantly transform with a new theme (which are a mixture of PHP pages, CSS, images and whatever other assets you need like JavaScript, etc.). SharePoint combines ASP.NET Master Pages with Layout pages with CSS. Pretty much the same. The pain and suffering (described below) in creating SharePoint Themes is similar to the pain and suffering in creating WordPress themes but there are tools out there like Artisteer that will get you most of the way with WordPress. Widgets in WordPress, Web Parts in SharePoint. Same diff.

Look and Feel

By design, WordPress was built with a "Web 2.0" look and feel in mind (I know, I hate that word). SharePoint 2007 has made some advancement in getting more towards the Web 2.0 world but progress is slow and steady with SP while WP themes continue to re-invent ways how information can be presented and served up. SP suffers from some very hard constraints. Some of the OOTB master pages provided with SharePoint don't have a DOCTYPE specified so adding things like jQuery plugins fail miserably. Even adding a DOCTYPE to SharePoint sometimes causes problems with some of the other functionality (specifically the DataSheet view has been known to break). While there are work-arounds, basically SharePoint sites are stuck in IE 5.5 "quirks" mode. In 2010 at least we have some “proper” master pages and some of the quirks are gone. The OOTB master pages in SharePoint at least are “modern”.

I mentioned themes. WordPress has a design for themes around a template system which physically separates components of the theme, making it fairly easy to "skin" your website. There's a fairly extensive set of resources to create themes (including a countless number of pre-created themes spread all over the Internet) but you can get started building themes for WordPress here. SharePoint has similar things called Themes for WSS sites which are defined by resources (image files, CSS, etc.) and some XML glue to define the theme itself. There are several articles by MVPs and the community on how to create themes for SharePoint. The MSDN documentation in the SharePoint SDK also has the steps involved.

Themes are a thing of the past in SharePoint 2010 (they exist but only for color and fonts) so basically ignore them. Your main way to theme/skin SharePoint is master pages and/or custom CSS files to override the base styles. There are still over a billion (yes, I’ve counted) CSS classes with SharePoint so good luck with that. In my UI presentations I basically tell anyone who’s even remotely thinking about doing SharePoint UI customization to a) always start with a 2007 minimal.master (or Randy Drisgill’s Starter Master Pages for SharePoint 2010), a copy of FireFox, Firebug, and the Web Developer Toolbar. Don’t waste your time with IE and the “developer toolbar” (that doesn’t even let you modify things at runtime). And really, do this for any web development, WordPress included.

As for delivery of the theme, that's another story. With WordPress you simply upload a zip file of the theme you want and activate it (with the option to preview it using your site data so you can see what it's going to look like). Don't like downloading a zip file only to upload it again to your server? Then just browse the themes available and install them. With SharePoint once you have a theme you want to install, it's a matter of adding it to the 12 hive folder structure, modifying an xml file on the file server, and then doing an IISRESET on the entire server (yes, an Application Pool recyle won't suffice so if there's anything else on that server it's gone for 15 seconds during the reset). Basically the stone age compared to the modern age.

For SharePoint 2010, you can create themes in PowerPoint and upload the result to SharePoint to use as a basis for your theme, or just customize it in the browser. In 2007 you have to sacrifice a small virgin and give up your first born to deploy a theme. Don’t bother, it’s not worth it. Just upgrade to 2010 and don’t bother with themes. Master pages and CSS files can just be uploaded to the site but for editing Master Pages you *must* use SharePoint Designer. While you can get away with opening it up in something like Visual Studio, it won’t resolve a lot of the server side tags and frankly, it’s a lessening experience. SharePoint Designer isn’t a joy to work with on HTML editing (why can’t they just provide a collapsible DOM tree like every other editor on the planet) but it gets the job done and helps with visualization.

Themes (and website skinning) is an interesting beast as far as availability and abundance goes. On the WordPress side, you basically can't go anywhere on the Internet without falling over a new WP theme. There are without a doubt literally thousands of themes out there and we're not just talking about the "10 variations on a colour" themes. Just look at Free WP Themes (one of my personal favs) offering 200 designs, all mostly unique and interesting. Even the WordPress.org site itself has over 900 themes available (also available through your admin dashboard). Where are the SharePoint themes? Does Microsoft host a site to house them for you to preview and download them? Sadly no, but for some reason when Microsoft releases 10 new themes, the entire planet gets up and dances for joy. Hmmm. Okay, sure.

WordPress slips into a dangerous area with authoring themes or even page layouts. Template tags are PHP code and this can drive web designers or site admins away at the very mention of "code" (just ask Bob Fox to code you up a page layout to see what I mean). HTML-like tags (similar to DotNetNuke tokens) might be easier to figure out rather than WP's PHP syntax. SharePoint layout pages (MOSS) or master pages or themes are more standards web based (yeah, it's a bit of a stretch) so web designers are more familiar with these and might be able to get up to speed on creating new layouts faster than they would with PHP. However my motto is usually don't send in a mouse to do a man's work and template/theme creation is something better left to web designers and programmers no matter what the platform.


There are few open source projects in the world that have as strong a following as the very active WordPress does. SharePoint comprises of a lot of users that are very passionate about the product, but the community is highly fragmented. Is there a single place people go to (besides Google) to find SharePoint information? Wordpress.org is the community site for WordPress users and is easily accessible, especially since just going into your WP dashboard presents you with news from the community (as well as your stats being tracked at wordpress.com). SharePoint information is out there and can be found, but it's hit and miss. SharePoint does have the advantage of the Microsoft Forums where you have MVPs, Technical Staff, and End Users all helping out. There are online forums for WordPress but it’s hard to find things and there’s so many posts it’s hard to keep up.


This is where WordPress kicks the llamas butt with SharePoint. Just go to the WordPress Plugin Directory and you’ll be able to access over 10,000 plugins instantly. Where are the 10,000 Web Parts for SharePoint? Scattered to Hell’s Acres and back. What’s even cooler is the knock-down, drop-dead easy way it is to extend your WordPress site. Go to yoursite/wp-admin –> plugins –> add. Type in some search criteria (or browse popular or featured ones). Click install and activate. Bob’s yer uncle.

With SharePoint 2007 you’ll need a properly packaged solution (in a WSP file or MSI or something) or else you’ll be hand bombing things on the server. Oh, did I mention the remote desktop to the server in order to get the freakin file into the solution store. Then there’s deployment and finally activation. So that’s one command line, one central admin website, one site collection and you’re off to the races. Lather, rinse, repeat for each solution you want to add.

At least in SharePoint 2010 we’re getting better. The deployment story is pretty good with Sandboxed Solutions and while they have some disadvantages, there’s plenty of advantages over WordPress like resource throttling and process isolation that will make up for it.

Still, the number of pickings for what is out there in SharePoint land is pretty slim but then quantity != quality. And frankly if you look at the types of WordPress plugins, they’re mostly geared to internet sites with pretty specialized functionality. Hard to say if there’s any winner in this section but you have to admin, if you can’t find a plugin to do it in WordPress you probably shouldn’t be doing it. There’s something for everyone and everything.

Development and Documentation

Both products are pretty mature. The WordPress site has a pretty impressive documentation landing page that has pretty much everything you can think of on WordPress online for free. There are over a dozen WordPress books so there is a lot of momentum behind it and no shortage of knowledge. WordPress has a nice thing called the Codex which is their way of saying Wiki. Anyone can contribute to it and you can consider it a Wikipedia for WordPress. It’s nice to have all this information centralized, easily searchable and discoverable all in one place.

SharePoint offers up MSDN documentation which, in my experience, is a nightmare to navigate, many times completely incorrect or misleading, and sometimes fixed (content where you cannot even leave just a comment). The MSDN documentation for the most part offers asinine descriptions of methods. For example the description and documentation around the SPRole.PermissionMask is “Gets or sets the rights used for the permission mask of the site group”. Riiiight. So *what* is a permission mask? *what* is valid? *what* is the value I should use to set full permissions? Eventually you can weed your way through to the content that makes sense but it’s a long trip.

MSDN has changed. For awhile, they adopted the comment model. This was great, you could enter comments that corrected things in the documentation around a class or method or property. It was very much like the PHP documentation model. For example here’s the PHP documentation on the Static Keyword. Basic docs but a whack of comments from the community in the form of threads. Corrections to the documentation, examples of use, gotchas, etc. *THIS* is what MSDN Documentation needs for the SharePoint API. It’s just that since the last look and feel change, that ability is now gone.

As part of the WordPress Codex they have a Developer Documentation section. This is a nice, easily organized, list of programming topics including theme and plugin development, testing, widgets, and all the APIs in WordPress. It’s very much like the MSDN content for SharePoint but a little easier to follow. The pages are static looking, but it’s a wiki. Sign up for the codex, read the guidelines (very much like Wikipedia) and get editing. MSDN should re-instate this.

From the development perspective WordPress is pretty straight forward. Get a local copy of PHP (xampp is great for this) and a text editor or any of the numerous PHP IDEs out there, and get coding. Deployment is just saving a file.

For SharePoint you’ll need Visual Studio 2008 (for SharePoint 2007) or Visual Studio 2010 (for SharePoint 2010). The SDK offers instructions on building web parts, event receivers, etc. For Master Pages, Layout Pages and other things you’ll need a copy of SharePoint Designer (free) for each environment (or get crazy like me and have 2007 *and* 2010 installed). SharePoint deployment isn’t as simple as “save file” but with WSPBuilder and the WSPBuilder extensions it can be pretty painless (at conferences I demo going from a blank Visual Studio to deployed Web Part with Feature Receiver in about 10 minutes). Other tools you can check out are STSDEV or just build the content yourself. There’s nothing magical about SharePoint solutions, they’re just .NET class libraries. Visual Studio 2010 has a better developer story with “F5” development and some simpler tools (including a Visual Web Part that gives you a design surface).

For me, there’s the frustration of building code solutions in SharePoint and going through various hassles of packaging and deploying it properly but working in an uber cool language like C# vs. a not-so-cool language like PHP (I can tolerate it and it’s not bad) but a simple deployment cycle that’s low footprint and easy to spin up. Again, no clear winner here.

Wrap up

Overall SharePoint could learn and model a *lot* of features from the WordPress guys. Simple things like themes and look and feel should be a pleasant UX, not a complicated IT task. WordPress is all about dynamic look and feel and provides a lot of "previews" to what will happen before it's done. This is in stark comparison to SharePoint's "do it and we'll tell you if something broke" approach. The integrated administration the WordPress offers (the ability to download and install themes, widgets, and plugins right inside the dashboard) makes it an easy sell for the hobbyist and simple admin. SharePoint is getting there and the 2007 administration is an improvement over 2003 but it's still got a long way to go.

SharePoint could look at the community integration that WP offers. Imagine opening up your Central Admin and seeing news about patches, new web parts, and blogs from the community? Microsoft has taken the attitude that this information is best left to sites like SharePointPedia.com (which seems to be suffering from lack of anything) and it's own SharePoint.com for this type of aggregation. Perhaps this is the difference between a corporate system (that would potentially live behind firewalls and you don't want to be punching out to the big bad interweb from your server to get news) vs. the public hosting aspect of WordPress but I do feel a more community-driven dashboard built into SharePoint Administration would be more value-add for the SharePoint admin.

WordPress of course isn't the best thing since sliced bread and if you're going to go after that "Intranet Portal" crowd in the Enterprise it's going to be a hard sell to Corporate America, being open source, free, and built on PHP and MySQL. It also suffers from the stigma of being a "blog platform" and not something seen beyond that. I think showing WP as a corporate intranet isn't a far stretch, however it lacks SharePoint's seamless integration with the client and Information Worker tools so you have to pick what's best for your organization. Free (as in beer) can be a good thing or a bad thing for a company. While it's "free" as in download, setup, play. There's hidden costs associated with MySQL backends, backups, restores, IT people to keep the web servers burning, and all that jazz. Also if you start hooking up something like WordPress to a SQL backend to try to pull "corporate data" into the fold you start constructing a Frankenstein monster and we all know how costly that is in the end.

As a collaboration platform WordPress shines and is sexy provided that your idea of collaboration is online comments, forums, and rated content. Throw document versioning, approvals and workflow and business data on the pile and while SharePoint isn't as sexy looking as WP is, it gets the job done.

I don't think there's a right or wrong choice here but pick your tools as you see fit. As always, choose, but choose wisely.


  • You did not mention one of the top selling points of Wordpress: SEO.

    SharePoint deployments housing millions of sites, really? That's how many millions of contributors?

  • Great post!

  • You also forgot to mention these two products are no match for SharePress ;-)

  • >Don’t waste your time with IE and the “developer toolbar” (that doesn’t even let you modify things at runtime).

    Side note but the IE8 dev toolbar is actually a pretty vast improvement over is predecessors and, while it's still no Firebug, it's quite useable for most things CSS, JS, and HTML.

  • They are really 2 different beasts despite their ovelap, Wordpress more a "webby" blogging tool with some CMS and Sharepoint a webbased "groupware" tool also with some CMS, neither are leaders in CMS pure play.

  • I would have to agree that comparing these two almost doesn't make sense. Bottom line is if you are running your own website, plan to do a lot of the management yourself, or want to do it, and you need search engine optimization most likely wordpress is your answer. But the website functionality and needs matter as sharepoint can do things wordpress cannot do as well.

  • One question that begs to be asked, which no one has, what the cost of developing and maintaining a site on both platforms? I have worked on both (granted it's been a few years since I worked with SharePoint). Since Sharepoint is a proprietary product, the cost for hardware, software and a good team of consultants to get you want you want is very high. The support community for SharePoint is ok, but not overly helpful, and trying to get free components is tough.

    Wordpress is open source, but maintained by Automattic, so the codebase is constantly being updated and improved. Since the publishing of this article to now, Wordpress has released their 3.0 version (now up to 3.1.1), which opens things up using the very powerful taxonomy structure. The cost of getting what you want is much lower with Wordpress because of the open source approach.

    Having worked in both, and understanding both fairly well, for most projects I would lean now towards Wordpress. Few people who have not worked with Wordpress extensively still think of it as a blogging platform. If you get a development team with sharp skills and creativity (plus the thousands of plug-ins that are free or very inexpensive), you can get to a great end result in less time and less money in most cases.

    Both have pro's and con's, you really need to understand your requirements, including project timeline, budget and feature set to make a smart decision.

  • Yes! Finally someone writes about wordpress.

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