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So I guess the big question I would ask is what could you do with Typo3 that you couldn't do with the others that you rejected?. Maybe if you answer that (or list requirements) we can find you something easier to use that would get the job done.
As an alternative to CMS Matrix, you might have a look at the results of the Pakt Publishing Open Source CMS Award [packtpub.com]. Make sure to look not just at the winners, but scroll down the page to look at the finalists in each category. I've played with a handful of them and they are all fine software. Note that TypoLight makes the list, but not Typo3.
As for the sanity check... I haven't tried TYPO3 in years, but frankly my experience was like yours. Since at that time I was doing a lot of PHP coding, I felt like I could build a custom app that did what I wanted quicker than I could learn the ins and outs of Typo3.
I don't want to disparage Typo3. It's fans freely admit that it has one of the steepest learning curves, but once learned it has great possibilities. I'll have to take their word for it.
I do wonder if the CMS world has passed it by a bit.
Joomla looked good for a while but its templating seemed to me to be very limited (I know what I want the sites to look like and they don't fit). Also, Joomla doesn't do several of the above.
Meanwhile, I'll have a bash at that other site and see what happens.
BTW, since you're in a Windows environment, you might pay special attention to DotNetNuke. I've heard really good things about it.
Syndication - every CMS has an RSS feed.
Subscription - member only site or subscribe to threads?
AD - what's that?
Windows - if it's a PHP + MySQL CMS, it shoudl do this out of the box. If you want to do rewrites, you'll need a special add-on for IIS, but on a WAMP box you're good to go.
WYSWYG - most major CMS with TinyMCE, FCKEditor, YUIEditor or some other plugin. TinyMCE is plug and play in drupal. Haven't tried others.
Granular privileges. You can use various plugins in drupal to manage this (access control to areas of the site, content types, workflow control -- publish, promote, edit etc as separate perms; field-level permissions when adding pages that use custom content definitions). I don't know about Joomla at all on this.
Mailform - as in a contact form? Should be a standard feature.
Load balancing - don't know, but when I search on "joomla load balancing" or "drupal load balancing" I get lots of results and HOWTOs and, for drupal, even a special load balancing group. I certainly know that drupal.org and The Onion are doing load balancing with drupal.
Session management - what are you looking for there? For authenticated users? Non-authenticated? Detect new visitors (cookie)? Some have a What Would Seth Godin Do style plugin that segments new and returning visitors, but not sure specifically what you're looking for. Of course, all the PHP apps use PHP sessions and commonly they use custom session handlers, but I'm not sure what you need there.
SLL - ? Did you mean SSL?
Multiple sites - built into drupal and is easy as can be. Takes me 5 minutes to add a site. It takes me longer to go to the registrar and change the DNS info actually. Just create a directory and add a symlink (or not depending on server setup). Sorry, but not a joomla guy, so not sure there.
Versioning - drupal, wordpress even has it now. Joomla? Probably.
Content approval - I would think this would be a basic feature.
Workflow - it's an add-in for drupal which you may or may not need depending on the complexity of the workflow. Again, apologies that I don't know WRT to joomla.
Scheduling. Most have this. In Wordpress it's built in. In drupal you enable the scheduler module.
Templates - every CMS will have templating. Some are easier than others, but all have a templating system.
Again, I'm sorry I don't know Joomla, but I wonder if you've really had a fair look. Speaking for Drupal, Wordpress, ModX, Dragonfly, Gallery I can say that some designs are *easier* than others and there is often a sort of style that develops that makes sites on the same CMS look similar, but that's just a design issue.
Anything I can do with an HTML page, I can do with Drupal or Wordpress. If I want different templates in different contexts, that's more work, but easily possible. I just helped my brother get started on a Wordpress site that has about a dozen templates (just as one example). Given the joomla sites I've seen, I'd be very surprised if you couldn't do this with joomla too (but I migt be wrong).
Forgive my bias, as I haven't used anything other than Zope since 1999, but you might want to take it (Zope/Plone) for a spin... If switching from php to python doesn't scare you, that is :)
If your job is to build CMS-based websites for other people, TYPO3 offers a lot of advantages, and makes spending the time coming to grips with its notorious complexity worthwhile.
It's also great for end-users since it has an amazingly fine-grained permissions system--you can, if needed, specify group or individual users access by database field--and since the admin area or 'BE' is hugely customizable. This means that it's possible to provide a UI that's specifically tailored to the tasks that the end-users need to perform, and that more advanced options can be made available to individual users or groups with more technical savvy. I've never seen a CMS with remotely comparable permissions.
But if you're in the middle group--that group of people who needs one website and who needs to build it in-house--then I would say that in many cases it might not be worthwhile to learn it yourself.
TYPO3 is also not a superb platform for sites that need to make heavy use of blogging-type features or user registration (the user registration system is not part of the core and is, for historical reasons, very time-consuming to fully customize...it's enough work that I won't use TYPO3 for community or membership-heavy projects because of it).
All that aside, I didn't really see much in your list that points strongly in the direction of TYPO3 with the possible exceptions of the fine-grained permissions system. As ergophobe pointed out, a project with lots of momentum such as Drupal may be worth your while. I'm a full-time developer in a Drupal-oriented shop, and while I don't think it's TYPO3's equal overall, I do think that its recent development has been very impressive, and that it does lots of things better than TYPO3 does (though Drupal's default HTML output is, at times, just plain silly and difficult to work with).
If you've done any work with PHP in the past, you're also likely to find Drupal templating earlier to grasp than learning Typoscript (Typoscript is an absolutely brilliant concept, a fantastically useful tool, but one which suffers a bit from having grown organically and instead of having been planned or designed as such).
The last thing I can say is that there's not much you'll do at the beginning stages of learning how to build a site with TYPO3 that will be different now than it was at version 3.8 except some of the specifics of the UI. When it comes to templating with Typoscript, the system has changed very little since TYPO3 3.5 was released almost six years ago.
>>since the admin area or 'BE' is hugely customizable
That is, I think, a weak point with most of the simple CMS aimed at the person who wants to build a site and get going.
>>Drupal's default HTML output is, at times, just plain silly and difficult to work with
There is that. divs with multiple classes nested among divs with multiple classes and all that.
As ergophobe pointed out, a project with lots of momentum such as Drupal may be worth your while
I guess I said that and indeed I meant to say what you effectively said much better. I was thinking that when TYPO3 appeared, there were rinky dink CMS for script kiddies (PHPNuke et al), and serious, enterprise level CMS that cost a fortune, were immensely cumbersome and complex, but provided complex workflow and permission systems.
In the interim, the huge growth has been in the middle category - joomla, drupal, and their buddies - which are more aimed at the person who just wants to get a site up and be done with it. TYPO3 got caught out in the cold a bit I think in not being hugely expensive enough for big companies to take it seriously (no kidding) and not being simple enough for grassroots folks to really learn it. That's what I meant by the CMS world sort of passing it by. That's just an impression, mind, and certainly not in any way shape or form an informed opinion. But hey, you get what you pay for and my opinions are free ;-)
DNN, when I looked at it, was very feature-full and would probably have done the job - but was limited to pre-prepared skins, with no documented way of changing them. Maybe that's changed.
DotNetNuke like any other CMS, completely separates the interface from the subsystem and functionality. There is a minor learning curve with respect to preparing a custom "skin package" to deploy to DNN as there are a few declarations that are made in the head (6-8 lines of code) along with the use of "tokens" which are predefined value place holders. Most of the tokens are used for [Date], [Time], [Login], [Copywrite], etc...
As far as customizing the look and feel of a DNN skin, it's all HTML and CSS; just like any other "normal" web page. There is no predefined look and feel and no limit to what your HTML & CSS and do and look like.
To take the euclidean distance with respect to rapid deployment, you could easily take one of the many free skin packages available and merge your HTML and CSS with it. It's really that simple.
I get many calls to convert HTML templates to DNN skins and container packages.
Also, there is a plethora of documentation on skin and module development on the DotNetNuke website available from the Downloads section. You need to be a member (free) to download the DNN source and docs.
To answer some of your other questions and how/if DNN can meet your needs...
There's quite a long list of things I need - here are some highlghts:
Plugin authentication or some means of using AD
Runs on Windoze (but not necessarily IIS, etc)
SLL compatible and pages
... a dose of other stuff
And last but not least - price!
Syndication - Yes
Subscription - Yes
Active Directory Integration - Yes
Windows, SQL & IIS - Yes
WYSIWYG - Yes
Granular Privileges - Role Based Security On Page/Module levels - Yes
MailForm - Yes
Load Balancing - Yes (Farming Possible)
Session Management - not sure...
SSL Compatible - Yes
Multiple Sites - Yes (multiple parent and child sites)
Versioning - Yes (with proper planning)
Content Approval - Yes (with purchase of cheap module)
Workflow - Yes (with purchase of cheap module)
Scheduling - Yes
Templates - Yes
Dose of other stuff - Yes (see the SnowCovered site)
Price = FREE!
I use the DNN CMS for 90% of my clients.
Hope This Helps,
So, the search is ended and DNN is the chosen CMS here!
Now if only they would get rid of the whole "nuke" thing...
Best of luck and feel free to PM me or ask further questions. I will be more than happy to try and help.