Build, customize and maintain your web site with Berta: a free, open-source CMS loaded with options

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Berta is a great, open source web building application, also called a CMS (Content Management System). It costs nothing, is loaded with features and options, and is very user friendly.

The pages you build with Berta can be used on pretty much any domain, and unlike some other ‘free’ CMS apps, they do not require you to sign up for hosting or domain services through them (although it does offer these services as options).

Berta is noteworthy in that designing and editing is largely based on dragging and dropping and clicking elements to edit them. Moreover, it is CMS without the need to run a database; all data is stored in files .

Berta Websites Showcase

There’s a ton of decent programs out there for building and managing websites, but Berta manages to make a run for the winner’s circle by offering simplicity, power, and customization. All of this, and at no cost, makes Berta  a great choice for both experienced and beginner website builders. When you first go to the Berta site, you’ll be offered the choice of either signing up to create your site online, or to download the Berta application and create your site locally on your computer, for use on your own domain. Both of these options have their pros and cons, but for the sake of this article, I went with the sign up option.

Berta Screen 4The big difference between the two options is what you intend to do with your site once it is built. If you do not own a domain name and/or you are not familiar with manually setting up websites on specific domains, you may want to go with the sign up option. The download option is recommended (both by Berta and myself) for those who are more experienced with the whole process of building a site, maintaining it, etc. Both options will have you up and running, creating your new site in minutes (although, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need at least a day or two to fiddle with options and customization) and be ready to have it published to the net. If you chose the download option, publishing is up to you. If you chose the sign up option, your site will be published as a Beta test site, with full functionality, and will stay up in that manner for 30 days. During that period, you can explore all the different ways that Berta offers to make creation and maintenance of your site easy and fast. Once that period is over, you can publish the saved site on your own if you like or you can choose to sign up for hosting and domain services, or even turn your page into an online store, through Berta. These services have a cost, but they are not required to use Berta for creation and maintenance. They are a great way to help new site owners and builders get things going quickly and easily.

Berta Screen 6Berta Screen 7

Once you’ve decided which way you plan to go with your site, you can jump in and start creating, editing, tweaking and customizing you site to your heart’s content. Berta is not only a CMS but it is also, in a way, a tutorial (they call it a tour) in and of itself, as it leads you step by step through the process of creation. Unlike other CMS programs, Berta offers you the option to align your content on a grid, which will make everything nice and neat with squared-off edges and corners, or you can just place anything haphazardly anywhere you like on the page and keep it there. This is an ideal feature for artists and those who want to build a site showcasing their portfolios and talents. You can move anything on any page anywhere any time. This kind of freedom is less than common in most CMS programs I have used so I was personally impressed with the concept as well as how easy it was to actually use. Also, Berta does not require SQL or any other database program because all the data it needs is stored dynamically in the files it uses to build and publish the site.

Berta Screen 8Berta Screen 9

In addition to the features mentioned already, Berta also offers pretty much all the same ‘standard’ options and features of a decent CMS like being able to use multiple fonts per page, having many different templates and pre-made styles available, as well as a fairly robust help system in case you get stuck or need help. When I had a question that I wasn’t able to find an answer for in the help pages, I got an email response in less than 4 hours to my question, which answered it quite well and politely. This kind of ‘customer service’ is also less than common with most freeware programs, and really shows the dedication of the developers and support staff to making this a great program. Combine all of this with the fact that Berta is an open-source program, which means that the savvy coder can make his or her own changes to the actual ‘source code’ (basic programming) of Berta, and this is one of the most powerful CMS programs I have seen with a zero price tag.

It’s worth noting as well, that the online version of Berta, which allows you to create and host the 30 day ‘beta’ or ‘test’ version of your site will run on nearly any browser. The downloadable version, however, has some limitations on what it will run on. According to their website: “BERTA is a free content management system (CMS) created for anybody who wants to show their work online. BERTA is perfectly suited for portfolios of visual content (images and videos). The public part of BERTA works in all major browsers and does not require flash. The private part, where the content editing takes place, should be used with Safari 3+ or Mozilla Firefox 3+, as it hasn’t been tested in other browsers. A flash player 9+ ir necessary for advanced file uploading features. Server requirements: PHP 5 with GD (for image resizing) and multibyte (unicode strings) support Preferably Apache webserver, but any other will do BERTA does NOT require a database. All data are stored in files on the server.”

You will notice from the screenshots here that the interface for Berta is smooth and clean, without a lot of fancy un-needed graphics and menu bars to add flashiness to it. This is a great thing, in my opinion as it allows you to concentrate on the design of your site itself, rather than being distracted or confused by the interface. In conclusion, I found Berta to be a great, free content management system as well as a good place to start for beginners who want to build their own site. Until next time, my friends!

[Thanks to reader Panzer for the tip about this software]

Check out Berta here. (We’ve noticed the site behaving strangely lately, and perhaps more strangely outside of the US; hopefully things have been sorted out as you read this).