So, you've finally chosen your CMS. Flushed with excitement, you rush to the download page -- and now you have to decide which version to download.
If you only see words like "stable" and "development," you can probably figure it out. "Stable" sounds a lot safer than "development," right? Correct! You want "stable."
But sometimes a CMS offers two "stable" choices. Which should you choose? The higher number is not always better. Your choice here depends entirely on your other choices for your site.
Choosing a version is about more than just this download. You're getting on a particular "path" of future upgrades. Usually, the higher number is basically farther along the same path. If you choose the lower number now, you'll eventually have to upgrade to the higher number.
Kind of. Actually, you'll have to upgrade to the major version part of the higher number. If that doesn't make any sense, read why you need to keep upgrading forever. Upgrading is like changing your oil. If you stop, bad things happen.
Since you'll have to upgrade to the higher number anyway, why would you bother to choose the lower number now? Isn't that creating extra hassle down the road?
Yes. It is. But sometimes the hassle is worth it. What if you want to use a plugin or module that only works with the lower number right now?
This is extremely common. Plugin developers can take months or years to update their code for a new major version.
If you're going to rely on plugins or modules, you need to plan your site before you choose your version. If even one critical plugin is only available for the lower version, you're stuck with that version for now.
But choose your plugins wisely. If it looks like that lower version plugin has been abandoned, you'll be in serious trouble in a year or two when you have to upgrade your whole site.
Drupal is an obvious example of the version conundrum. Officially, drupal.org recommends that you build new sites with Drupal 7. But hundreds of useful Drupal modules don't have a version for Drupal 7 yet. Should you use Drupal 7 or Drupal 6? You'll have to figure that out for each site separately.
Joomla is even more complicated. Once again, you have the same issue with extensions. A single Joomla extension can hold you back in the lower version.
But there's another factor: Joomla offers both long-term and short-term releases. If you're planning to run a Joomla site for more than a couple months, you'll need to understand the Joomla release cycle. Once you understand long-term and short-term releases, you'll probably have a clear preference right away. But you need to figure that preference out before you download.
If all this talk of versions and upgrades is making your head hurt, there's always static HTML. Static HTML websites don't have versions. (Well, technically they do, but mere mortals can safely ignore them.)
Unfortunately, static HTML websites also don't have a lot of other things, like any appeal for 99% of the human population. I don't mean the sites don't look appealing -- static HTML can look great. It's fast, too. But editing a static HTML site is an acquired taste.
If you just want to put up a few pages and leave them alone for ten years, static HTML may still be a good idea. For anything else, a good CMS is worth the minor hassles.