Most webmasters are aware that one of the most important things in creating a website is interactivity. Message boards are excellent because they place well on search engines, they are free advertisement space for your website, and they allow your website visitors to tell you just what they are thinking while being a part of your website. Two of the biggest forum options on the Internet right now are both completely free to set up and use. PHPBB stands for PHP (a coding language) Bulletin Board and SMF, which is also PHP based, stands for Simple Machines Forums.
When we talk templates PHPBB starts you off with one base template. This template, Sub Silver is clean cut and easy to see and use. If you want a replacement template they are easy to find. There are several websites where you can find hundreds of templates. Depending on the sites they will give you the graphic masters so that you can change the header to suit your site. If they opt to not do this, you may need some graphic design skills to remove whatever text they placed on the header to make room for yours.
SMF allows you three template choices when you first install your new message board. When going to look for new templates you are not going to find as many as you do with PHPBB and the ones you do find will all look very similar. There are a few original designs out there, but it seems that there are far more, clones than anything. If you like the three templates you have when you start or have the ability to make or manipulate a template, then SMF offers plenty of room to play. However, if you’re relying on someone else’s design you will find SMF to be lacking.
PHPBB and SMF both have loads of options in their configuration screens that allow you to tweak the program to suit your needs. Some of the things that both programs do include making a user authenticate through email before their username is valid, holding accounts until administrators have approved them, and locking or hiding message boards for special access.
PHPBB has one main configuration screen, a screen for banning members, and spots to change templates. Until you are familiar with this type of board you will really need to feel your way around. This can be off-putting to some people because no matter what, you are going to be spending a few minutes looking for this and that.
SMF has the same areas dealing with members, templates, and configuration. However, the layout is much cleaner in the admin panel and it allows you to quickly find what you are looking for. Rather than having around 10 buttons there are multiple buttons so things do not need to be lumped in with one another. There are the main buttons and then there are buttons and options within those buttons that pertain to that particular section. It ends up being highly organized and easy to weed through whether you are a beginner or a skilled SMF user.
When it comes to plug-ins you are going to find hundreds for both SMF and PHPBB. In fact, in using both boards and looking at the plug-ins I could not imagine that there is something you might want that you could not find. Everything from shopping carts to shoutboxes is available for both types of message board.
If you are adding plug-ins or mods to your PHPBB board it is going to take a little bit of work. Initially you just download the file you want to add and read the instructions. Depending on the modification you may need to make changes to your database or add code to various files. While in most cases full instructions are offered, this process can still be highly nerve wracking for some people, especially those with little to no experience with PHP and databases.
SMF, on the other hand, allows you to upload and install plug-ins straight from the admin panel. In most cases it is nothing more than a series of clicks. In fact, you do not need any PHP or coding knowledge to install the majority of plug-ins on an SMF board.
No matter which message board you choose you should have a fairly simple time installing things to be able to use them. If you have a server with cPanel and Fantastico you are just going to answer a few short questions and click some buttons and you will be all set. However, if you don’t you are going to have to make a MYSQL database and set up a username for that database. Once you’ve done this you will set the proper access functions and click a button. Then both programs will do the rest in getting things set up.
While things are different when it comes to adding modifications and plug-ins, there are no major differences in the installation instructions that you would need to follow in creating a new board.
PHPBB allows you several base features that are enough to run a basic board with no frills. There are many successful message boards out there with no special features, so this is not necessarily a bad thing. You are given the basics of what a person needs to run a board, no more and no less. This includes the ability to make categories and forums, lock and hide posts and forums, change the template, and change configuration options. You can make other people moderators and make special groups for the forums, as needed. These are things you will find necessary. Other than that not much is added.
The one thing that SMF has that seals the deal for a lot of people and makes them choose SMF is the fact that you can add child boards. A child board is a board within a board. If you have numerous topics having sub-boards helps to keep your board neat and tidy. Additionally, when you are adding forums you have the ability to list where they should go rather than having to move them up or down at a later point. Other basic features include the ability to add a small news blurb and a newsletter function, which can be nice if you have a need for such things.
A basic PHPBB board is easy to use whether you have loads of experience or only a small amount. However, you will want some experience otherwise you may find that it is difficult handling issues when it comes to changing things and making your forums more unique. These things will not be hard forever, but they are definitely things that could detract someone from wanting to take the time to learn how to use PHPBB and the many benefits that this style of board, does offer.
SMF tends to be highly user friendly. While if you can read you should be able to use both types of boards, SMF puts the admin panel in a more logical order and makes it easier for you to learn how to make simple changes. An extreme novice should be able to use an SMF board without much of a problem.
With an overall score of 5 to 2, SMF is the winner of the battle of the free forums. Both message boards are truly amazing and are fairly easy to use. However, if you want something that let’s you install things easier, has better organizational options, and is easier to use in the beginning, then SMF is what you need to use for your new board.