Comparing Popular Bulletin Board Software Packages

Bulletin board systems these days don’t get as much attentions as other genres of software.  These tend to be more associated with not-for-profit sites of various kinds, and non-business related genres often plays second fiddle.

Regardless, adding a discussion board to your web site is a great way to generate community interest in whatever your site is centred around.  The difference between a good and bad forum site can be like night and day, though.  Here are some of the most popular BBS’s out there, and their perceived advantages and disadvantages.


This is one category in which there is a clear leader.  phpBB is far-and-away the most popular BBS.  Even with a few features lacking one web site summarized its review of the latest version, phpBB3, by declaring it “the perfect forum software.”

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Is it?  Looking over it we could fill this entire article up with a list of its features.  It comes with support for 42 languages, including both American and British English.  It’s compatible with 7 different PC browsers and six different SmartPhones.  It can run on six different data storage systems.  It has more than 400 available plugins and more than 500 available themes.

Honestly, we have an easier time listing what it can’t do.  About the only features it lacks that you might have serious use for are threaded discussions, a calendar system and the ability to have a paid-customer only section.  It is described as possibly a little tricky to fine tune, but otherwise easy to install and work with.  There were complaints in recent versions about security weakness, but they seem to have been cleared up.

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Comparing them side-by-side you may wonder exactly why phpBB is so much more popular than a package like vBulletin.  Their feature lists are close to being carbon copies of one another.

The primary reason is probably the fact that phpBB is free and open source, vBulletin is paid software, and is not cheap.  This appears to be the only reason, though, and we should temper this with one addendum.  The entire Publishing Suite version of the software package includes content management and community blog software designed to work with your forums.  Given the high marks that the forum software receives, this may make it a preferred choice for someone who needs a more professional looking site.

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Simple Machines Forum (SMF)

SMF doesn’t seem to have nearly the level of usage on the web as these other two packages.  Like vBulletin, though, it doesn’t seem to be because the software itself is lacking.  In fact, it arguably has the most features of all three, and one site listing its positives and negatives couldn’t even come up with any of the latter.  It is only at version 2.0, but five years worth of development went in between that and version 1.5.

Bulletin board software packages appear to be one of the more complete areas of web development.  If you want to add a discussion board to your site, you have lots of solid packages to choose from.

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