Content Management Systems vs Custom PHP / mySQL Applications
You can finds all sorts of opinions on the web about Content management Systems vs Custom PHP Applications. On top of that, you can find many opinions that lead to one side or another. The million dollar question is: 'Which one is better'. Now, we must define better. Better at doing what? Once the secondary question 'Better at doing what?' can be answered, you can break down the discussion. From a programmer's perspective, I would lean to a custom application; unless the content management system could assemble the project together quickly. However, if quality, future customization and speed of web delivery are issues, open source content management systems would not even be a consideration.
Programmer's Skill Level
Regardless of what option is used is limited by the programmer's skill level. PHP / mySQL programmers who can assemble relational databases, hand code php / mySQL and can work with sessions without any hangups are a different sort than those who can install plugins and rely on built in programming. If you look at most large websites, with Joomla.org, wordpress.org, drupal.org being some of the exceptions, you do not see too many custom applications that use WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. From a custom perspective, they are too bulky and not flexible.
Custom Content Management System?
This tale is about a programmer who built a custom cms. The programmer had used WordPress, Joomla and Drupal on multiple occasions. The content management systems seemed much easier to edit and deploy than static html / css web pages. They also allow you to make dynamic websites very easily. But, they had strict rules to customization. Therefore, the programmer spent years studying and building custom websites with PHP / mySQL. After years of coding and becoming a certified php / mySQL programmer; the custom path seemed wide open. Of course, this was very hard work and patience to arrive at this level. But, it allowed to put things in perspective. The programmer had built his own cms and developed his coding style to be very productive and automatic. Asides from looking at php.net once in a while to find a new function, the rest of the coding and troubleshooting became automatic. The new cms has allowed the building of web pages to be even quicker ad faster than open source cms' like Drupal, WordPress and Joomla. In a nutshell, customization is a higher level and can lead to better results for the short and long term. Also, custom code is reusable and the programmer's library grows and grows; thus allowing new applications to be built much faster. Performance wise? I have not seen an open source cms perform as fast as streamlined php code and high performance mySQL queries. Then, if you throw in the templating the scale crashes to the ground. Asides from performance, templating and customization, custom PHP applications should be more secure. The code can be kept securely on a VPS or dedicated server and the public would not have access to the php code. With open source cms, security issues are always discovered and strange mySQL injections or XSS scripting can wreak havoc on a website. Secure php / mySQL programming can start with a programmer keeping the code closed source.
If you can hand code PHP / mySQL, html and CSS and create and modify database tables very quickly, there is a great chance you would not ask the million dollar question: "Which one is better".