|Submitted by Elteto on Sun, 06/29/2008 - 21:09|
Leaving with home-cooked PHP code and traveling with TYPO3 and Joomla, Drupal finally gets me there.
In opening, I must admit I am not exactly a professional web designer or a programmer (to say the least), but I do have an understanding of how PHP, MySQL and content management systems (CMS) work. In the days when the term 'blogging' was still non-existent, I was working on getting some of my articels on the web in a manner that would allow quick updates without consuming time and effort with static HTML page design.
Years ago, after quickly dismissing the Active Server Pages platform (.asp) as a possible candidate for site development, ColdFusion (.cfm), tied to a Microsoft Access database, was my first experimentation with dynamic web pages. Authoring .cfm pages with Dreamweaver was easy, and even if I had to tweak the code, it was structured and made sense.
I stumbled on PHP and MySQL by accident. I ordered a handful of books on Dreamweaver, without realizining that one of them was specifically about PHP/MySQL development with the program. The book was mainly concerned with how to use Dreamweaver, but it provided all the underlying PHP code for an online reservation system. I had a chance to peek under the hood. I started to get involved more with open source software at the time, so PHP and MySQL fit right into the picture. Having worked with Microsoft SQL Server before, the ease of deployment, setup, use and power of MySQL was appealing. Getting my feet wet with Linux, the crossplatform compatibility of PHP/MySQL only added to my interest in the solutions.
Dreamweaver allowed me to define a database connection and insert data sets into a PHP page with drag-and-drop ease, and so was the first version of my site created, with one index.php page, connected to one MySQL table. So bare-bones! So fast! So powerful! So efficient! Hmm. So boring and unsophisitcated.
My first encounter with a CMS was XOOPS (that time I failed to deploy Mambo on Red Hat does not count). I was able to get it running on my laptop with a Windows/Apache/MySQL/PHP (WAMP) setup. Back then, it was much more than what I needed, and I found it lacked some of my desired customization features.
Years later, with my site still alive and kicking on that basic .php page, I finally saw CMSs as mature and customizable enough to give them another chance. In my research, I kept coming across Joomla, and I learned about its split from Mambo. Ease of use was not the most important variable; expandability, scalability and customizability were. I gave Joomla a shot. Installation went without difficulties, and the control panel made site administration easy. I deployed Joomla for a work-related project, as users of all skill levels would be dealing with it.
For my own site, though, I wanted something really powerful, and I kept hearing about TYPO3. Now, TYPO3 is an excellent CMS, but installing, administering and using it are more challenging, and I kept encoutering problems when accessing it through corporate firewalls. I needed a CMS I could use from anywhere, anytime, through any configuration. For the record, TYPO3 is a powerful enterprise-level CMS, with outstanding customizability and scalability; it just did not work under my configuration requirements.
I deployed Joomla with none of the access problems, but I immediately faced challenges with some of its limitations. I needed good search engine optimization (SEO), and Joomla is still evolving in that aspect. I wanted articles categorized in multi-level hierarchies and to fall under multiple categories. Joomla could only give me a section and a category under it. The more tweaking and customization I did, the more the database and the links broke, and different templates presented inconsistencies in interpreting styles and formatting.
It was time for me to come to the power geek community for help. Upon consulting numerous comparison charts, I realized that I did not care about the areas Drupal was rated lower in. The first thing I noticed was Drupal's much smaller size of only 463 files, as compared to 3,586 in Joomla. "Sweet! The power geeks get straight to the point!" I thought. I had not used Drupal before, but I understood that the 6.X version had great improvements in its ease of installation. Compared to the other CMSs, I felt almost cheated out of installation screens.
Then I was slapped in the face. Of course, I did not expect fancy, icon-based user interfaces, but the initial administration menu seemed too featureless, and I was overwhelmed by the blocks, menus, modules, nodes and taxonomy concepts. I had a momentary must-revert-to-Joomla anxiety, worrying about tedious and lengthy learning process for Drupal, fearing I would never get a site out there.
Little did I know. First, of all the CMSs I had tried, Drupal hands-down impressed me the most with its documentation. There is The Drupal Cookbook for beginners, or Getting Started, an excellent introduction and overview. All on a clean, neat, well-organized site. I only had to read a few pages before starting to experiment around, and in no time I was getting articles out there. Further research guided me to all the modules and customization I needed, and Drupal's speed, performance and flexibility superiority became strikingly obvious.
Which leads me to the power of the community. With an impressive number of installations, developers, administrators and users, members of the Drupal world are always there to help each other and welcome new converts. There are over 25 million Google hits for Drupal, 300,000 installations and 200,000 members on Drupal.org alone.
No CMS is perfect, and Drupal has its critics who point out shortcomigs in user-friendliness, security and ease of use; all of which of course are subjective. There is a discussion on reasons not to use Drupal. I personally experienced that installing modules did prove to be tricky at times, as uploading a single file or directory to the Drupal core and enabling it was not enough; occasionally I had to copy files around in sub-directories. Sometimes a module had to be copied and installed, but the application it tied to had to be separately downloaded, extracted and copied to various folders. Still, once installed, these modules tremendously enhance the functionality of Drupal, and there are more than enough instructional pages and even videos out there to guide a user through. As the above-linked discussion even mentions, some people are just forthright lazy.
Praises and criticisms aside, I just simply enjoy finally getting what I want in a CMS from Drupal.