Back to Drupal

Ok, confession time. I love webgen but the Geek Ranch site keeps getting more complicated. We want blogs, .... Or, put another way, the dynamic content keeps growing.

I finally gave in and admitted we need Drupal. So, on to installing Drupal 6. No hosting location I work with has it on the auto-installer, so on to manually doing it.

First problem: can't run wget. It's on the shared server but I don't have permission to run it. That's absurd. Why? Because the alternative is to download Drupal to a local machine (which I have done anyway) but then upload it to the server with ftp. As my download bandwidth is eight times my upload bandwidth, I didn't like that solution.

On to Plan B. I uploaded wget to the shared server and compiled it. Small upload, quick compile. One problem down.

Drupal setup. Trivial. Create a database and user and go to the URL. Follow your nose. This is, of course, what you should expect these days but so many otherwise sophisticated web applications require a day or more of dorking around to get them installed and running.

Here is the whole install sequence:

  • First screen: English or something else
  • Second: Database info
  • Third: admin account. It includes some cute JavaScript that encourages you to use a secure password.
  • Done. It has a "visit your site" link.
All in all, pretty slick.

On to configuration. Well, I first looked at content types. I was disappointed I only saw story and page as I wanted a book. For those not familiar with what Drupal calls a book, it is the ability to set up pages in a hierarchy. It seemed right for a lot of the information we want to present.

So, I go looking. Clearly, it should be an option. But there is a link that says "create content type". This doesn't give you books but it allows you add a new node type (for example, one called stuff) and pick how the title and body will be labeled on the form. You also have control over promotion, comments and a lot more. Nice find but no cigar.

Ok, off to drupal.org to see if the book module is available. The first thing I notice is a bit of color added to the directory of modules. Basically, modules that make sense are now highlighted in green, those that don't in red.

Ok, bad news. I don't find book in the content modules but Book Expand exists which is supposed to fix some things in book. Ok, search a bit. It turns out this was a false alarm. The book module is included in the Drupal core now but not enabled by default. Two clicks and the non-problem is solved. While I was on that page I also enabled Aggregator, Blog, Search and Upload.

While I was on the Drupal site anyway, I decided to take a look at what themes have been ported to Drupal 6. I found a few interesting ones to play with and downloaded them. One, called Framework, is pretty much an empty theme. That is, it has all the content in place but is designed to be a building block for what you want.

It may seem premature to pick a Drupal theme. That's a valid conclusion as you can change the theme at any point without having to change your content. Thus, this was a preliminary look for me to help me make a use vs. create decision. What is already available is looking very good so I am pretty sure starting with an existing theme and making some minor tweaks will suffice.

One very cool thing is that customization (such as non-core module additions) is separated from the core. For example, additional modules go in sites/all/modules. This means you can update Drupal and not worry about an update wiping out your added modules and themes.

After a few days of playing, I am sure I have made the right decision. I found a theme I liked and tweaked it a bit. I added a few more modules and, in general, set up the basic structure of the site. One thing that makes Drupal suitable for something other than a traditional CMS is the ability to set the start page. In addition, the books are a plus as well.

One "trick" I wanted was a web camera. Try one is out there by adding a block that just grabs the saved camera images (thumbnail and, if you click on it, real image). Unfortunately, browsers cache the image defeating the purpose of a changing image. But, I can fix this by just putting some PHP code in the block to stick the image in the page.

The second "trick" is a weather page featuring current and historical information from a weather station. As the weather station is on order but not here, testing that will come a bit later.

So, is Drupal the "right answer"? For me, yes and, for a lot of dynamic content sites, I feel it is the right answer as well. While I was a fan of Joomla, the recent decision by the team to disallow non-GPLed plug-ins seems like a big mistake. It may sound politically like the right answer but I see it taking its toll on what is available with Joomla. Drupal, on the other hand, has gone the opposite direction. Drupal will remain free but you can expect to see more non-free additions.

In a year, it will be time to take a look at the two again and see if my prediction is right. But, for the Geek Ranch, Drupal it is.

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