Drupal gains ground down under

Computerworld speaks with Drupal's lead developer and several Drupal shops about the open source CMS used in a growing number of organisations around the world, including the Prime Minister’s office.

Agileware's Justin Freeman

Agileware's Justin Freeman

The framework around Drupal also appealed to Hobbs, which is, he said, a very important consideration to take in to account when assessing open source projects to base a business upon. “The Drupal administration handles a lot of the administration but they have a publicised rule that they can not dictate the direction of the software. That's really important because Mambo was managed by a board where some of the members tried to control the project and that's when it all went crazy and Joomla split off,” he said.

The most challenging Drupal project Em Space has done, according to Hobbs, was for Victorian Chamber of Commerce.

“We did a carbon trading site where businesses could sign up and show their products. The real challenge was that we were starting to go up the chain and deal with a client that was more demanding than past ones. They had legal teams that were very demanding and there was a high expectation for outcomes,” he said.

“There was also a lot of development around what the site was going to do before we even got to see those requirements and the requirements sometimes conflicted with what Drupal does out of the box, so we ended up doing a lot of fighting with Drupal.”

It is easier, when working with Drupal, to get involved from the start of a project and develop the requirements in negotiation with the client, according to Hobbs.

While Drupal does not make up the whole of Simon Roberts' open source consulting business, it plays an increasingly important part.

Taniwha Solutions, which started in New Zealand and has been in Australia for four years, is responsible for developing about 20 professional Drupal sites, including work for the discovery channel and several community portals.

“I was personally involved in the Drupal community - as a hobbyist initially - but more people started asking me to help them out with this or that. So we started to offer Drupal support and services professionally and add it to our portfolio. Since then we have hired three Drupal developers.”

Roberts said that although WordPress and PHP-nuke may look nicer out of the box, they are more difficult to extend and maintain.

“As Drupal's community continues to grow, the pace and breadth of development will too,” he said.

Justin Freeman decided to base his Canberra web development business, Agileware on Drupal after initially trying Joomla. His company now creates around four Drupal-based sites per month.

Freeman said he chose Drupal over Joomla for a variety of reasons, but his choice was always going to be open source.

“My focus has always been around open source and about encouraging customers to use the power of open source to reduce cost, time-to-market and development time,” he said.

“Prior to starting this business I was working as a consultant and watching massive enterprise projects burning up a lot of time and money and delivering very little in terms of ROI and outcomes. At the same time I was watching Linux and the open source scene mature and I thought not enough people were out there working with it. People don't market open source so I wanted to set up a company that championed open source projects.”

When setting up his company, Freeman initially started working with Joomla, “which is a great system, developed locally [in Melbourne]; great for a turnkey website and to get something that looks very pretty up and running very quickly.”

Freeman believes, Joomla is developed more for designers and Drupal for developers.

“Joomla is very popular with graphic designers, but it gets very hard as soon as you want to get behind the scenes and do some integration work or extend some modules in a particular way.”

To put some numbers on this, the company had a module that it needed to develop for a customer in Joomla. “It took over a week to just to get our head around what we actually needed to do. Then we decided to move the customer over to Drupal and had the module developed by the end of the day! That was Drupal 4.7 which wasn't as pretty as it is now but the core of Drupal, even then, had much better documentation and better community support. It had a whole API that you could use easily,” Freeman said.

“With Joomla, you had to write to the core code to make changes and it wasn't a good development environment to work in. Drupal has a great user manual for developers but on the Joomla side there was nothing.” Owen Lansbury's company, PreviousNext, has deployed about 20 medium to large scale Drupal projects in the past two years after undertaking an extensive comparative analysis of CMSs and zeroing in on Drupal. The research found that Drupal was the most flexible and scalable product to meet clients' needs (primarily in the publishing, broadcast and government spaces).

“There are definitely CMS products out there that are faster and easier to deploy, so arguments around why to use Drupal tend to be based around the benefits of choosing a mature open source product that has a proven track record on thousands of projects, a highly active developer community, and the flexibility and scalability to suit most project's requirements,” Lansbury said.

“Drupal also provides clients with long-term security by not tying them down to a single developer or vendor.” Lansbury said that another attraction of Drupal is that you can use it for almost anything you can set your mind to.

“[This is] also it's danger, as clients are sometimes tempted to try and squeeze too many features into a website which can throw up a range of unforeseen consequences. Drupal doesn't mean you can short-cut good project management and development practices, and we always try and guide our clients to define a consolidated feature set before a project commences,” he said.

PreviousNext is responsible for the main portal of the New South Wales Government at http://nsw.gov.au, a number of projects for the ABC, the State Library of Victoria and a division of the Seven Network. “Our focus is to help large organisations like these make the transition to open source technologies confidently and securely through a range of measures, including the training and long term support services they would expect to receive from a proprietary CMS vendor,” Lansbury said.

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