Review: Drupal 7 Simplifies Web Content Management
The latest release of the open source CMS addresses many weaknesses with a more intuitive interface and much improved core functionality.
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Slideshow: Clicking Through Drupal 7's Features
While Drupal isn't the most popular open source content management system (CMS) available today, its focus on deep management and customization features ideal for complex sites has led it to be used on some very large and popular sites, including many busy news sites and WhiteHouse.gov.
But when it comes to ease of use and flexibility, Drupal has lagged behind more popular competitors such as Wordpress. However, with the release of Drupal 7, the open source CMS has significantly overhauled much of the core of the product and has taken some significant strides towards becoming a more user friendly -- but still powerful -- CMS.
Installing Drupal 7 is fairly painless and the CMS can run on any system that can run PHP and MySQL, which includes both Linux and Windows systems. Upgrading from version 6 could be a difficult task, given the many changes in the core of this release, especially if your site has a lot of custom code and configurations.
More Intuitive Interface
Once I had Drupal 7 ready for testing, I logged into the main administration interface. Right away, the revamped interface -- with many changes from previous versions -- is apparent.
Now bringing up management options or editing features launches a light-box overlay on the Web page you are viewing, rather than bringing up a separate administration page. This works well and also allows for more in-context menu options throughout Drupal 7.
A new menu bar across the top of the admin interface provides quick access to the dashboard, content for editing, reports, and other site-configuration options. The dashboard is a customizable management page that can be configured to show the information and content that the site administrator is most interested in. Drupal 7 also adds a shortcut feature that makes it possible to perform common tasks with a single mouse click.
Better Module Management
Much of the power of Drupal comes from the many modules available for adding functionality and features to the core CMS. Traditionally, one of the first modules that most Drupal users have added is the Content Construction Kit (CCK), which handles most site content creation and editing. In Drupal 7, most of the CCK has become part of the core of the CMS, which was probably a long overdue step, as most of this functionality is core to Web site management.
From a management perspective, Drupal handles content creation well, providing lots of options for field customization and content creation controls. However, from a user perspective, the lack of a WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") editor can be a problem, though there are extension modules that can add this functionality.
Since the release of Drupal 7 in January, many of its most popular modules have been upgraded to work with the new version of the CMS. This is good, as the CMS now has more options for managing modules, especially when it comes to installing them and keeping them updated. Most welcome is the ability to add extensions directly from the Drupal management interface, rather than through FTP and scripts.
Improved Theme Technology
Themes, which make it easy to design and change the look and feel of your Web site, have also been greatly upgraded in Drupal 7, and anyone who has used the theme functionality in Wordpress will be right at home. Drupal comes with several base themes in the core, all of which offer simple options for getting a site up and running, and administrators can easily find new ones to quickly install.
The underlying technology of the themes is also much improved in Drupal 7, making better use of CSS and providing options for handling semantic content. A new Render API also makes it possible to have much more dynamic content in Drupal, rather than having to set design elements in static HTML.
Drupal, which uses the standard GNU general public license (GPL) open source license, can be downloaded from Drupal.org.
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