Does Drupal make the grade? The answer to that question evidently depends on who you ask. Last week, the Tech Republic posted a review by Justin James on the Drupal content management system. Mr. James concluded that "Overall, Drupal does not make the grade". This week the Drupal community is all a buzz over the decision for IBM's developerWorks to use Drupal for designing, developing, and deploying a collaborative Website.
Why is there such a disparity in viewpoints for using Drupal in content management? For many first time users of Drupal, Drupal doesn't leave them with a very good first impression. It's only after you spend some time with Drupal that you begin to discover it has a number of traits that make it an outstanding application to build your website around. While Drupal doesn't give you a good first impression, it will eventually give you a second or third good impression.
Let's take a look at some of the reasons to why people may not like Drupal. The review written by Justin James for Drupal 4.7 is in an article titled, A product review of the Drupal Content Management System, does it make the grade? The author states that "Drupal does not make the grade". He bases his opinion on issues with usability and ease of installation. With regards to usability he says:
Drupal fails on these measures. There were links to create content, which I happily followed. I was immediately presented with an interesting dilemma: do I want to create a "page" or a "story?" The system explained that a "page" is for something like an "About Us" page, and a "story" contained content like a blog. This did not make any sense to me...Every other system I have used (that I can recall) lets you define a particular "page" as a blog, and then just add content to the blog.
I decided to try to make a "page." I was confronted by a plain area to enter text, with no WYSIWYG editing capabilities. I actually considered this to be good, because I have had so many problems with Web-based WYSIWYG editors. However, less than advanced users will be pretty helpless putting content into Drupal.
Ouch! The author also concludes that "Drupal may be a decent choice for an ISP, but its difficult installation, lack of simple on-line content management, and failure to provide asset management make it too hard to use for the average user for anything above and beyond basic site creation." Double ouch!
As a user of Drupal, I was somewhat offended by Mr. James' remarks. Then I recalled similar remarks made by others who were first trying out Drupal. I'm embarrassed to say, some of those remarks were made very publicly by me. I never really found installing Drupal to be difficult. However, in the beginning of my relationship with Drupal I had some issues with what Drupal required from the database. I posted those remarks at Drupal.org and in my own blogs.
Most of my early complaints centered around my frustration over some of the "special" privileges needed when accessing the MySQL database. Database privileges such as LOCK TABLES are not provided by all host providers. I also expressed some initial frustrations in getting to know and liking the Drupal community. There are time when potential Drupal users talk about what they don't like about Drupal. Instead of acknowledging the user's remarks may have validity, there were those that who replied with what I consider the lazy remarks. Their simple reply would be that "Drupal isn't for everyone". While there may be some truth to this statement, I was still not too happy with the response.
Lazy remarks usually get some not so lazy replies from me. In this case I decided to reply back that this Drupal Community isn't for everyone:
First let me say, that as an "advanced beginner" I found Drupal very easy to install and use. I am struggling somewhat with how best to write/tweak the themes and modules...but hey I'm just at the start of the learning curve. Overall, I found Drupal is for me. So what's my complaint?
I have read a number of posts over the past weeks and noticed a common thread. It seems to me that whenever someone points out what Drupal is lacking...the response from many in the Drupal community is not very open to the criticism. Whenever a user discusses the need for better features there is almost at least one developer or Drupal evangelist responding with, "Maybe, Drupal isn't for you". That type of response just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Yea, we know Drupal may not be the answer to all our problems, but hey let's at least try to address the user's concerns.
As I said, I like Drupal. I just wish this board was more open to suggestions for improvements from the non-developers. Maybe once I get to know the community better my first impressions will improve. I hope so...
Triple Ouch! So you see, my first impression of Drupal and its community was not much better than the review found at Tech Republic. Luckily, relationships grow and change...
I'm nearing a year of participation with the Drupal community. While my contributions to the code have been nearly non-existent...I try to help users when I can. Over the past year, I've learned if you stick with Drupal you'll find that your second impression of Drupal and its community is better than the first. A little more down the road, your third impression of Drupal is even better. The more you stick with Drupal and it's community the more you like it.
I have come across so many content management systems that gave me a good first impression. However, when you dig deeper into some of the CMS out there you find that their beauty is only skin-deep. You dig deeper and you may find the "eye-candy" of a CMS doesn't deliver the features you really need. While some CMS have a smaller learning curve than Drupal, they can also have limitations that prevent your site from evolving the way it should. Future reviewers take note: An easy installation or short learning curve in the start of a project should not be how a CMS is judged. A CMS should be judged by how easy does it allow you to complete a project?
Drupal's strength is understood not with the first impression it gives users, but with the final impression it leaves users. It appears the folks at IBM appear to have made some of the same observations I made about Drupal. IBM's project development series involving Drupal and other open source projects should become a good read and the start of some great discussions ahead.