The Drupal open source content management system (CMS) is on the verge of a major overhaul that could see it become more powerful and user-friendly.
Drupal is among the leading CMSs, in use by Red Hat, Mozilla and WhiteHouse.gov to name a few.
Drupal is gearing up for its 7.0 release, which can now be previewed by way of a new effort called Drupal Gardens. With Drupal Gardens, Acquia—the lead commercial sponsor behind Drupal—is providing an early look at version 7 with a new hosted build-your-own-Drupal-site online service.
Drupal founder Dries Buytaert said the new effort aims to expand the market for Drupal and make it easier for people to build sites.
“Drupal Gardens is essentially Drupal as a service,” Buytaert told InternetNews.com. “It’s a hosted version of Drupal and it’s also a managed service so people don’t have to worry about upgrading or security fixes. We take care of all of that.”
Currently Drupal users need to set up their own hosting or have Drupal hosted on a third-party hosting service. Additionally, with Drupal Gardens there is a new Theme Builder feature that enables users to rapidly build a site.
“It’s a browser-based tool that allows you to create a custom look and feel for a site,” Buytaert said.
The thrust behind Drupal Gardens is to overcome a key challenge that people experience with Drupal—getting it installed.
“A lot of people are struggling with getting Drupal installed. First of all you need a hosting company,” Buytaert said. “And then once you have that you still have to set up multiple components, including the database and PHP, and then that only provides a basic setup.”
The Drupal ecosystem includes thousands of modules that expand the functionality of the Drupal CMS. With Drupal Gardens, Buytaert noted that users will get the benefit of having the right modules all pre-installed and managed.
Drupal Gardens also represents an easy way for users to get a peak at the future Drupal 7 release. Acquia raised $7 million in funding in August of 2009, in part to help Gardens development as well as Drupal 7.
According to Buytaert, Drupal 7 is a major improvement over the current Drupal 6 release for a number of reasons.
“Drupal 7 will be a big step forward,” Buytaert said. “Drupal has a lot of success today and a lot of that success is built on top of Drupal 6.”
At the top level Buytaert said that Drupal developers have spent a lot of time improving the service’s ease of use, including several formal usability studies.
“Any user going from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 will have a different experience,” Buytaert said. “That ranges from design to new information architecture and navigation features.”
There are also improvements to the internationalization aspects of Drupal as well as image-handling enhancements. But the biggest change for site builders is the inclusion of the CCK (Content Construction Kit) in the core Drupal 7 project. With Drupal 6, CCK is a separate module that enables site builders to customize content fields.
“CCK is one of the most popular modules and for Drupal 7. We’ve basically rewritten it from scratch,” Buytaert said. “For me, I think it’s the biggest architectural change in the last 5 years of Drupal. It’s a big change that will create a lot of additional flexibility.”
Other changes that site builders will notice is a new update manager that will let Drupal admins update modules from within the Web browser instead of having to use file transfer protocol (FTP)
There is also a new database backend that will enable Drupal 7 admins to integrate with an Oracle database, which Buytaert expects will help Drupal in the enterprise. Currently Drupal is typically deployed on MySQL database servers.
Drupal Gardens is currently available as an invitation-only private beta, with general availability expected later this year. It’s a release that is likely to follow closely from the official Drupal 7 release.
“For us it’s ready when the number of critical bugs becomes zero,” Buytaert said. “That’s really a community effort and hard to predict but I hope Drupal 7 will be ready in Q2 of this year.”