Raise your hand if you know what Drupal is! No, it is not a new Pixar movie or some strange tropical disease. Up until about two years ago, I didn’t have a clue either. Ok, so what is it? Here is the fancy definition: “Drupal is free, open source software that can be used by individuals or groups of users -- even those lacking technical skills -- to easily create and manage many types of Websites. The application includes a content management platform and a development framework.”1
Even if you haven’t heard of Drupal, you’ve probably at least heard of Content Management Systems. Content management systems are essentially software applications designed to allow laypeople to add and modify content on their websites. Drupal is a content management system as well as an application “development framework”. This later part of the definition means that Drupal provides a set of pre-existing modules and code that can be used to rapidly build pretty much any kind of web-based system: databases, portals, intranets, e-commerce, etc. Drupal has risen to prominence as website operators seek to free themselves from the barriers to providing dynamic real-time web content without technical assistance.
These days most people are using some kind of CMS to power their website. If you aren’t, you probably should. I still remember the first time I was exposed to the ease and flexibility of a CMS-powered website (insert fuzzy remembering transition here). One of those young go-getter techie types had installed a CMS on our company’s server and was championing the benefits of it. He had migrated some of our existing web content and I happened to notice a few random typographical and layout errors. He then proceeded to show me how I can login from any computer and fix those errors in about 30 seconds. That won me over.
Obviously, that is just a simple example of the benefits of a CMS. A well designed and well implemented CMS allows you to take control of not only your content, but your entire website. Never again should you look at your front page and see an announcement for an event that took place last month or job posting that you filled a year ago.
So why Drupal?
Well, for starters, it’s open source. For many people, the first thing they think when hearing that something is open source is that it’s “FREE!” Well, as open source activist Richard Stallman famously said, open source “is free as in freedom, not beer.” Yes, the software code is free. You can download it, install it and embark on what might be a smooth or rough adventure. You may or may not require technical assistance which could have a cost associated with it.
However, for many, the greatest benefit of open source software is the freedom that stems from the open source license2. First, it allows you to obtain enterprise quality software at little to no cost. Second, you can choose whether or not you want to hire a vendor to help you customize, implement, and support it, or do this internally. If at any point along the way you decide you don’t like your vendor, you are free to find another. Contrast this with proprietary software that can typically only be purchased from a single vendor and supported by that vendor. That’s what the industry calls “lock-in.” It is not a good thing for purchasers of software.
When picking an open source product, you want to know that you are investing in a technology backed by a large and active community. This type of community fosters both sustainability and ongoing improvement. Drupal, first developed in 2001 by Dries Buytaert, has just that community with over 350,000 subscribed members helping to think up new ways to improve the software. Another important aspect is scalability. Does it make sense for both the little fish and the big fish? Or, more importantly, does it still make sense as a little fish grows into a big fish? Drupal’s powerful core can handle most of today’s websites. It’s simple enough for any small blogging site or powerful enough for the White House (www.whitehouse.gov) or CNN (www.cnngo.com).The flexibility and scalability of Drupal is largely due to its robust community with lots of very smart, creative people.
So, if you didn’t know before, you know now…Drupal is more than just a weird name. It is one of the truly innovative, powerful, and flexible open source solutions that can allow you to use the word “freedom” when referring to your website. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
1definition from http://searchsoa.techtarget.com/definition/Drupal
2Open source doesn't just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria sited by the Open Source Initiative: http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd