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Drupal 7 simplifies Web site management

Joe Brockmeier | May 27, 2011
Drupal 7 represents a conscious effort to make Drupal easier to use, but the results are mixed.

Drupal. the open source Content Management System (CMS) used to power everything from personal sites to the White House's Web site, is legendary for its flexibility and power. But Drupal has also been known for its labyrinthian administrative interface.

Drupal 7 represents a conscious effort to make Drupal easier to use, but the results are mixed.

Drupal 7's installation routine is relatively simple — create a database, modify the sample configuration file, and walk through a very short Web-based install. The experience is comparable to setting up a WordPress blog. It's fast, easy, and you'll have no problem setting up a Drupal site if you have any business at all administering a CMS.

After the installation, Drupal hands you off to the administrator dashboard. This is the "now what?" moment. In its just-installed state, Drupal is sort of the Ikea kit of content management — some assembly is required. Specifically, you need to start adding and configuring modules to extend the functionality of Drupal, and theme the site to achieve the look you'd like.

When I say the user-experience efforts for Drupal 7 had mixed results, I should clarify that I find Drupal 7 to be more intuitive and usable than Drupal 6. The user interface isn't just more attractive (it is) but also includes some crucial enhancements.

Managing modules, for example, is much easier in Drupal 7. Now you can install a module just by specifying the URL for the zip file or tarball, though you still have to use the Drupal community site to search for modules. The WordPress Dashboard allows searching for, installing, and managing plugins without leaving the Dashboard.

But Drupal 7 still has a way to go before I'd consider it entirely intuitive. You'll need to spend some time with the Drupal docs to become productive with the platform, even if you're just using default modules.

One example — you can enable tracking and get an extremely detailed log of activity on your Drupal site. But it's a multi-step process, and one could forgive an admin for being frustrated that nodes include a "Track" tab whether it's enabled or not — but without any indication how to enable gathering data.

The flip side is that the new user interface is much easier to navigate than Drupal 6. One major feature that I haven't seen elsewhere is the "Shortcut" concept. If there's an administrative function you use frequently, you can add it to the shortcuts so that it's just one click away when you're in the administrative interface. For example, to moderate comments, you have to navigate to the Content menu, then the Comments tab, and then click the "unapproved comments" button. If your site doesn't allow comments, then this location makes sense. If you're running a site that receives a lot of comments, then this is a hassle. However, you can add a shortcut that puts the unapproved comments piece just one click away.


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