Open source software really has come of age

The past few weeks I have had my head in an installation of Drupal 6.16 the content management system that sits very nicely on the LAMP stack. So I got to spark up another Ubuntu linux server off in a cloud somewhere,using the great apt packager on ubuntu/linux to go and fetch the extras I needed AND their dependencies. All the extra instructions I needed were on slicehosts forums for various pieces of config. So a full OS, all the extras I needed without having to trawl trough patches and dependency trees manually. In the good old days the stuff was pretty disorganised. If you came to it all fresh, or had been away for a while the “obviously you would have x, y or z” would be quite a pain.

The whole apache, mysql, php installation and config is also very straightforward. Yes you still need to know a few of the more arcane system command lines, or be able to look them up and editing even with nano or vi on a terminal is still rather annoying (terminals being a hangover from before we had more complex machines on the front end of servers). However, doing what would be the simplest task in a drag and drop world in a command line typing all the paths correctly etc makes you feel you are in charge of the whole thing. Which is why sysops are usually quite stroppy 🙂
Drupal’s install goes like a dream to. Again a whole set of extra modules are contributed to the let you do other things with your content, thinks like the CCK (content creation kit) which layers some new fields to be able to add to the page creation forms you make.
Back in 1998 I wrote content management systems, mainly in Lotus Domino, I know the problems and also the sort of things you need to do in the systems. So for me Drupal was great, once you get used to the naming convention of the template overrides and the ability to use views (SQL selects) on the data its all pretty slick. It is of course a long while since 2008, and it is interesting that whilst there were lots of commercial CMS packages that attempted to emerge none of them seem a patch on Drupal and even on WordPress. That is for most things, most web applications it is a pretty good fit.
Of course with any themeable template based system with a multitude of user contributed modules and gadgets there are going to be times when things just are not where you need them to be for your particular layout or information design. I spent a fair bit of time with one piece of data and layout trying to do it “properly” in the end I just changed the module, which let me put the class id’s in that I needed to make more sense of the display for the CSS. Not ideal but the point was it was there to do.
Commercial software has all to often been put in place to keep you away from the engine. Opensource be it opensim, drupal, wordpress, linux, freeswitch etc really do let you be the mechanic on the engine if you want, but you clearly don’t have to as the slickness of the design ethics in these applications through crowdsourced cooperation is quite stunning.
To do the full thing from commissioning a server to creating data structures in Drupal and then adjusting templates and style sheets is still a great swathe of skills needed, but when you have been in this for so long you know the patterns and roughly how things need to work. The ability to look up and search for problems, similar situations and generally fix on the fly though really helps to and can’t be understated. Much better than routing through a cupboard of manuals as we had to back in 1990!
Gotta love the web

One thought on “Open source software really has come of age

  1. Was looking for info on that. I wrote it off as just another expense, but I’m going to look at it once again.

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