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What is Drupal? Technically, Drupal is a Content Management System or CMS. CMSs are designed to give non-technical people such as writers, editors and publishers extensive control over what appears in their publications without having to understand the mechanics of production. So we know the Drupal is a CMS, but what exactly is that? As we said, it's a Content Management System, but when we say CMS we really mean Web Content Management System. You may see WCMS at some places outside of the Drupal community. When we say CMS, we really mean WCMS.
So what is a CMS? Technically speaking it's a server-based set of programs; in the case of Drupal it's a PHP set of programs. It delivers information via a web browser so that anybody can look at it who has Firefox or Opera or any other web browser. Third of all, a CMS lets you concentrate on content. You don't have to worry about managing the server, changing permissions, generally speaking. People who don't know those things can just worry about the words and pictures and what goes on the website.
There are certain characteristics that are shared by many CMSs. Whether it's Joomla, Drupal or any other CMS. One of them is that you can add, change or delete content via a web interface. You don't have to put files on and off the server. A second characteristic is that a CMS will automatically link content together so that if, for example, you set up a menu system that appears in the left column and then move it to the right column, it stays the same and all of the links stay the same; you don't have to worry about relinking everything. A third characteristic is that a CMS enforces site wide consistency, if that's what you want. So that every page has the same navigation system, it has the same basic feel and your entire site has a sense of consistency that might be missing if you try to build the site by scratch.
A fourth characteristic is that a CMS allows multiple users to affect the site's content. You don't have to have a single web master who knows how everything works. You can set up different levels of permission so that one person for example writes the stories, another person or group of people can edit the stories and so forth. You have many people doing many different things and permissions allow them to do only those things they should. Finally, a CMS has extended content features that are easy implement. For example, as we'll see with Drupal, you can set up polls where you ask a question of your entire membership and get the results back in an easy way or you can set up forums for them to talk to each other and so forth. There are many different features that you can build into Drupal without having to do additional programming.
But most importantly, CMSs let you separate content from presentation and I'll show you exactly what I mean by that by showing you a site that shows many different types of Drupal themes called themegarden.org. This is themegarden.org. At the top you have the name of the site, you have menus, Drupal 4.7 themes, Drupal 5 themes and so forth. You have columns here with additional navigation, and then in the middle you have what's really your main content. This article is written by somebody who probably was not the Site Administrator per se, but was just somebody who does the writing.
Now let's go to another theme, this one called Glossy Blue and what you notice is it looks completely different but the content is basically the same. You have the same menus, you have the same content here, the article didn't change and the same basic navigational system. This one is interesting because it knocked out the left-hand column but actually the navigation system is the same in the right. Let's go to another one and there is the left- hand column, the right-hand column, the same content. So you can see that CMSs are good for many things, but they are not for every website.
For example, a website that only has a few pages or a website in which there are many different pages would not really be appropriate for Drupal or really any other CMS. CMSs are best for websites that have multiple contributors, that require a consistent look and feel and that have advanced functions without lots of custom programming. In other words, you don't have to program in those polls and forums and other functions that you want on your website. You are probably already familiar with certain CMSs. Some of the more popular ones are WordPress, Joomla and MediaWiki, and we're going to show you a few examples of each of those and you can see what some of the similarities are amongst CMSs.
This page is this Yahoo! blog called the Yodel Anecdotal and it's actually built on WordPress. You can see that it looks like many blogs that you have seen before. It has articles, which are arranged in reverse chronological order, it has a number of links on the side, it has this photo pool here and it also shows what the most recent posts are. So it does have quite a few functions and it's built on WordPress. This site, SeniorNet, is built on Joomla, which is very similar to Drupal. As with Drupal, it has menus at the top, it has a menuing system along the side, and once again, it has its content in the center here. It also has space for ads over here and it has a neat little feature which allows people to make the text size larger with just a click of a button or again make it smaller.
A third type of CMS with which you are probably familiar is Wikimedia on which Wikipedia, the encyclopedia, is built. Wikipedia is one of the most popular sites on the Internet and it allows thousands and thousands of people to contribute to it. Here we have an article in the center- again which was done not by an Administrator but by a Writer- and along the side we have all of these useful links that stay the same from page-to-page and for each individual article we have these tabs, which again are consistent from page-to-page.
Besides the three content management systems we just looked at there are many, many, many more, and if you go to Wikipedia's page, 'List of content management systems,' you can see a list of them. Starting from the top, each one of these rows is a different CMS. You can see just in free and open source software there are dozens and dozens of CMSs. Finally there are CMSs which are not available for you to use directly, that is, you can't download them and put them on your server. One example is Facebook.
So now you have seen some CMSs other than Drupal, but what about Drupal itself? As it happens it's widely used on the web as well. One of the largest sites that uses Drupal is The Onion, a satirical newspaper, and as you can see it has three columns, it has individual articles, once again which are written by writers, not by site administrators, so it has multiple contributors contributing to the site. It has a menuing system up here and it has a few neat little features like down here as you mouse over one of these pictures it shows the related story. There is also space for advertising, space for rich media and so forth.
Another site that's built on Drupal, the main page for Spread Firefox which if you downloaded the Firefox Web Browser you may have seen. This is a good example of a Drupal page because it's visually so different from most of the Drupal pages you have seen. It doesn't have any left or right columns or at least not such as we know them. It's very graphical, it has these nice gradients in here, even though this is plane text, it's on top of this nice gradient. A third website that's built on Drupal is this Yahoo! Research page. This is interesting because you noticed earlier that the Yahoo! blog is built on WordPress, but Drupal is used to build this page for Yahoo! Research. Once again it has a Tabbed Navigation System. Many, many links, but it's also very graphical.
Now you know what a Content Management System is, and have seen some examples of what CMSs can do. We'll examine some of the benefits and disadvantages of Drupal when compared with other CMSs and help you decide whether it's the right CMS for you.
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