I am Paul McKibben: web software developer, Drupal specialist, and open-source enthusiast, based in Atlanta, GA. For more information, see the about page.

If you have Drupal questions or want to say hi, please contact me via my contact page.

Why Drupal?

Drupal logo

Drupal gets considerable praise for being versatile, flexible, and open. At the same time, it is often criticized for being difficult to configure, with a large learning curve even for seasoned developers. So given the criticism, why do I use it? And why do I recommend it to clients? This article provides an overview of Drupal, and in doing so, explains why I stake my business on it.

What is Drupal?

Drupal is a content management system (CMS)--that is, a system for entering, organizing, and displaying the text and pictures kept on a web site.  The official Drupal site has a good overview of what Drupal can do.  I use Drupal as the underlying CMS for this site, and many other sites use it too.

Why do I use Drupal?

There are so many CMSs to choose from: why do I choose Drupal?

Free and Open Source

Drupal is free: free in that it costs nothing, and free in that you may use it, modify it, and extend it for your own purposes.  Since the source code is open accessible, it is possible to know exactly how it works.

Wide Adoption, Wide Praise

Drupal is one of the most popular CMSs in existence today.   Though statistics are hard to come by, this article on blogsweek.com shows the most visited CMS websites, and Drupal was 3rd on the list, behind Wordpress and Joomla.  Wordpress is specialized for the blogging world (and it is what I recommend for blog-centric sites).  Joomla and Drupal are both more flexible than Wordpress for creating special-purpose websites with a content management framework behind them.  There are several other up and coming contenders, such as Plone and Xoops, but if you are like me, it's difficult to look at more than 2 or 3 alternatives and make a reasonable comparison.

When I started looking at CMSs a year ago, I knew from the blogs I read, the podcasts I listened to, and the sites I visited, that Drupal and Joomla were both very popular.  So I decided to focus on those two (knowing already that Wordpress was probably the best choice if the site's main purpose was to be a blog).  This article (though dated now) was a big factor in my choice to use Drupal instead of Joomla.  Both CMSs have evolved considerably since the article was written, so you will need to make your own evaluation: which suits your purpose better?

Flexible for Many Different Purposes

The key factor in my choice of Drupal is its flexibile, modular architecture.  The Drupal community has contributed over 1000 modules to handle functions such as e-commerce, multimedia, event calendars, bulletin boards, wikis, blogs, and more.  And it is very easy to write your own module for your own needs.  The book Pro Drupal Development (VanDyk and Westgate) provides an excellent tutorial on how to do that, and more.

Active Community

Drupal has a large community of designers, developers, and users, many of whom can be found on the Drupal Forum, as well as on IRC channels #drupal, #drupal-support, and others on irc.freenode.net.  There are also local user groups, such as the Drupal group in Atlanta, which meets monthly.  With such a large community, help can be found instantly.

Extensive Documentation

Drupal is well-documented.  The Drupal documentation page is a good place to start, and the vast Drupal community has created tutorials on their own blogs and sites (just search for "drupal tutorials" and you'll get an idea).  There is also Lullabot, who offers consulting and training, and who publish news and information about Drupal through their blog and podcast.

Is Drupal the Only Choice?

Of course not.  But given all of the above, it is a worthy choice.  I have chosen Drupal and have been very happy.  I am convinced that I can do anything I want to with Drupal as the engine behind it. 

© 2008 Paul McKibben. Covered by a cc-by-3.0 license.

Open Source Applications and Games

Got Linux?

The other day I ran across a couple of interesting posts on whdb.com which together make a great resource for any evangelist of open-source software:

  • The Top 50 Proprietary Programs That Drive You Crazy - And Their Open Source Alternatives: a comprehensive list of applications that have open source counterparts. Some well-known applications appear on the list, such as OpenOffice as a replacement for Microsoft Office, and Mozilla Firefox as a replacement for Internet Explorer. But there were a couple I had not heard of before, such as TurboCash as an open source replacement for MS Money, and Compiere as an open source replacement for QuickBooks. I will be sure to give those a try, and I will provide a report of my experiences.
  • Top 25 Linux Games For 2008: all work and no play makes Paul a dull boy, so we can't forget games! Of the 25 games on the list, the only one I have actually tried is the FlightGear flight simulator (available for both Linux and Windows), but you bet I'll try FreeCiv (similar to Sid Meier's "Civilization" game) and Frets On Fire, which appears to be a "Guitar Hero" lookalike.

I'm excited by the amount of open source activity out there. Linux and open source are no longer for hobbyists: it's for everyone. Why pay a ransom to some big corporation for mediocre software? Try an open source alternative instead.

Sowing the seeds of self-employment

Abundant Life Seeds (Photo credit) (License)

This week, I gave my notice of resignation to my boss. In two weeks, I will be entering the exciting but unstable world of self-employment. I have been working up to this moment for years. It started as a seed, planted roughly 10 years ago, when I was unhappy with my role in my job. I managed to change roles a year later and was happy again, so I put aside aspirations of self-employment, but I never forgot about it.

It didn't take long for the seed to be replanted. In 2001, the mighty powerhouse of an employer I worked for, the employer I thought I'd grow old with and eventually retire from, cut me loose along with 70% of its workforce, because they mismanaged their money during the Internet bubble. Luckily (sort of), I was offered continuing employment with another company as part of a technology transfer, so I was never without a job. However, it made me realize that there is no such thing as secure employment: no matter how big the company you work for, and no matter how good your performance reviews are, the management boobs above you could still screw things up, sending you and your coworkers to the unemployment office. When you work for somebody, your financial security is in the hands of those management boobs. So much for security!

Now don't get me wrong: I am not suggesting that self-employment is any more secure than working for somebody. But I am suggesting that it is no less secure. As a self-employed person, I will be the decision maker. The buck stops with me. If I perform well, I will reap the rewards. If I perform poorly, I will pay for it. It's all up to me now. But at least I don't have to worry about some idiot atop the corporate ladder making a stupid move and ruining my only source of livelihood.

It's all in my hands now. It's great. It's scary. I'm excited!

New year, new challenge: stop doing Windows!

Ubuntu logo

Happy new year! For 2008, I have decided to stop using Microsoft Windows as my primary operating system on my home computers. My replacement of choice: Ubuntu.

I have already been using Ubuntu on my home desktop for the past year, but not on my laptop--until now. I burned the CD image of the latest Ubuntu release, 7.10 (code name "Gutsy Gibbon"), and I installed it on my laptop last night. So I now have a dual-boot laptop, with Ubuntu as the primary operating system.

I did have a couple of installation challenges, but I overcame them:

  • Partitioning woes: I needed to partition my hard drive, giving Windows its own space, and Ubuntu its own space, along with a little swap partition. That required me to resize the Windows partition and create two new partitions. The partitioning tool in the installer did not seem to allow me to do that (or at least I could not figure it out). I overcame it by running the partitioning tool from the live CD: it was available through the System menu.
  • Wireless woes: The CD did not include the restricted (non-open) driver to support my internal Broadcom wireless card. I could not enable that driver, or any restricted drivers, until I took my laptop upstairs and connected it directly to my router with an ethernet cable. Once I did that, the Restricted Drivers tool allowed me to quickly download the drivers I needed for my laptop, and I was up and running on wireless in just a few minutes.

Even despite those challenges, I got it installed and running in just a couple of hours--even with going out for a New Year's Eve dinner with my wife. By the time we got home and watched the ball drop, I was tinkering with my Ubuntu-enabled laptop on the sofa.

As I mentioned, I've been running Ubuntu on my desktop for a year, and I rarely have needed to get out the laptop and run Windows for anything. I can even VPN to my office and connect to my office PC via Remote Desktop--and yes, the office PC runs Windows (I can't change that). The only things I have not been able to do from Ubuntu:

  • Run iTunes. However, I rarely need to run iTunes any longer--only if I want to download a song that only iTunes carries. That is becoming less of a necessity as Amazon.com adds more downloads to its inventory (and Amazon's downloads are DRM-free).
  • Run tax preparation software. I could use one of the web-based sites to prepare my tax return, but I'm still a little nervous about entrusting the protection of my tax return (complete with Social Security number) to some third party. So I may still need Windows for that. If somebody has a solution for 2008, let me know.

So why am I doing this? Because I'm tired of what Windows does to my computers. I'm tired of waiting for it to boot. I'm tired of Microsoft's slow updates. I'm tired of how much the operating system hogs memory and CPU. I'm tired of all the anti-virus precautions. But that's why I hate Windows--why do I prefer Ubuntu? It works, and it works well. Ubuntu is the most popular Linux desktop distribution for that reason. I can do just about anything with it, and I can do it quickly.

Are you as fed up with Windows as I am? Give Ubuntu a try.


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