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WebCMS: first try

June 13, 2007 Leave a comment

In my recent article I’ve told about WebCMS, a software to buld dynamic web-sities without knowledge of HTML and web-programming. That article were just theory, impression made from reading other articles. Now I have my own experience, which I whould like to share.

When I decided to place some local web-site on my desktop, I was very naive and forgot that running a server is a completelly different story than using standalone software. To be able to play with web, first one needs a web server. I’ve downloaded Apache and installed it. This server is very good, with control window accessable from bottom-right corner, configuration from single text file accessible from “start” menu, and logs also accessible from “start” menu. Next step was to install PHP, because most WebCMS systems written in it. Another required software is DBMS, so I’ve downloaded and installed MySQL. With back-end prepared, at last I could install WebCMS itself.

I’ve decided to start with Drupal, which got best reviews from articles I’ve read. I’ve downloaded version 5.1, unpacked and placed in separate directory under web server’s root. Then I’ve entered path to that directory in browser’s addres line, and got “database not found” error message. Not very helpfull, because database was there. I’m coder, so I’ve quickly checked source code (which is very good) and found that “mysql_open” function is not available. Finally I understood the reason, started PHP installer again and added MySQL support, which is disabled by default. That first problem was enough for me to read documentation, which I usually skip. Document is not very helpfull, so I’ve quickly abandoned it. However, after upgrading PHP with MySQL support and restarting Apache everything was fine, and I was able to got on administration home page.

Well, my initial expectations about “beginner-friendly” were proved false. For beginners Drupal is a mystery. I’ve tried help from web site, but it’s very bad: information is organized in horrible way, and it’s just a mess between help pages for different versions of Drupal. So, I’ve returned back to learn-by-trial approach.

After about 2 hours I’ve finally got it, and Drupal appeared much more easier. It has sities, each site is a collection of “nodes”. This weird word corresponds to “web page” just because Drupal has content type named “page”. Each page has central part and sidebars. Central part contains main content, and sidebars contain menues and other “boxes”, that’s how sites are built.

Drupal is modular, so I was able to download stuff from their site and plug it into my existing site. First thing I did was getting more “themes”, to play with them. Most themes are crap, but some are really nice.

Drupal is complex and hard to learn for beginner. But modular design and extensibility make it attactive for me. Out-of-box it has static pages, persistent “blocks” on sides of each page, blogs, “front page” which aggregates latest updates from other pages. So I’m planning to invest some time to learn it more and to use it internally. For long time I was web programmer, but now I’m administrator, and I really like it!

Categories: Web

WebCMS: web publishing done right

June 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Some time ago I was a “Web programmer”. This means that I was making a programs which operated with users through web browser. Even before that I’ve made several sites using raw HTML. HTML is good. You can edit it with simplest text editor and with powerfull editors like FrontPage, DreamWeaver or HomeSite. And, very important, it’s very easy to generate from code. Yes, HTML has it’s limitations, and it’s not a universal UI, but for presending information it is good, and now it is becoming a very widespread UI, because of zero-installation and platform independence.

For a long time I didn’t use HTML, because I’m developing system software, with no UI at all. But now I want to establish small Web site, mostly with static rarely edited content. In single word, if somebody asks me what I will do with this site, I’ll answer “publishing”. From my previous experience first approach whould be writing whole site in static HTML. But now I’m arrogant and lazy, and don’t want to write HTML by hands. WYSIWUG editors also is not an option: for me it’s easier to edit HTML then to learn how to change page’s look using those bloated and non-intuitive tools. So I’ve started to look for solution which will allow me to consentrate on content. First idea about tools which allow editing static web content was blogging software, so I’ve opened Wikipedia and typed “blog”. Following links led me to more general-purpose software genre called “Web content management systems”.

Reading all available info I undestood that finally Web done it right. People who make content should not take a burden to learn HTML, software should do everything for them. And tools for editing content should also be web-based. WebCMS allow versioning, workflow, and also provide extensibility so they could be enchanced and integrated with custom dynamic parts of Web site. It seems that at time I’ve stopped doing web programming those systems were uncapable, but now they become powerfull enought to be useful.

So, I’ve decided to pick a WebCMS and try. Now the question: where to start ? Looking at sities like CMS matrix made me panic, because there are so many of them. Obviously I want free CMS. Digging different sities, forums, message boards and “review” pages give me several candidates: Joomla, Drupal, Lenya, Plone and WordPress. So now I’m having fun evaluating them personally. Expect some impressions very soon.

For somebody interested in topic, here is a very good presentation describing WebCMS.

Categories: Technology, Web