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Drupal 7: Sooner or later, but hopefully sooner

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DrupalCon 2010 Drupal 7 will be finished by June 2010 - if things go well. If they don't, it'll be the autumn - a year after construction was supposedly done and just testing and debugging remained.

It all depends on whether 114 critical bugs can be fixed, the creator of the open-source content management system (CMS) Dryes Buytaert told DrupalCon in San Francisco, California on Monday afternoon.

The struggle to sign off on code frozen in September 2009 is at the heart of the issue that dogs the otherwise popular project and that Buytaert feels could help stall Drupal's adoption at a critical phase.

That issue in question? Getting more people actively participating and contributing code and knowing where the project goes after Drupal 7.

Buytaert illustrated the problem with one stat: half of the patches in Drupal 7 came from just 25 contributors.

The Belgium-born developer rock star continued that if everyone in the Moscone Hall at DrupalCon split into groups of 30 they could solve the 114 bugs in the next hour. "I've asked security to look the doors," he joked. Or did he? Dr Evil was a Belgian too.

"If you all step in and help we can get this out quickly," Buytaert said. "If we don't, shame on us because we didn't do what we need to do."

The problem comes at an important time for Drupal. After 10 years, influential IT and consulting companies are stepping in to give it a push into projects not just validating Drupal by helping give it momentum. He listed participation from Accenture, Capgemini, and IBM that has released a number of projects based on Buytaert's CMS.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has snuggled a little closer to Drupal. A platinum sponsor of DrupalCon, Redmond announced updated support between its SQL Server database and PHP that's used to build Drupal. SQL Server Driver for PHP 2.0 adds support for PHP Data Objects to make it easier for PHP applications like Drupal 7 to integrate with SQL Server 2005 and later as well as SQL Azure used in Microsoft's cloud. The news could have come at anytime, given Microsoft has worked for years to improve the way PHP talks to SQL Server, but Microsoft chose to time the news to coincide with DrupalCon.

"Look at Linux - it wasn't until Dell started shipping with Linux and IBM really stated to get involved that the Linux project state to take off," Buytaert said.

OK, so participation is important to momentum, but where does Drupal go next? Buytaert said a crawl of the web by his company, Acquia, found one per cent of sites use Drupal. Google in 2008 said there's one trillion web sites putting Drupal one billion sites.

One per cent was considered impressive by the DrupalCon audience. But Buytaer wants more. Drupal places third behind WordPress on 8.5 per cent, while Joomla is second on just over one per cent. Also, while it's big sites like Whitehouse.gov, The Economist, and Ubuntu.com that get the attention for running Drupal, Buytaert said just two per cent of Drupal sites are in the top one million sites.

"That was a little bit of a awake up call to me," Buytaert said of the one-million number. "We need to stop fooling ourselves in the issue queues because this [audience] is not representative. There's a really long tail of really small sites out there - that's something to keep in mind."

"We can either be hard to kill but not super relevant, or we can make it our goal to make Drupal one of the dominant platforms on the web."

That means those building Drupal have to decide how best to serve the market and remain relevant. Does Drupal 8 serve the high-end needs of the enterprise, the mass market of smaller sites, or try to straddle both?

Buytaert reckoned Drupal could serve both, noting that CMS products are increasingly lacking differentiation and the winners will be those who combine "reach" with "rich features". This means Drupal needs configuration management and staging to succeed in the enterprise but focus on better experiences at the low end, but Buytaert reckoned there's a lot of overlap between the two.

The project leader hopes Drupal 7 can position the CMS for what blue-sky thinkers and academics call the semantic web, where it's data not just sites that are linked. Drupal 7 adds Resource Description Framework (RDF) to mark up content such as blog posts, comments, and tags from different sources, so you can present them in your own site or searches. It's like turning the web into one vast database, according to Buytaert.

"It will help change the web and redefine companies like Google because it's such a dramatic change...the web becomes one big database that you can run queries against," Buytaert said. ®

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