Review: Drupal 7 Open Source CMS New Features and Themes

January 28, 2012 · 12 comments

by Lars

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With Version 7 of open-source CMS Drupal now ready for download on the official website www.drupal.org I would like to give you an overview of what goodies you will find in the package. Drupal 7 is believed to be the best and most comprehensive version to date, both in terms of usability and functionality. At the same time it should be more stable than its predecessor, Drupal 6 was at release time. This is both because Drupal 7 has been subjected to several thousand automated tests, but also because Drupal has now been taken into proper use of many really large websites worldwide, including whitehouse.gov. Drupals creator Dries Buytaert has also previously stated that Drupal 7 has received contributions from thousands of developers and has been several years in development. In this article I take a look at the new features in Drupal 7 and give advice on finding the right theme.


Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links (at no extra cost to you). I recommend that you do your own independent research before purchasing any product or service. This article is not a guideline, a recommendation or endorsement of specific products.


ElegantThemes
ThemeForest

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New Features in Drupal 7

If you want to know everything you can download the full release versio here. Below I will highlight some of the most important new features.

Getting Started, Installing Drupal 7

Drupal now provides an installation script that makes it so much easier to install and it automatically populates database tables and configures the correct settings you need. Drupal created some best practices you should follow when setting up a CMS. You can find a detailed guide here for how to install Drupal 7. However before you get started you should review the “Before you begin” guide. Also make sure you download the latest stable version here. Drupal 7 runs natively on mySQL but also supports a wide range of other databases. If you’re running Drupal 6 you can find a guideline here on how to upgrade.

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I have tested the install process and after uploading the files using FTP it took me less than 30 seconds to finish it. It is as simple as it gets.

The New Toolbar and Shortcut bar

Drupal 7 introduces a new Toolbar and Shortcut bar and it really changes how to work with Drupal and it is much more user friendly and efficient. When installed Drupal 7 takes you to the front page of your site and keeps you logged in with the user information you provided. As you can see there is a new Toolbar located above the site content area. This gives you access to administration functions from anywhere on your site.

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When you click on one of the toolbar items you are not taken to a back end area as you may expect. Instead the administration pages load on top of your site as a light box.  I think the way Drupal 7 has been designed here is really smart as everyone used to work with web publishing now how it is to have multiple windows open to do even basic stuff. Shifting between backend and front is over and it may increase productivity a lot. If you don’t like the overlay mode you can turn it off.

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The new shortcuts feature is also quite useful. For your profile you can add items you use often and get instant access to these.

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The Dashboard

The dashboard gives administrators a customizable overview of important site information. You can add and remove items from the dashboard, or you can disable the dashboard completely.

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Contextual Links

In Drupal 7, some modules supply contextual links that allow privileged users to quickly perform tasks that are related to regions of the page without navigating to the Admin Dashboard. For example, when you hover your mouse over a block or node, links are displayed that allow you to make changes to the block or node.

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Editing Content, pages and articles

When you fire up Drupal and start to produce content such as pages and articles you will notice that it is still without at WYSIWYG editor. Now this is a bit surprising I think as it is what most basic users will need. For large organizations using Drupal as a real CMS it will not be a problem because administrators can set up fields very easy and have a high degree of control of how content is added. For individuals setting up a simple website however this is not going to work. There are WYSIWG modules which can be added (e.g ckeditor), but in my opinion it would be better to have a good editor build in.

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Themes Ready for Drupal 7

Drupal comes with a simple theme called Bartik 7.0 and in most cases you will not use it. As for all the other popular publishing platforms there are themes available for Drupal and it makes it fast to change the look and feel and in some cases also the functions of the Drupal website. Drupal is not known to have endless supply of lovely themes like e.g. WordPress but I believe you will be able to find the Themes you need.

The easiest way to find free themes for Drupal 7 is to go to drupal.org and search for 7.x compatible themes. It is not that easy to find screenshots on here and it makes it a bit hard to browse through the collection fast. However of you look carefully it is possible. Otherwise just install the theme and try it out. It takes lees than a minute.

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Here at tripwire magazine we have previously posted large lists of Drupal Themes with images to make it easier for Drupal users to pick a theme. I recommend you check it out and if you find the right look and feel you can check if it has been ported to support Drupal 7. Here you find our 200+ Massive Free Drupal Theme Compilation. For developers there is a guide here on how to upgrade a Drupal 6 theme to version 7.

Drupal Theme Vendors

Woothemes (Premium Drupal Theme Vendor)

Woothemes is know to be one of the top designers of WordPress themes and I know from experience that they create really high quality. They have 10 themes for Drupal and one of them is free.  Before you buy a theme you need to carefully verify that Drupal 7 is supported.

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Rocket Theme (Premium Drupal Theme Vendor)

Rocket Theme does not have roots in WordPress as Woothemes, but I recall they started up creating themes for Joomla. They have really excellent Themes for Drupal. Before you buy a theme you need to carefully verify that Drupal 7 is supported.

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Conclusion

I was not a great fan of Drupal 6 and have been using WordPress and to some extend Joomla instead. I think Drupal 7 have made it much harder for me to decide now and I seriously will consider it for upcoming projects. The documentation and guidelines on drupal.org seams to be really great and I believe on of the only problems Drupal 7 will have is the limited supply of high quality themes and the fact that it can be a bit hard to get started with the right look and feel. It may change now of course, but until we see more both free and premium themes available it will be hard for Drupal to go viral in the market segments where in WordPress rules. No doubt though that if you have the budget for hiring both designers and developers Drupal 7 is a excellent choice.

Want to keep on surfing? Have look at these Drupal 7 Themes maybe this is what you’re looking for. Also don’t miss these best wordpress themes if you’re looking for a great theme for your website.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Just say no October 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Drupal 7 is a horribly poor and buggy application, and a waste of time. Bug ridden, bad documentation, odd coding practices, slow as can be. Bug cues are filing up faster than people can answer them.

All this while Aquia rakes in millions, and paying the people who contribute nothing. The product is a slow application riddled with errors and bugs. Even people who work with it for years say it is difficult. Don’t be surprised if this open source project goes bust.

You don’t have to take my word for it.
Do a search on some Drupal error messages. You’ll come across website after website that has them displayed right there on the website. Don’t count on a quick fix either, unless you are willing to pay megabucks. It’s almost like they do it on purpose. If you complain? Well, you got it for free didn’t you? Why don’t you contribute? Fix it yourself! If you get an answer at all.

One project to stay far far away from for untill it improves. This is one of those get it cheap applications, that ends up costing you money, and making a horrible web presentation. There are plenty of other options which are easier, cheaper, simpler, better documented, less maintenance, and way less bugs. It is one of the worst, if not the worst applications I have ever seen. Drupal 7 is going the OpenSuse route, used to be promising now it is just a code mess for someone that wants to tinker. You’d be quicker writing your own application, or using one of the excellent other options out there.

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Muhammad August 20, 2012 at 2:11 am

very nice to see this page and and very nice collection of themes
i would love to get one

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Mark July 24, 2011 at 10:54 pm

The review lists some premium theme vendors. I would like to add another premium theme vendor:

http://adaptivethemes.com/

They produce one of the most popular base theme for Drupal 7:

http://drupal.org/project/adaptivetheme

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Greg Rickaby January 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I’m a WordPress guru, but cheer for Drupal. In terms of downloads per week, WordPress completely dominates Drupal with 983,625 vs 33,671.

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Lars January 20, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Greg, thank a lot for sharing these numbers…. The popularity that WordPress is having is almost impossible to understand!

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Kenneth August 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Drupal is complex. Years ago I made the wise decision to choose Drupal over Joomla! and I have not regretted it. While I agree that Joomla! is more user friendly and easy to setup etc. one quickly runs into its limits. The best way I can describe the difference is that Drupal is like playing with Lego pieces. One can combine different modules to come up with something entirely different. Whereas Joomla! (which has components, modules and plugins all of which are considered extensions whereas Drupal has only modules) has these extensions to achieve specific functionality. Yes, Drupal (as of version 7) still has ways to go in order to make it easier on the end user. But sometimes complex systems are a bit more difficult to simplify.

As for the statement “WP completely dominates Drupal…”, it is like saying Hyundai dominates Mercedez Benz in terms of cars sold!

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nottingham web design January 19, 2011 at 12:21 am

Ive got to be honest, I don;t really use Drupal well try to avoid it when possible, prefer Joomla and Wordpress, but good article!

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Lars January 19, 2011 at 1:20 am

Drupal is very popular and powerful when it comes to large and complex sites where a real CMS is needed. For most sites however I would agree that WordPress is probably a simpler and faster platform to get started on.

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Casualty13 January 18, 2011 at 10:19 am
Lars January 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Thanks for the tip Casualty

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