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Drupal is a success, there can be no doubt about that. Millions of websites are running on it. According to estimates, between five and ten million websites are powered by Drupal.
Drupal is a free open-source content management system (CMS) and content management framework (CMF), offering great flexibility for building a wide variety of content-centric solutions.
The standard release of Drupal, known as Drupal core, contains basic features common to content management systems. The Drupal core installation can be used for simple websites, a single- or multi-user blog, or a community website providing for user-generated content.
What makes the Drupal platform so appealing is the availability of over 10,000 add-ons (modules), allowing you to alter and extend Drupal's core capabilities and add new features or customise Drupal's behaviour and appearance. This makes the Drupal platform very LEGO-like: you start with the Drupal core and just add the necessary modules to build the website that meets your specific requirements.
But this LEGO-like approach has also become a drawback of Drupal. it is quite a laborious job to figure out what modules are viable and good for the type of site you want to build. It would be nice if you could re-use the packaging of other people who had to build a similar website to the one you want to build.
Another trend is the enterprise adoption of Drupal. In the early days, Drupal was mainly used for simple, low-traffic or specific community sites. Today, it is increasingly used for high-profile/high-traffic websites. Drupal is even on the radar of many banks or other more conservative industries. But these enterprise companies are not so keen on building things from ‘scratch’, something they often think they will have to do with the Drupal framework. They prefer tailored solutions that address specific needs.
Hence the emergence of Drupal Distributions. Whereas Drupal core can be turned into any kind of website by configuring, customising and adding modules, its Distributions come pre-configured and with the modules needed for a specific type of website. A Distribution is basically a pre-packaged website, sometimes referred to as Drupal as a product.
OpenPublish is a Distribution designed specifically for the online news industry.
A ready-to-use solution for communities of all types – from intranets to customer community sites.
An intranet in a box with: a blog, a wiki, a calendar, a to-do list, a shoutbox, and a dashboard to manage it all.
A news and data aggregation engine with pluggable visualisation and workflow tools.
A topic-monitoring tool that finds and aggregates content from the web on the topics you want.
A web platform for news-centric sites, with specific tools for editors and writers.
Pressflow is a Drupal Distribution with integrated performance, scalability, availability, and testing enhancements.
Distribution tailored to the needs of government websites.
|Conference Organizing Distribution (COD)|
COD is the Conference Organizing Distribution, used for building conference and event sites online.
Should you prefer a Drupal Distribution over the more customised approach with the Drupal core platform? The choice depends mainly on your specific requirements. If you find a Distribution with a superb fit for your needs, that would be the logical choice.
But there are some caveats. Most of these Distributions are developed by larger Drupal integration firms. They often build the platform as a project for one or more customers and then decide to ‘productise it’ and turn these into a Distribution. But like many software start-ups, they soon realise that the initial development of the Distribution is only a fraction of the cost. The cost of maintaining and supporting the Distribution over many years tends to be vastly underestimated. Generally speaking, a Distribution only becomes a viable option if there is enough community traction and involvement.
Distributions are definitely a worthwhile option for many organisations. The pre-packaged approach will certainly enable you to benefit from the experience of others with similar website needs. But as with any regular software platform choice, you have to look further than the available functionalities or other bits and bytes. In this case, Distribution viability is just as important.