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Drupal 6 – stay, upgrade or change CMS?


Posted on July 24th, by Glenn

Let’s not beat around the bush. Drupal is arguably the most convoluted CMS system available in which to build a website. It’s a bad relationship that you need to consider terminating.

What should be a two- or three-click process (like adding a page for example) is a long-winded, argumentative, complicated pain in the mouse. And forget about trying to custom code anything – it would take less time to rebuild your average site from scratch than wrangle a hierarchical select menu (we’ve just learnt that the hard way).

After October this year Drupal 6 will no longer be supported. Going to Drupal 7 or Drupal 8 is not like clicking a button and it installs new software like the way most people are used to. You basically install the new version of the software separately, then migrate everything painstakingly across. Things break and require re-coding (so the upgrade falls into the “cross your fingers and hope” category).

Let’s go back a bit and explain. Drupal is “open source”. The layperson thinks because it has a relatively well-known name it is a business like Microsoft, where there is a headquarters somewhere with a big Drupal sign out the front and hundreds of employees feverishly working on keeping their magnificent software on the bleeding edge of Content Management Systems. Unfortunately not. Open source software is created by communities of programmers with no other allegiance to the project than they get a kick out of contributing and online notoriety. When that excitement wanes they move on to their next big idea.

There are significant quality processes in these big open source projects, so it’s not just a free-for-all by any means, but many of the “modules” or “plugins” used are developed by just a handful of people, or sometimes just a single person.

So big issues can arise when a developer of a module decides he no longer wants to continue working on the project free of charge. Let’s say Joe Blogs writes a really cool Drupal module for a shopping cart plugin that people use all around the world download and install. Joe Blogs supports his Drupal software for 12 months until he’s at his wits’ end staying up half the night to fix the bugs people keep reporting. So he says he’s no longer fixing it. Where does that leave your business? Usually enough people will be using the module that someone picks up the ball and fixes a bug or two, but eventually you end up with no-one caring anymore.

Then you have technology and base code updates. Most open-source projects are written in a language called PHP. This language in itself is open source and evolves according to whatever the community dictates. We had an eCommerce site rendered useless one Christmas Eve because the PHP language got an overhaul and one of the commonly-used functions was changed. The hosting company applied the new update and it caused chaos at the time for tens of thousands of websites. It was a bad decision not based on sound commercial thinking because it’s community-based.

Sidebar: Think about how record players became cassette decks became CD players became MP3 players and now you stream your music via the Internet. VHS bested Beta videos only to succumb to DVD – and when was the last time you watched a DVD at your place rather than one you downloaded? So this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

If you stay in Drupal 6 there will be no more security fixes built by the open source community and there will be less and less modules and new functions to keep up with the ever-evolving digital age.

So what happens if you don’t upgrade to Drupal 7 or Drupal 8 and move to a new system? What will that cost? Well in our opinion the open source tech-heads have already abandoned Drupal just as they did Mambo and the others before it. There are cool new open-source systems like WordPress and Joomla to play with and Drupal is very unlikely to rise from the ashes.

Aside from that opinion, another way to look at this is that it will cost you 2 or 3 times more to stay managing your site in Drupal considering how incredibly hard it is to do anything simple. The cost of managing your site is just going to increase as fewer and fewer developers know anything about it.

So going to a newer version of Drupal will be 90% of the work of a new site with all the problems kicked down the road a few more years, and any additional work done to it will be one more thing you will need to re-engineer when you finally rip the bandaid off and move to a new system.

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