Drupal 7 beta due in early August

Company founder Dries Buytaert talks CMS upgrade, cloud version, and open source in an interview at OSCON

The Drupal 7 open source content management system is expected to reach a beta release stage next month, with the general release due to follow several weeks later, Drupal founder Dries Buytaert said.

In an interview with InfoWorld at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON 2010) conference in Portland last week, Buytaert also reiterated that version 7 would be slower than version 6 but still superior. He also offered perspectives on open source and the upcoming cloud version of Drupal, called Drupal Gardens. Now CTO of Acquia, Buytaert began working on Drupal around 10 years ago and released it as an open source technology in 2001.  

[ See InfoWorld's continuing coverage of OSCON, including presentations about programming from XML co-inventor Tim Bray, now of Google, and Google executive Rob Pike. ]

InfoWorld: When will Drupal 7 be released?

Buytaert: We still don't know, but we're down to 44 critical bugs. My hope is that we'll have a beta release of Drupal 7 around the beginning of August.

InfoWorld: When would the general release happen?

Buytaert: I think it's going to happen somewhere in [the] September, October timeframe.

InfoWorld: At the DrupalCon conference in April, you said Drupal 7 was going to be slower than Drupal 6. How much slower, and what's the reasoning behind that?

Buytaert: We added a lot of features. You have Drupal core, which is the base platform, and then we have contributed modules, which are being developed by other members in the community. We actually moved [about] 70 contributed modules into Drupal core. So Drupal core got bigger, it has more features. One side effect is that it becomes a little bit slower because there's extra features and functionality. We've made really significant improvements to Drupal usability. It was our key focus, is to make Drupal easier to use for end users. We hired some of the best usability people in the world -- Mark Boulton, he did the BBC website.

InfoWorld: What do some of the modules do?

Buytaert: One of the most popular contributed modules is called CCK. It stands for Content Construction Kit and basically allows people to define custom content types from within their browser. For example, if you want to do a review site or something, you can create a review content type. [Also] we made it a better, more flexible platform, [which] definitely impacts performance a little bit. The other thing is as Drupal gets bigger -- actually I should say as the users of Drupal gets bigger -- there's bigger Web sites adopting Drupal. We were able to learn from that and we were able to make some architectural changes that improved scalability. But scalability is not to be confused with performance. So the trade-off that we made is that it's easier to scale Drupal to really large websites across multiple servers but the performance of Drupal on a single server will be a little bit affected by that. While Drupal becomes a little bit slower, it's actually possible to build bigger websites with it. We thought that was a fair trade-off.

InfoWorld: I understand that Drupal 7 will break APIs and feature a redesigned interface for nontechnical users. Are you concerned about offending any longtime devotees or developers?

Buytaert: Actually, it's one of the things which sets Drupal apart from other open source content management systems in that we do break APIs. That's something that a lot of people in the Drupal community, developers especially, buy into. One of the reasons people enjoy working with Drupal is because we don't have to drag all of that legacy stuff around. A lot of developers are actually quite pleased with that. The pain is actually with the end-users. Say you build a website and you have a lot of custom modules. Because we break the APIs, you need to update your modules. And if you worked with an external consultant to develop your modules, you need to hire that person again. So there's some pain involved for end-users, but I think for developers and the long-term health of the platform, I think it's very important that we made those changes.

InfoWorld: I understand that Drupal 7 will feature a database abstraction layer.

Buytaert: Drupal 7 will have a completely new database abstraction layer. It will be written from scratch and it actually does address a whole bunch of shortcomings with the database abstraction layer in Drupal 6. It actually allows for better scalability. It allows for master/slave configurations, meaning you can load-balance your database servers much better. With the new database abstraction layer, we'll see support for many more databases. Drupal 6 essentially supported MySQL and Postgres. I think Drupal 7 will be the first version that will support Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle [and] maybe an IBM database.

InfoWorld: What's going to be the impact of having that support in Drupal 7?

Buytaert: A lot of large organizations standardized on Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle. The fact that Drupal supports these now will essentially make it easier for [these organizations] to adopt [Drupal]. They don't need to sneak it into the organization, as sometimes is the case.

InfoWorld: You have the behind-the-firewall version of Drupal and you have the cloud version, Drupal Gardens. Why not just go with the cloud version and get rid of the behind-the-firewall version?

Buytaert: I don't think that's a good idea. If you look at large organizations, they have their main websites. It's unlikely that they want to run their main Web site on drupalgardens.com, right? They want to host it themselves so they have all the flexibility in the world to make changes to it. However, it might be the case that [users] are organizing events or need some microsites and so for the microsites, Drupal Gardens [will] hopefully be a great fit.

InfoWorld: Is security a concern for Drupal users?

Buytaert: I don't think so. We have a lot of security best practices. We have a security team at Drupal with more than 30 people. The fact that organizations like Whitehouse.gov use Drupal -- they obviously have high security and scalability requirements.

InfoWorld: What is your perspective on the emergence of commercial open source?

Buytaert: I'm not the kind of person that is against commercial open source. One of the big lessons that I learned through Drupal is if you want to build a successful open source project, it's important that you build a commercial ecosystem around it. In Drupal's case, as you probably noticed, at DrupalCon there were thousands of people building websites with Drupal, making money with Drupal, and I think you need to figure out ways for people in your community to make money.

InfoWorld: How do you define commercial open source?

Buytaert: I think there's sort of two worlds. There's community-driven open source, where -- like Drupal, like Linux, and there's only a few of these -- where really, the project is driven by a community. Commercial open source for me is when you have a venture-backed startup that basically decides to build software to compete in a specific market and to try and disrupt that market by having an open source strategy. And so in many ways it's almost a marketing tool to be open source.

InfoWorld: How do you make money off of Drupal and Drupal Gardens?

Buytaert: The the way we make money [with] Drupal, at Acquia, is different from how most other people make money off Drupal. There's thousands of little shops, they make money building websites. At Acquia we don't build websites. We provide commercial-grade support. We [also] have high-end cloud-based hosting. Drupal Gardens will be a subscription based services where you pay a monthly fee. There will [also] be a free version.

InfoWorld: What kind of upgrade rate are you expecting for Drupal 7?

Buytaert: Historically, the size of the Drupal community doubles with every major release. I don't know why, but that's what it has been doing the last couple of years.

This article, "Drupal 7 beta due in early August," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at infoworldmobile.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.