Most web developers would agree that Drupal is a very capable and efficient Content Management System, arguably the most powerful of the top popular CMSs today. However, we also need to acknowledge that Drupal is not a system you can learn and master from scratch in a short period of time. Neither is WordPress for that matter, but at least WordPress will allow you to have a decent website, with a good-looking template (Theme) and basic CMS functionality in a matter of hours, with very little technical knowledge involved.
The lack of user-friendliness, or rather the lack of new-user-friendliness, is precisely the single most important reason why Drupal is lagging behind the other two most popular CMSs, WordPress and Joomla, in terms of adoption. Curiously enough most Drupal web developers and long-time users will vehemently deny this obvious shortcoming and will blame instead clueless new users for not trying hard enough. But why should they?, if there’s an alternative, or several of them in fact, that for most mundane purposes are as good as Drupal, why would anyone bother to try to master a piece of software with a much steeper learning curve? Not everyone has the time or the desire to delve into the intricacies of Content Management System, you know?. Most people just want a website up and running as fast and painlessly as possible.
Among the many powerful reasons advanced users and developers love Drupal are an efficient and clean code, an extensible Framework, granular Access Control, Taxonomies, true Scalability, a much better performance when compared to the likes of WordPress or Joomla!, and one of my favorites, the ability to use SQLite as an alternative to MySQL, specially valuable in situations where speed and reliability, together with simplicity of administration, implementation, and maintenance are more important than the countless complex features MySQL provides. As it turns out, those features are rarely needed in most real-world situations.
But certainly Usability is not one of Drupal’s most loved features. When it comes to Usability, understood as “user-friendliness”, WordPress is the indisputable king, beating both Joomla! and Drupal by several legs. Again, one could argue that Drupal lacks in Usability only from a non-experienced point of view. So does quantum physics. The difference is that Drupal is intended for the masses.
There have been more than a few voices pointing out to this obvious shortcoming from within the Drupal community. Below are some selected comments on the issue from members of the Drupal community:
I’m not sure that we should underestimate the importance of eye-candy. For starters, it often reveals a lot about ease of use.
However, most of my work with Drupal is in creating sites for clients that I then pass onto them. Most of them are technophobes and of those that have seen Drupal and WordPress, every single one has been more daunted by Drupal. For them, at that point, they are less interested in how things can be developed and the quality of code, and more concerned with things that we might call “eye candy”.
When it comes to the UI for non tech types, seems like an afterthought sometimes
So, from a beginner’s point of view, is it worth to learn Drupal? I would say that if you plan to develop beyond the average website, yes definitely, you just need to be aware that you will have to thoroughly understand a set of concepts specific to Drupal, and that takes some time. If you are used to the simplicity of WordPress you may quickly get overwhelmed by Drupal’s vast array of options, and that may lead to frustration, so first of all count on spending some time just to familiarize with its features and don’t try to skip the important stuff, because rest assured you will need it later on. You will soon find out that in Drupal few features are superfluous.
When learning Drupal, the recommended path is like that of any other programming related stuff, by plunging into the code and getting your hands dirty. Start by downloading Drupal and installing it locally in your computer just to learn your way around it, so you familiarize yourself with terms like “nodes“, “modules“, and all the rest of Drupal’s integral parts. The simplest way is to use XAMPP so you can have run an Apache web server together with MySQL and PHP right on your own computer. In this page you’l find a walk-through for installing Drupal 7 on Windows 7 using XAMPP 1.7. XAMPP can also be installed on Windows 2000, 2003, XP, Vista, Mac OS X, Linux and Solaris.
Drupal offers so many different configuration options that the possibilities are endless and makes the learning curve seem endlessly steep. However, once you learn the basics, everything else starts making sense. The important thing when learning Drupal is to actually experience it. So, just go ahead, install Drupal and start exploring. With the right mindset and the proper methodology you’ll soon discover all the amazing things Drupal can offer.