Day 1 was pretty good, but Day 2 brought even more useful knowledge from the community and the presenters. Here is a bit about the different sessions that I was able to attend.
Drupal 7 here we come
Dries touched on some of the new features on Monday, but this session dove into greater detail (especially from a developer’s perspective). The large group from Palantir.net discussed many of the refinements in Drupal 7. Drupal 6 combined with many of the current modules gives you a huge amount of power, and Drupal 7 puts some polish on the usability of these features. As developers we are able to have much more control over the backend and are given some great tools to theme sites much easier.
The other great innovation is the GUI interface for uploading new modules. If you’ve ever had to FTP into sites/all/modules (or accidentally into /modules), then you know some of the difficulty in adding new features. The new interface will let you upload and configure your new modules straight from the browser. We at Schipul are very excited about this because it gives out clients an easier path to upgrade their own sites and add on great features from new modules.
Drupal in the Cloud
There was quite a bit of discussion about the cloud on Tuesday, but this session helped to set a realistic understanding of what the cloud means for businesses and end users. Josh Koenig discussed his product, Mercury, which has partnered with Rackspace to allow people to launch Drupal sites in the cloud that are already preconfigured to run a highly optimized stack capable of serving pages 200 times faster than a traditional server. The cloud hosting, which is similar to VPS, lets users launch, pause, backup, and shutdown new server instances very quickly. The server size also scales very easily so you can grow with a few clicks in a web interface.
One of my favorite parts about Mercury is that, just like Drupal, it is completely open source. If someone has the technological know-how (or the time) you can setup and host your own Mercury server. This is fantastic because it shows how open source can actually be used to run a business. Along with that, Rackspace is involved by helping to connect the code with their giant pool of servers and opens up some of their technology to help Mercury sites scale. To cap off the presentation, Josh did a live demo (a bit “cowboy-ish” according to him) that demostrated the ease of setting up a Mercury site. Great job Josh!
Views 3 for developers
This was another nerdy session like yesterday’s OOP in Drupal, and oddly enough it was given by the same guy, Larry Garfield. First he gave an overview of how Views works and what changes are coming in Views 3. The separation of tasks at the core were my favorite, because it really helps in training new people to use Views. I especially enjoyed this presentation because he did a live demonstration of a couple of tiny plugins for Views that add custom functionality. This was great for much of the audience because it gave everyone the tools to fill their custom needs when it comes to making Views.
Keynote by Tim O’Reilly
Tim O’Reilly came in to talk about the Cloud and what it means for everyone (not just Drupalers). Tim described the internet and all of the data that makes it up as a huge knowledge base that can be shared through APIs. Part of the problem with understand the “Cloud” is that the word means things that are different to everyone. He cleared the air to really explain that the cloud is knowledge and that the Internet will soon need a better operating system to manage and share all of this data.
Drupal 7 is coming out with RDF support built in, which allows smart data tags to share data across the web. This is a great advancement in moving toward the eventual future of everything being in the cloud. After hearing the earlier talk about Mercury, I am now finding more and more cases where the cloud makes sense for both my own needs and for my work. Tim finished with discussing data.gov and other ways that big pieces of data are being shared. Data sharing is needed, data sharing is the future, and data sharing will be done in the cloud.
Apache Solr Search
While Drupal core comes with a Search module, it is tied to the database and can really slow things down on a large Drupal site. Solr is an application that runs on the server that stores search information in a different place and is highly optimized to serve great results quickly. The panel (James McKinney in particular) talked about how you can take a standard install of Solr and combine it with Drupal to make customized search results pages with great filtering and smarter sorting. If your Drupal site has a large amount of content and you think your users will want search, spending some time with Solr may be much better than complex taxonomies and customized Views.
Making Drupal Admin Simple
This was a much needed panel, because by default, the Drupal administration is not so easy. The group discussed some of the smart things that make content entry and site moderation much easier. Combining things like specialized node referencing along with a custom admin theme can go a long way to providing the end users with a better experience using a website.
During the session they had several live demos and examples of some of the backend tweaks that they recommend. All of these little distinctions combined together can make a Drupal site admin area look gorgeous. Some of those recommendations included the Rubik theme, the Admin module (2.0), and node relationships. If you aren’t using these on your site, give them a shot and see if the give you a better experience.
DrupalCon Day 2 continued the trend of being packed with information. We are very excited about some of the things coming in Day 3. Come back tomorrow for a recap of the final day of DrupalCon SF 2010.