Blog - thoughts and ramblings...

Drupal for 2008

Dries Buytaert put out his predictions for Drupal for 2008. Of note, it's reassuring that the community realizes that this year will be as much about marketing of the product as the product itself. It would be a drastic shame if Drupal became the Betamax of CMSes. An interesting point that surprised me was the integration with Flex...didn't see that coming as Flex is a proprietary, Adobe based, technology. That being said, it's amazing how things come full circle for me - we have been with Allaire/Macromedia/Adobe for seven years now. We still do a TON of work in ColdFusion and Chaz Chumley, one of our developers has presented at conferences on Flex. All good stuff for Lucidus.

To me, the biggest points that are on my list for Drupal in the coming year are:

  • Configuration Management - A CMS is basically a glorified file system stored in a database. Version Control has been around a long time and is well understood in file system land (e.g. CVS, SVN, SourceSafe). In CMS/Database Storage land, it's not such an easy equation. I want to allow an administrator/developer to work within the Drupal system itself (e.g. on a block that includes an embedded view using PHP code) and have it "versioned" so that it can't be overwritten and lost. I want to be able to "tag" a version of the system and be able to revert to it later. Autopilot seems to be on that path but I'm anxious to see progress.

  • Standard Packages - Development of Intranet, Project Management System, Web Site, etc. packages that are no-brainer installs with full documentation. Essentially leveraging Drupal for software solutions rather than just a toolkit that could be a lot of things.

  • Moving from Drupal as a CMS to Drupal as a true application framework. There is a dramatic shift happening in the development world where implementations are getting messier (can you say "mashup") and that's ok. 2008 will be the year of quick and dirty for the business world; our challenge is to apply our rigorous development standards to software based deliverables that we've always applied to code-based deliverables.

  • The Spec Starts the Deliverable - We'll be applying Drupal as a wireframing tool that will eventually become the actual system. In a perfect world, our systems analysts would use Drupal to "rough in" the system architecture and it would produce documents that live as specs.

Why We Chose Drupal Over Joomla - More Robust Security

This is the second in a series of blog entries regarding why we, at Lucidus, decided to switch from Joomla to Drupal for our primary content management system. This one is about security...

Robust, Tightly Integrated Security
The Joomla security infrastructure was extremely limited in terms of configuration options.
In most cases, our clients will have a handful of authors/editors for their site that need to "own" a specific section of the site. For example, an insurance company may have one group that controls Personal Insurance content while another controls Business Insurance and a third
is specifically responsible for writing occassional press releases. For compliance purposes, editors have to be restricted to only editing their own pages.

This was simply not possible (easily) within Joomla.You get a handful of predefined security levels and there is no way to simply add arbitrary "groups." Moreover, even if you could live
within the groups given to you, there was no way (without applying a 3rd party "hack" module that would limit security patch applications) to limit a particular group or user from editing a specific section. It was an all or nothing thing where either they could edit content or

In Drupal, user groups can be arbitrarily created. There are a WIDE variety of security modules that can be applied by page, topic, book or even form field. This makes a huge difference in the types of sites (e.g. intranet, document management system, etc.) we can deliver.

Moreover, when building custom nodes (using CCK), the security is natively integrated. If we custom code our own module, it is simple to leverage the security groups and create arbitrary permissions for our own module that show up in the core administrator.

All in all, Joomla would score a 2 out of 5 in my mind. Drupal would be on the order of 5 out of 5

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Fall season means progress for Lucidus

The change of seasons has coincided with a number of accomplishments for Lucidus this year.

Where should I start? Our first accomplishment is a big one. We have moved our Lucidus headquarters in New Hampshire to another, larger location in the heart of Keene, at Colony Mill Marketplace.

According to Colin Edward, Senior Application Developer, his "view is much better." Matt Goodwin, Client Services Manager, agrees. "The thing I like the most is the fact that we now have a space that is very professional looking. It gives us the 'real company' image we were going for."

That may be an understatement! The offices are much larger, designed more efficiently, and we share them with our Marketshare Alliance partner, Communicators Group. The sharing of the office space will generate a stronger environment for collaboration and creativity. And – we have a real conference room! For me and Chaz Chumley, an application developer in our Las Vegas office, this is really important even though Chaz and I aren't in Keene very often. We can finally see and hear our fellow employees really well in videoconference meetings! We also have a nice monitor for presentation purposes there.

carving for Pumpkin Festival But first – imagine this: You are part of a company that needs to move locations, and it is the middle of October, a time of year when the town of Keene has a huge pumpkin festival, which you take part in each year! So – right in the middle of moving – while we were half moved out and half moved in, the Lucidus staff got together and prepared for the Keene Pumpkin Festival on October 20. We gathered for our weekly staff meeting and then carved pumpkins! I was connected in to the activities via Adobe Acrobat Connect, which we use regularly to share and show work to each other and with clients. The staff and I carved our pumpkins and then displayed them for each other via webcam.

A few days after we were moved in, Neil Giarratana, our fearless leader and President, announced an important new hire for the company. Rich Hahn, our new VP of Operations! I haven't yet met Rich in person at the Keene office, but I have heard his experience and it's clear he will bring a great deal to Lucidus. Neil has historically done double-duty (or is it triple-duty?) as Operations Manager, President and Sales and Marketing Manager. With Kristen Goodenough on board as a Regional Account Manager and me selling as well, some of those responsibilities have been lifted but clearly, bringing Rich on board – a man with enormous credentials in IT management – is going to be beneficial in ways we haven't even envisioned yet. We are all getting more and more specialized in our areas of expertise. This is so exciting because that can only mean that by focusing on our core skillset, we will prove ourselves to be all the more the experts we are. And that will help us meet our goal of finishing all projects "on time and on budget"!

So this is a great time for us as we're nearing the close of 2007. We are about to meet together as a company to discuss and decide on our 2008 Strategic Plan, and we have a new leader to work with us and provide direction to our operations. I for one am also looking forward to Neil being more available for technical consultations on projects

At the Miami office, as we're looking towards the end of 2007, I'm working on generating new business and wrapping up projects we've had in the works. I can't wait to announce the completion of some of the projects we've been working on. I'm also really enjoying the Florida weather cooling off a bit as the days turn into November. It's good to know that I'm not the only one at Lucidus feeling a positive change in the air.

Why We Chose Drupal Over Joomla - Simpler Page Editing

One of the most valuable services we provide as an "Internet Strategy & Services" firm is to seek out "best-of-breed" web applications (typically open source) for our customers and recommend them. As recently as a year ago, we were recommending Joomla/Mambo for content management to our clients. Late last year we changed course and made the transition to Drupal as our best-of-breed recommendation. Over the next few weeks, I'll delve into the reasons why we chose to make the switch. Today's reason is the simplicity of finding and editing web pages within Drupal.

Editing Pages Is More Intuitive in Drupal
In Drupal, you go to http://<website>/user and login. Once you successfully login, you just navigate to the appropriate page as if you were browsing the site normally and, if you have security privileges to edit that page, you are presented with a tab for "Edit." Click the tab, edit away and click the Submit button. Drupal even has built in versioning that will automatically save all of the different versions of that page and allows an administrator (or other designated user) to revert the page backward.

Images can be uploaded to the server right within the editor page using either the "File Attachment" section or by adding the "Image" module to Drupal.

Just like Joomla, you can use a variety of rich text editors including TinyMCE, FCKEditor as well as a variety of WIKI style editing formats.

There is a similar process in Joomla but it seemed that most of the documentation we ever found for Joomla always discussed editing in terms of going into the Administrator back-end system, finding the page from a list of all pages on the site and clicking to edit it. Our clients always found this cumbersome and when you went into the hundreds of pages, it was VERY difficult to find what you were looking for.

One way to speed the search was to limit by "section" or "category." In Joomla, every "story" is assigned a section and, from there, a category. (The Section & Category mechanism within Joomla that always felt forced. They were an arbitrary way of categorizing pages. I know that 1.5 Joomla will eliminate the requirement for those but, at the time, it was difficult to explain what they meant and why they, to a degree, had nothing to do with navigation

In Joomla, the fact that there was a "front end" and a "back end" was a bit confusing in terms of authentication and workflow. If I need to edit a page, do I login to the "administrator" or to the front end?

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Cedarcrest is Feeling the Lucidus Love

Holy cow! Cedarcrest Center for Children with Disabilities has given us an award! You heard right, Neil Giarratana (our distinguished president) and the rest of the Lucidus team have been awarded the 2007 Cedarcrest Center Champion Award.

Now if you really want to read the press release, please go right ahead. But here in the blog I want to take a few minutes from my own point of view to toot our horn a bit -- we deserve it! Cedarcrest says so!

Cedarcrest AwardI've been to Cedarcrest. I know I'm not alone in feeling pretty touched by seeing the kids there. It's incredible. The glow they show from being in a home with such high quality nursing and therapeutic care, living as close to a normal life as they possibly could, is unforgettable. The staff there is a special group of people and it appears to me that their programs create positive results whenever it's possible.

So how could we not give our absolute best to this project? We have this saying at Lucidus. When we've done a fantastic job and we all agree it's outstanding, we call that "Lucidus Quality". This project REALLY asked for our developers to deliver that Lucidus Quality website and for our company as a whole to go the extra mile. For those who did not work on this project, they were recruited to pick up the slack elsewhere, which was no easy task. I want to bring your attention to a few people who helped make this website a success.

Kristen and Neil, our sales and marketing team, worked closely with Cedarcrest and helped to clarify the scope of the project. Neil held a spec session with the Cedarcrest staff, which is a key part of our process and spells out exactly what that project entails and what work would be done. Neil sat down one-on-one with staffmembers at Cedarcrest to take a client survey, work up the sitemap, and make wireframes of the site. Kristen's graceful account management skill juggled other phone calls and inquiries from clients so that the developers could keep working efficiently, which helped smooth the transition to a completed site.

OK. (This part is awkward!!) I helped finalize some of the visual design and did the initial "slice and dice" programming that began to create the look and feel of the website in Joomla. I created the styles for the text and page elements, and troubleshooted some initial display issues. Now, on to the rest of the gang...

Eric, one of our awesome developers, did some amazing custom Joomla forms and programmed functionality that allows Cedarcrest to make their own updates. With Matt's assistance, they set up the Ways to Help section and created a custom form in the Donate Online Today page that allows visitors to make secure financial contributions online.

Matt also set up and configured Google Analytics for the Cedarcrest site to, as he puts it in geek-speak, "establish a baseline metric going forward", so they can track the effectiveness of their content for visitors by seeing how visitors move through the site and what they click on.

Jo, our project manager, helped to keep the developers on task and on schedule, and ensured the other "irons in the fire" were not forgotten.

Chaz and Colin were irreplaceable in helping pick up the slack on website and application development as we worked a pro-bono project. And just as important -- Devon kept systems running smoothly and Christine did an outstanding effort in accounting to keep us on course. There was more help than just this - but in a nutshell - we rocked!



Our Geeks Speak! Chaz Chumley will Speak at CFUnited, Europe

I'm so excited –– once again our very talented team of developers has been recognized by our peers to be on the cutting edge of development.

Speaking geek to geek is a great way for our team to share our experiences with others, which in the end helps us all to leverage our collective experiences on a GLOBAL level.

CFUnited Europe, a Coldfusion development conference "run by developers, for developers" announced this month that Chaz Chumley, an Application Developer at Lucidus, will speak at the conference.

At Lucidus, it's part of our mission to empower people through knowledge and technology. This kind of opportunity meshes perfectly with that goal. Chaz is very active in the Coldfusion developer community and I think we're very fortunate to have him at Lucidus.

Chaz will be speaking in three conference sessions: "Dynamic Presentation using ColdFusion 8", "Creating and Consuming WebServices with ColdFusion 8" and "Atom and RSS feeds with ColdFusion 8".

According to Chaz, "Being able to share with others the knowledge you have gained is not only a privilege but a responsibility. I welcome the challenges of training and educating other developers who may be just starting out or who just want to learn new things."

Joining Business Groups in Miami

This month Lucidus has joined Chamber South, a business group in South Miami. One of my goals this year is to become a more familiar face to businesses in Miami and South Florida in general. It seems to me that being part of Chamber South and other business groups will be an important part of that.

So today I went to a Chamber South Business Skills workshop, "What Your Business Card Says About You", led by Ed Gorin and Pat Morgan. It was terrific. I learned about how the standard business card size is most ideal and easiest to hold on to and how it's important to say what your business specializes in. And - I had no idea so many people write on the back of cards like I do, to remember details about the people they've met who gave them a card.

What I like most about this workshop series is the format. There are about 35 attendees, and we sit at tables set up in a U-shape, so everyone can see the speakers and each other. We all are encouraged to introduce ourselves and participate in the discussion. After the talk about best-practices, the workshop wraps up but we are invited to stay for networking. By that time, the participants feel like they know each other already so walking up and meeting each other comes easily.

For me, this is great because networking is a skill I can always work on. I can bring back what I learn here to our team in New Hampshire, and they're happy to hear about it. I've met some really interesting people here in Miami, and I'm eager to tell them about the amazing crew of rock-star developers we have at Lucidus.

Presenting To My Peeps...

It was a bit weird this morning delivering my Selling You & Your Services presentation to our Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce B2B Breakfast. Many of the stories I present surround businesses local to Keene; although they are positive, it's still weird because you worry about mentioning one and not another. Moreover, I'm "revealing secrets" of how we systematizing delivery of top notch service as well as close business deals. Regardless, it was a lot of fun and nice to see so many familiar faces. I should also mention what a great job the Chamber of Commerce does at facilitating these types of events.

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The list of drupal coolness factors gets longer...OpenID

We've been going back and forth over the last year on an integrated authentication/authorization mechanism. We implemented our own LDAP server and built LDAP libraries that have worked but seemed to over complicate the entire authentication process.
In that time, we have also seen the light of the Drupal content management system (I's more than a CMS but people can't usually get their head around "application framework" and it doesn't matter to customers anyway. One of the reasons that we leaned towards Drupal was the integration with LDAP servers. However, we just haven't integrated to our LDAP server at this point because, once again, it seemed like overkill.
Administering the LDAP system was just too much of a pain. Well, it would appear that OpenID addresses the single-signon desire in a very cool, very distributed way that will integrate with many (if not most) of the open source systems we use. Plus, it will be in core Drupal 6. Wahoo!

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Great crowd at TODCON

This week I'm spending my time in (hot) Las Vegas, NV at TODCON. I'm delivering two presentations, "The PROFITABLE Web Development Process" and "Selling You & Your Services, Revisited." It's a great little conference of between 100 and 150 people that has more of a personal feeling than other conferences where I've presented. My first preso was yesterday and seem to come off pretty well. The best part for me is seeing people who listened to me last year come back again this year.

It's a pretty good year for Lucidus because Chaz and Danielle (developers for Lucidus) are here presenting as well.

I learned a bit more about Search Engine Optimization from Jesse Harding and, in particular, was glad to discover which helps with search engine positioning keywords.

This morning I'm sitting in Stephanie Sullivan's CSS presentation introducing the CSS templates in Dreamweaver CS3. VERY cool stuff.

For my part, it's a bit strange because I don't code as much as I once did. I spend a lot of time doing analysis and systems integration for sites as well as a good bit of business development. Kinda strange to not be as keyed in on the geek topics. I still enjoy the geek stuff but I just don't have the time I once did to explore.  These days, it's more about finding technology like drupal that I know will work and be cost effective.

Regardless, I'm having a great few days...

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