Vinotopia and Drupal - a discovery

(Winelover, you are warned - technobabble ahead!) This is the third version I made of the Vinotopia website. First one - a long time ago - was in static HTML, second one was ASP based with an Access database underneath. This time I made it using Drupal 7. An interesting journey of discovery.

I'm not a true web developer, but professionally I'm often involved with (software) technology. I knew Drupal for a while, and then I got a thorough introduction during a project at #ONE Agency as product owner of several Drupal-based developments. As of then I was determined to build the next version of vinotopia.be with Drupal.

My original idea was to use nothing but configuration to set up the site, but that was unrealistic. Using Drupal you're still required to used some PHP here and there to stitch stuff together (another thing to learn for me). But it was OK in general. There are many things left to improve with Drupal, but the positives far outweigh the downside. And I'm really curious to see where Drupal 8 will take us.

The many available modules are part of the richness of Drupal. There are a lot - actually too much - and it's not always easy to choose the right modules. I'd like to mention a few of them that really made a difference in this Drupal exploration.

  • Acquia Dev Desktop: A great starter if - like me - you don't have extensive Unix/Apache/MySQL configuration knowledge. An out-of-the-box LAMP server with Drupal preinstalled. Sometimes a bit limited in its control panel, but those are minor complaints.
  • Omega Theme: Incredibly powerful and yet fairly straightforward. A 960-grid HTML5/CSS3 responsive design theme that makes your Drupal site adapt to all screen sizes. This has also allowed me to create a truly mobile design for Vinotopia, without any complicated screen resolution scripting. If you see how easy this is, why aren't more professional sites already mobile? It's a crying shame.
  • Display Suite: I learned about DS from its creator, Kristof De Jaeger - better known as Swentel - at #ONE Agency. As far as I'm concerned, DS is a must have module for any Drupal site. It saves incredible amounts of time in managing the display of views and nodes, and then some. Code fields give you a very handy shortcut for creating dynamic PHP or Token-based fields, simple enough for someone like me. And DS is crucial in working with proper CSS - you can easily manage which tags are added for specific fields or displays. Sure, the interface can be better in some areas, but overall this is a top notch module. Thanks Kristof and everyone who's worked on it or sponsored it.
  • Feeds: When I go to tastings, I record my notes on a Macbook Air with Filemaker. I export the notes in XML and import them with Feeds into Drupal. Feeds is indispensible for a project like Vinotopia, but I really really wish that with Drupal 8 big improvements will be made in the capability to (dynamically) link a Drupal site to other databases. Feeds is cumbersome, somewhat strange in its interface, and not really fast. But it does the job, and I think it's the only game in town for importing data into nodes. If you know of better alternatives, I'd love to hear about it at info@vinotopia.be. Thanks!
  • So many other modules to mention... Firebug for debugging your CSS, Devel to show what you're doing, Boost to get more decent response times without sofisticated Varnish stuff that's over my head. 

I'd like to thank Dries Buytaert and the Drupal community for creating and maintaining such a great Web CMS. But hey, everything can improve. How's Drupal 8 moving along? :-)

Cheers --Michiel