Dries' vision for Drupal 8

Drupal 8 "probably" two years down the track

In January last year the developers of popular open source content management system Drupal celebrated the release of version 7. Drupal 7 included significant architectural changes as well as usability enhancements.

The take-up of Drupal 7 in the 12 months since its release, according to Drupal's creator and lead developer Dries Buytaert, has been fantastic, with security notification requests from Drupal installations to suggesting that it is being adopted almost twice as fast as the previous version of the CMS.

"That being said we're still waiting for contributed modules to be upgraded; as these get released I suspect it will continue to spike up," Buytaert, who is also the chief technology officer of Acquia, told Techworld Australia.

Buytaert is yet to determine a release date for the Drupal 8, but already he has flagged some plans for what should be addressed in the next version. Buytaert divides these ideas into four main points.

The number one focus of the development work on Drupal 8 will be mobile, Buytaert says -- or, more specifically, "multichannel". "I usually simplify this as mobile but it's not just mobile, it could also be publishing to a TV or something else," Buytaert says. "It's really going multichannel where the primary new channel would be a mobile channel, through Web services native mobile applications for say iOS or Android, but also adopting HTML5 as the default output format in Drupal 8 so that we can better build mobile Web experiences."

A second focus is the editorial experience, Buytaert says. "A lot of people work with Drupal and there is many things that we can do to make it easier for them to edit and manage content from within the system.

"All the way from how they manage media assets to content staging, all of these things, and lots of usability improvements as part of that."

Thirdly will be to address one of the issues raised by the growth in popularity of Drupal. "In the enterprise right now Drupal is really rapidly being adopted for some of the largest websites in the world and they're running into issues that Drupal wasn't necessarily running into four years ago. The needs of the largest organisations in the world are slightly different."

In many respects Drupal has become a Web platform rather than a mere CMS, and so to aid organisations that want to standardise on Drupal for their sites, "we need to make sure Drupal works well for the largest websites". "That includes specifics like configuration management, content staging, [and] universally unique identifiers."

Fourthly is making sure Drupal remains easy for developers to work with: "There are APIs that we want to clear up, user interfaces that we want to clean up, documentation that we want to clean up. So I guess a bunch of clean up work to leverage the latest version of PHP to leverage the latest design patterns; all of these things."

"That's very important for developers because Drupal is not just an end user tool but also a platform, or a framework if you will, that developers use to build pretty custom apps," Buytaert says.

"[Developers] really use the framework piece of Drupal versus the product piece, and so we want to make sure that they love working with Drupal. So it's something I'm very keen on: To really make the developer community happy.

"I think traditionally we've been very successful at doling so as well, which is why compared to most other CMSes why we have such large developer audience for Drupal. I want to keep investing in developers and making them successful."

Buytaert may have these plans for what he wants to see in Drupal 8, but the release date is yet to be worked out. "I would say Drupal 8 is probably, and it's a big probably, maybe two years away," he says. The release date will be determined in part by the continuing transition of organisations and developers to Drupal 7.

"What we're doing with Drupal 8 is we're tackling a number of big problems, so I think we want to release Drupal 8 when two things happen: One [is that] Drupal 7 is the de facto release; everybody is using Drupal 7 instead of Drupal 6 or Drupal 5.

"The books that have been written about Drupal have been updated to Drupal 7. All the Drupal developers ... need to train themselves to go from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7, because we made some pretty massive improvements; that is currently happening. The Drupal world is switching from six to seven and it's trickling down to everybody involved in Drupal. That needs to be compelted before I can release Drupal 8."

The other thing is that that needs to happen is that "[a] number of these bigger initiatives need to get into Drupal 8, because once Drupal 8 is ready you want people to migrate to it. And for people to migrate to Drupal 8 you need to give them a compelling reason, which means new features and functionality."

Dries Buytaert will be speaking at Drupal Downunder in Melbourne, January 13-15 2012.