Drupal Distributions - Getting Going Faster

Highlights from the DrupalCamp Paris talk by Simon Georges on Drupal distributions, their creation, usage and advantages

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Mon, 2013-06-24 09:20By greg

I've already blogged about the document management talk I attended and promised more. So here's another DrupalCamp Paris post about Drupal distributions, a talk presented by Simon Georges of Makina Corpus in Toulouse, France. As an experienced Drupal developer I already knew about distributions, in fact I've made one or two, however it was great to see this talk and refresh myself on the latest approaches, see what the popular distributions are and also understand Simon's approach to distributions and why he sees them as vital to the developer workflow.

Though the first part of Simon's talk was very much aimed at beginners who know nothing about the distribution and how it works, he did mention the Apps module by Phase2, which had totally escaped my notice. I'll be taking a look, seems like it might be an interesting way to package up a distribution.

He then went on to talk about distributions in the context of development. His fundamental point is one I think a lot of Drupal companies are feeling right now: If you can get your core modules and configurations into an install profile - those you use almost every time, without fail - you can focus on the parts that add value when you're actually doing the bulk of the development work. The custom modules, the behaviour changes, the workflows, the theming, the special integrations.

It is Simon's personal development workflow, when he gets a new project, to first browse the distributions page of Drupal.org and see if there is a distribution that brings him close. If he can get 80% of the way there with a distro, it makes a big difference to the amount of value he can provide to his client within the same budget. And he usually finds a distribution that suits. (I also should note, in discussions after the talk, Simon pointed out browsing distributions every now and again is a great way to pick up on new integrations, techniques, modules, etc.)

Having made install profiles myself, I can personally vouch for how easy it is. In fact, some of our projects have used install profiles for development very effectively. Need the latest build? Delete your database and 'drush si' your install profile (though this is more advanced than what Simon was talking about on Saturday).

So having introduced the concept and the rationale, Simon went on to talk about some popular distributions. I won't list them all, because you can find them all on Drupal.org anyway, but I'll pull out the ones I liked the look of:

  • TEDx: https://drupal.org/project/tedxprofile - looks amazing for a one-off event, highly visual, with speakers, video content and related editorial. It gives you a really media-rich site for show-casing a high quality event, right out of the box, so all you need to do is apply the design.
  • OpenPublic: https://drupal.org/project/openpublic - I was well aware of this distro, designed to allow public figures to quickly set up and run a website with all the features they'll need, but what I hadn't appreciated until Simon mentioned it in this talk was the amount of work gone into accessibility, so I mentally shortlisted this one to have a look at the theming later.
  • Open Enterprise: https://drupal.org/project/openenterprise - This was not a distro I was aware of, but seems to fit the needs of a lot of our clients for their front-of-house (shop window, if you will) websites. That's not the sort of work we do a lot of, so it's hardly surprising I hadn't noticed this - plus it doesn't seem to get a lot of press, I guess because it's not a very exciting prospect (an ordinary website for a typical business) however, it feels like there are elements of this distro that could represent big wins for companies in the 'brochureware' space. This also uses the Apps module I mentioned earlier, so it'll be cool to see how that allows you to enable different features in the install process.
  • Spark: https://drupal.org/project/spark - This is pretty well known, so just mentioning it in passing. It uses Panels, which we're a fan of here at Code Enigma, as regular readers will know, and it's fully responsive - so it's right up our street!
  • Recruiter: https://drupal.org/project/recruiter - I've often thought there should be a job board distribution and turns out there is. I'll be checking this out, it's a requirement we see fairly regularly.
  • Open Outreach: https://drupal.org/project/openoutreach - This is the not-for-profit and charity distro for Drupal. As we do more work with NGOs, using this project as a kick-start to save them money might be a very good thing. We'll be checking out its features carefully.
  • OpenScholar: http://openscholar.harvard.edu - Note, there is a Drupal page too, but seems active development is more on their own site. This is a fairly well known distribution already, but always worth a mention, as it has some pretty cool features for educational institutions to manage the common requirement to have departmental websites and be able to control who can manage those sections of a common website.


So that's a pretty good list Simon gave us. It's incomplete, he mentioned others, for example OpenDeal - a sort of Drupal Groupon - and OpenFolio - a distro for managing photographs - both of which look quite nice. One other thing I picked up on is the OpenAtrium distro for intranets, which most people are probably familiar with already, has a nice add-on for the (more stable, for now) Drupal 6 version called Atrium Folders, which adds a document management layer to the Atrium features.

Thanks to Simon for sharing his knowledge of distributions and suggesting some interesting ways to work with them, as well as an excellent run-through of some of the options available already. It was very interesting and very useful!