If you have visited this site before you might have noticed that things are looking a little bit different around here. There is a new look and also the software that the site runs on has been upgraded. Since the site started it has run on an installation of Drupal 5, which is of course part of history now and no longer supported. It was great to get three and a half years service out of that version of Drupal but the time had come to move on and upgrade to Drupal 7 in order that the site will have the features it needs going forward. Upgrading was an interesting experience though and maybe a little time consuming!
The release of Drupal 7 was a long time in coming and is a major upgrade from and means major changes for anybody used to working with Drupal, the popular content management system and web application framework. Every major version number means lots of new features, but also breaking changes making upgrading possibly tricky depending on how your site is set up. It also means that you need to know what the benefits are of the new version before deploying Drupal. In an attempt to address this need Packt Publishing have released Drupal 7 First Look by Mark Noble and were kind enough to send me an electronic review copy.
Cloud Computing is a hot topic in IT circles right now and many will be keen to try out some of the technology involved to gain an insight into how they or their organisation might be able to benefit from this area. One significant product is the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (also known as Amazon EC2) which offers the promise of a server image that can adjust its specifications to cope with peak demands on a website. Getting started with this product has previously meant a lot of preparation though, lots of reading up on new terms and new ways of doing things and that is before understanding a pricing structure which thanks to its pay as you go nature might work out cost effective, but also takes longer to understand. Fortunately Canonical, the commercial backer of Ubuntu has stepped in and introduced an offer where you can test drive an instance of Ubuntu Server 10.10 on EC2 free of charge for an hour. I decided to take up this opportunity and see what I could learn.
Most books on Drupal cover various aspects of developing websites using this versatile platform. After reading one of these you might find that you have done a rather good job of it and your site is attracting an increasing amount of traffic. This is great until the point where your site starts to struggle to keep up with demand. Left unchecked this could result in your site becoming slow to use and people becoming impatient and looking elsewhere. At this point you might be tempted to throw money at the problem, maybe an expensive new server or an upgrade to your hosting account. Before you do though it might be worth reading “Drupal 6 Performance Tips” by T.J. Holowaychuk and Trevor James that explains strategies and technologies that might help out.
The Semantic Web is the concept that you can add machine readable meaning to you website to make it easier for computers as well as humans to understand what is going on with your content. If you look at this page you will find it easy to tell which part of the page is blog content, where my name is etc., but for a machine this is not so easy, they will only see something like “bla bla bla TITLE bla bla bla” and often will be limited to trying to find content based on keywords. The whole Semantic Web idea is the subject of major research efforts and much debate over how far it can go, but the good news for Drupal site administrators and readers of their websites is that Drupal 7 will be offering support for some of this technology out of the box.
There was once a time when the computer industry was not really people orientated, instead the focus was on pushing data around and worrying about nothing but algorithms. Those days ended with the arrival of Web 2.0, the web changed forever, the model of top-down publishing of content was revolutionised by the idea of users generating content and maintaining connections with each other through social networks. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have brought the web alive as a social space, but what if you want to implement some of these ideas on your own site? This is where Michael Peacock's new book Drupal 6 Social Networking may come in very handy.
Today is a big day, we find out tonight how well the Open University entry has done in the Boxee App Development challenge. A small team of us had been thinking about big screen (web experiences designed for interactive television to be viewed at about ten feet away) web sites and what an OU experience might be like in such a setting. When the challenge was announced it was a fantastic opportunity to quickly develop something to get ourselves started in this exciting area, so we decided to go for it and in about four weeks went from having nothing to having a fully working application, complete with full user interface and graphic design by Dave Winter, client and server side code by me and communications, testing and creative input by Stuart Brown and Matt Rawlinson. It was hard work which gobbled up a few evenings and weekends but it was worth it.
It can be quite a strange experience to read a book where you know you are not the target audience, I'm not a teacher or an academic, but I work for a university and use Drupal, and, of course, like most people have been on the receiving end of the education system! Despite this though I still enjoyed reading Drupal for Education and E-Learning by Bill Fitzgerald after being asked if I would review it by the publisher Packt Publishing. The book is not aimed at developers like me, but instead to those who want to use Drupal “to support teaching and learning” and to explore opportunities to use social media in the classroom in a safe way. You don't even need to know PHP. However, even though it has this non-techie targeting it could still prove very useful to many people using Drupal in other contexts. Occasionally though a tension would surface in the book between the desire to talk to a non developer audience and the subjects being discussed.
There is no doubt that the mobile is starting to make more of an impact on the Internet. Not long ago many people thought a mobile was really just for making calls and texting. It is difficult to miss the amount of publicity that the Apple iPhone and Google Android projects have generated recently. Many mobile phones come with a browser built in that is capable of rendering regular web pages and the price of Internet access from a mobile is dropping, and is often it is bundled with contracts. Ten years ago Nokia set this process in motion by releasing the Nokia 7110, the first mobile phone to have Internet access, it couldn't render regular web pages, only ones specifically written for mobiles but brought to the public the idea of Internet access in your pocket, available quickly wherever and whenever you need it. It has been a slow process for the mobile web, but it looks set to grow, and one social networking site in Japan has found that mobile traffic has overtaken non-mobile web traffic. A problem remains though, while mobiles are now capable of rendering regular HTML web pages, they still have very small screens meaning that web sites have to be redesigned to look their best. This, depending on how far you want to go, can be a time consuming process (and one I'm determined to do properly later this year!), fortunately there is a service available that promises not only to re-render your web content in a mobile friendly way, but also to render it in different ways for different devices, and to do all of this in the time it takes to have a coffee.