Boston Drupal Meetup Considers Distributions

The topic was “Distributions” at the September Boston Drupal Meetup, which was held at Acquia HQ in downtown Boston, and attendees were treated to an unusually comprehensive session.

That’s because Drupal Project Lead Dries Buytaert kicked off the meeting by going waaay back, to the very first Drupal “distro.”

To back up a bit, a distribution is a combination of Drupal core + modules + configuration + documentation -- all bundled up and optimized for a particular purpose or group of users.

And the very first distro, according to Dries: DeanSpace, the campaign management system used by Howard Dean during his brief, but notable, campaign for President of the United States in 2004. At the time, Drupal was relatively unknown, and DeanSpace gave the platform a boost.

Ever since, Dries said, he’s been bullish about distributions: they help Drupal get into new places, and they reduce the burden of selecting modules, creating configurations, and maintenance.

“You can get going a lot of easier,” Dries said.

Every version of Drupal since 2004 has made it easier to create distributions, Dries said, and the Drupal community has responded with great distributions: OpenAtrium, OpenEdu, Thunder, OpenY, Lightning... There are now more than a thousand Drupal distributions on

“I’m a big believer in distributions,” Dries said when he got to his final slide. “We should work to make them great.”

“It’s really what users want, to be honest,” Dries continued. “People don’t really want to download all these different pieces, and couple them together, and figure out how to configure them, and deal with maintaining them, and upgrading them. Distributions can really reduce so many barriers to adoption.”

As if to prove Dries’ enthusiasm for distributions, his talk was followed by a presentation about one of Drupal’s most impressive distributions, Lightning. Adam Balsam, Lightning techincal lead, talked about Lightning workflow: the state of content moderation and its migration path. (Adam’s subtitle: “How I learned to stop worrying and love Lightning’s update paths.”)

Lightning, btw, is a Drupal 8 profile with a distribution and an open source Acquia product. It’s focus: bridging the gap between what people expect from a CMS and what Drupal does out of the box.

Adam talked about the varieties of upgrades, including new functionality, architectural changes, and updates to underlying modules. He also discussed content moderation, current tests, migration paths, and feature completeness. In a touching display of honesty, Adam attached emojis to the last three projects that indicated how he feels about the status of each (feature completeness is apparently keeping him up at night). For more information, check out Adam’s slides.

Ben Melancon, from the worker-owned web development shop Agaric, talked about Drutopia, a fascinating combination of a distribution and software-as-a-service that is designed to help smaller, not-for-profit grassroots organizations create websites. The idea is to have a platform coop with a governance module. People using the software (members) will have a voice in the distribution roadmap.

The group also heard two “kitchen sink” talks (unrelated to distributions) from Dan Feidt, who’s working on a module to migrate Wordpress sites to Drupal 8, and Bill Cheung, from Berklee School of Music, who’s rewriting a Stage Plot app, that doesn’t work very well in Flash. He’s rewriting it in Object Oriented Javascript.

Mike Miles, Senior Technical Solutions Manager at Genuine, the Boston digital agency, wrapped up the meeting with two pieces of advice for aspiring distro builders:

  • If you want to build a distribution, you need to remember that you are not building a single site. You need to abstract your problems and solutions so that they work for many sites.
  • If you are building a distribution, you will probably deal with many different teams with different expertise and priorities. Not everything is a need-to-have. Try to get the teams to think in terms of brand best practices and guidelines when describing the functionality they are looking for.

The next Boston Drupal meetup is October 3rd at Genuine’s offices in Boston’s South End.

Special thanks to Reena Leone and Leslie Glynn for the careful note-taking. And Patrick Goulet and Stephanie Luz for the pix.