Acquia Drupal: Drupal With Help

One of the major problems of the Drupal Open-Source Content Management System is that it can be hard to grasp.  And despite many improvements over the last couple years, it can be very difficult without an experienced PHP developer.  And finally, companies who use Drupal would like to have a company that they can call to get questions answered and help for issues beyond their knowledge.  Thankfully, a new start-up from some of the biggest people in Drupal development, called Acquia, has been working hard to make sure these people are taken care of.  A major step in that direction was today's accouncement of Acquia Drupal, a slightly custom version of Drupal with more features and more support options.

Acquia Drupal is, at heart, a special distribution of Drupal.  It uses Drupal's extensible installer system to bundle and install a whole bunch of commonly-used Drupal modules, most of which I have used over the years on one site or another.  For a Drupal 6.x site, these modules are the most stable and feature-rich available.  Those just starting out with Drupal can play around with Acquia Drupal to get a better look at some of the most common extensions and the inherent power of Drupal beyond a basic CMS.  Of course, any Drupal site manager could get these from the site, but then you'd have to wade through thousands of modules to find the really good ones, which are handpicked here.

A new template is included that provides a nice, basic look - a bit more colorful and friendly than the current Drupal look. I alos noticed some help text throughout Acquia Drupal was a bit more verbose and helpful than the current Drupal install, which I hope will make its way back into the Drupal configuration in some form or another.  I bet I will find more and more tweaks as I play with the system, and Acquia says they will be putting out patch releases every two weeks, so I expect more and more improvements on a pretty quick timeframe.

Acquia Drupal is not just a list of cool modules that you can use, though - it's the set of features that Acquia supports through their Acquia Support services.  There are various levels of services based on the size of your site and they are priced fairly affordably for both the corporation and the non-profit who want Drupal help.  The Acquia Support site includes a ticketing system and the higher-level support groups get phone support and 1-hour response times, as noted in a detailed services chart.  Through the end of the year, online forum-only support and some Acquia Network services are free, as well.

All Acquia Support customers get the Acquia Network features, which are possibly some of the most intriguing features for a fairly experienced Drupal programmer like myself.  Once you activate the Acquia Network, the Acquia Drupal install communicates with Acquia's server to check for any updates.  A great upside to this is that they can track when your server is working correctly because the site is probably "down" at least partially when the server does not check in.  Drupal users who are not so savvy can use their service to run the cron maintenance tasks required to keep a Drupal site smoothly.  Also, Acquia has partnered with a spam-blocking company called Mollom that makes sure no spammy content gets posted to the site.  Acquia Network even keeps track of the contents of your files, so that Acquia knows when the files of the site were modified, either on purpose or inadvertently, and can help the site administrator assess the situation.  And, of course, it gives some fancy graphs that show your site changes and growth over time.

Overall, I find that Acquia Drupal is a great service for those who want support or want to check out Drupal.  However, at this point, I'm not sure that I will subscribe to their support services.  Maybe it's my independent spirit or my over-confidence in my own abilities, but maybe I will warm up to it over time.  For now, it's a great addition to the current Drupal landscape, and I only expect Acquia's work to make Drupal and their product better over time.


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