If anyone hears of a CMS developer or hoster being shot in the not-too-distant future, tell the cops to check my alibi. I’ve been working for just over two months now on my website, and only now feel like I’m even getting close to what I want. DRUPAL proved unable to handle my needs with regard to the photo gallery, so I went with Gallery 2. It’s fantastic, and works like a charm. I wouldn’t say setup was “simple”, but it was relatively straightforward for an open-source solution, and the wife likes the result, so what more could I ask for?
Well, for starters, a blog. And some static content options for my knowledge portal — something that would allow me to post text in an almost wiki-like layout. I had some success with WordPress and after a couple weeks of good solid design testing, I had a blog up and running. Posted a few things to give it a try, but the menu was driving me batty — never did solve that problem. And then the unstoppable force of website creation ran into an immovable object that is my hoster’s policies.
I have no idea which combination of their default settings was screwing up my server setup, but it locked me out of my own configuration — oh sure, it would ask me for my login and password and if I got it wrong, it told me (so I knew the authentication module was working). But if I entered everything correctly, it just went into a loop that took me back to the login page. Apparently this is a problem with persistent sessions and that my hoster’s variables cause previous sessions not to disappear. Of course, Netfirms Support had no idea what I was talking about, and while I can diagnose the problem by searching lots of tech sites, it is beyond my ken how to explain to them how to fix it. So I went looking for an alternate solution for my other web page needs (and now needing a second blog option too!).
So I tried MediaWiki…my host provider supports an older version of it, and it seems okay. I found it really hard though to wrap my head around the approach — things were still not page-like enough, and figuring out even how to change a logo across similar looking sub-sites was a challenge. Admittedly, the program configuration tells you very clearly that this is NOT the tool to use for a typical website, and it will just frustrate you to no end if you do. Guess what? They were right — I still gave the upfront work a try to see if I wanted it for the knowledge portal at least, but I was just increasing my frustration levels.
So I started experimenting with a site called The CMS Matrix…they’re part of a group called the “Compare Stuff Network — Great data, ugly sites!”. Fantastic site, albeit with a few too many self-serving advertisers rating their own products in a few places. But I went with their top performers and tried e107, Joomla, EZ publishing, Mambo, and a couple of others. Joomla and Mambo were pretty solid options (not surprisingly I like them both as they both started as the same program (Mambo) and then forked into two CMS programs, one still called Mambo and one new one called Joomla). Pretty straightforward user interface. Good testing, still needed to wrap my head around another CMS approach. And then Netfirms intruded again with their persistent sessions. Sigh. I can accept that occasionally my server host might have some challenges with their server config that might cause me some grief, but Netfirms really sucks. They sent me spurious info that was completely useless and unrelated to why I was having persistent sessions (even though caches were clearly disabled! and I even tried enabling them for 3 minute durations hoping that would wipe something, but no!).
Of course, most of these problems are related to trying to use an full-bodied open-source Content Management System (CMS) on what is essentially just a personal site. A personal site on steroids or with delusions of grandeur, but still a personal site. So, since it is just a personal site, I tried a simpler solution using some of the “personal site software” that is out there. You know the ones I mean, cuz they all advertise the same way: “No programming knowledge required! Thousands of templates! Millions of colours”. I checked out a few, but they were all pretty limited. Microsoft Frontpage is pretty powerful, so I considered that for a bit since I already have it, and was what I used to try earlier versions of the site. But I upgraded temporarily to try out the new all-powerful Microsoft Expression. Pretty powerful, and way too complicated. I couldn’t even figure out how it related to Frontpage’s approach. Kind of like going from a Paint Program to Adobe Photoshop Professional Edition. So that option was out. Which left me way too close to my original option of coding the design by hand.
Instead, I seem to have come back to Drupal. Can it still count as a new version of my website if I’m back to near to the approach I took for 2.0, just further along? While Drupal is incredibly powerful, and really WAY more power than I need, it does allow me a bit more control over my interface with the host. Not quite to the “2×4 upside their head” level, but almost to the “hah! here’s a small slingshot to shoot paper wads at you” level. Which doesn’t change anything on my gallery, that will stay separate. But I no longer need MediaWiki or my separate blog site. I can basically do everything I want within Drupal except the gallery.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not a paradise. I’ve spent a good portion of the last week trying out some advanced VIEWS and PANELS and TABS options only to decide most of them are way too complicated for the little sub-projects I want to do. I’ll defer those to version 3.0 perhaps, and instead focus on getting the basic structures and initial texts up on the site. One thing that I haven’t quite figured out yet is how to add images to these posts, but that will come. In the meantime, on to Movie Reviews!