Apps continue to improve
The open source web applications Drupal, Elgg and Moodle continued to evolve rapidly in 2007, with major new releases expected in early 2008 as well.
Drupal remains the best overall application to build a traditional website. Recent releases have made Drupal easier than ever to install. and important additions have been made to Drupal's already elaborate and sophisticated theming (skinning) and programming API that have made it even more flexible. Drupal 6.0 is expected later this year. However, as usual, it will take several months for many popular Drupal modules to catch up to the new release.
Elgg continues to be the best choice for a social network. Exploiting Drupal's social networking abilities requires setting up some complex additional modules such as organic groups and advanced profiles. Elgg's more user-centric approach and much greater simplicity makes it easier to install and use out of the box. Elgg's 2007 releases have streamlined the CSS needed to skin the application and added important new features like profile page widgets.
Elgg's powerful yet simple programming API has led to a recent explosion of Elgg modules - there are more than 60 in Elgg's Subversion plugin repository at https://svn.elgg.org/plugins. This is tiny compared to the hundreds of Drupal modules but still very significant given Elgg's narrower focus. One of Elgg's strengths is its Event API, making it easy to write modules to respond to almost any user action. Drupal and Moodle plan to introduce such APIs later in 2008.
Important Elgg plugins include
messages for private messaging,
forum for displaying community blogs in a discussion-forum-like format, and
regext for expanding Elgg's profile field capabilities to include dropdown boxes, radio buttons and checkbox groups, as well as optionally adding some of these fields to the registration form.
Compared to Drupal, Elgg lacks a number of features, including:
- the inability to edit comments,
- the lack of a full through-the-web configuration system (setting many parameters requires editing files),
- weak documentation, and
- the lack of a full text search system (it has a tag search system instead).
Perhaps some of these missing features will be added for the 1.0 release.
Elgg 0.9 involved a major code restructuring which has introduced a few bugs. If you want to try out the application, then I suggest that you either wait for Elgg 0.9.1 or download the development version (which has fixed most of these bugs) directly using a Subversion client from https://svn.elgg.org/elgg/devel .
Moodle is perhaps the weakest of the three applications, with a confusing range of not always well implemented features and an unsophisticated skinning system. It remains very widely used by schools, however, and has a course metaphor that makes it easy to use for online education.
Moodle 1.9, expected to be released in 2008, will add an enhanced tool for course grading, better tag handling, bulk admin tasks, the ability to keep notes on students and an Event API.
All three applications can be integrated with single sign on using OpenID. Radagast Solutions has set up OpenID integration for Drupal, Moodle and Elgg for various clients. Please contact us if you'd like help with this.
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