Review: Drupal 6 Themes

Drupal 6 Themes

There’s an ever-growing number of decent books appearing about Drupal, covering in detail various aspects of this complex CMS and catering to different experience levels and levels of coding ability. ‘Drupal 6 Themes’ by Ric Shreves fills a niche for detailed coverage of Drupal’s theming functionality for users with decent HTML and CSS skills, and maybe a little bit of PHP. It’s a book that I think designers and web managers wanting to add Drupal to their skill-set can get a lot out of reading and it’ll certainly help a lot if you’re starting out on the labour of wrangling with the design of a site based on a theme someone else created.

The book’s well written with a sensible structure, moving from general discussions of how theming in Drupal works to specific demonstrations of how to modify existing themes and build new ones from scratch. There’s a very clear explanation of the best ways to employ intercepts and overrides to achieve style changes and useful coverage of theming Drupal’s forms.

One of the most difficult things about changing the look of Drupal sites is the sheer number of CSS and template files you usually have to wade through. This book includes a short introduction to tools which can help with this – like Devel’s Theme Developer module, and the Firebug and Web Developer extensions for Firefox. There’s also detailed listings of Drupal’s theming elements and core CSS files.

Overall, this is a good solid read which can really enhance a new or intermediate Drupal user’s appreciation of how to get the most of theming. However, theming isn’t the only thing you need to master to get a Drupal site looking exactly the way you want. For an all-round understanding of  Drupal’s front-end, I’d also recommend you look at O’Reilly’s recent Using Drupal as well, which has demonstrations of using CCK and Views – as well as a good chapter on theming (although it doesn’t go into as much detail as this book). There’s also a forthcoming book on Front End Drupal due out next month which I definitely want to pick up.

Drupal 6 Themes: Create New Themes for Your Drupal 6 Site with Clean Layout and Powerful CSS Styling by Ric Shreves is published by Packt Publishing.

Related posts

I looked at a number of other starter resources for getting to grips with Drupal this January in a post on Learning Drupal.

Free ebooks for web project management

I’ve noticed that has some interesting ebooks on project management available which  just require free registration with their site to download.

One of the most useful of these from a web project perspective is Best Practices for Developing a Web Site by Paul Chin. This is written for business users, but has material which may be useful for designers to help them better present web development concepts to clients.

The book includes sections on developing a web site strategy, defining the concept for your site, the pros & cons of building in-house vs. outsourcing and guidance for finding a web site host. It also has useful checklists for defining web site anatomy and for evaluating web site designers, web site hosts and domain name registrars.

Developing a Content Management System Strategy is another free ebook by the same author. It’s got a good emphasis on the cultural factors which impact on CMS deployment and a discussion of reasons you may consider open source or commercial CMS software. There’s also a simple checklist for evaluating CMS tools.

There are also some general project management books on which may be of interest, including Becoming a Better Project Manager and In Search of the Holy Grail for Projects.

Related posts

I wrote a post last year which presented a selection of free resources for web project requirements gathering.

Review: Click – What We Do Online and Why It Matters

In Click – What We Do Online and Why It Matters, Bill Tancer uses data on internet use to demonstrate that people reveal plenty of things via their everyday web browsing which they’d never admit to in a formal survey.

The first part of the book discusses what can we learn about the human condition from internet usage data via a series of snapshots of online behaviour. These look at subjects as diverse as porn, politics, prom dresses, diets, celebrity worship and people’s worst fears. There are lots of interesting snippets to be found in all this – from the problems caused to political pollsters by the increasing tendency to drop landline phones in favour of mobiles to data indicating that Sunday is the least popular day for people to browse porn sites. The chapter on fears focuses on search queries and has a nice potted description of the authoritative status search engines have assumed in a lot of people’s lives - “Search engines, despite their limitations, have for some of us become a teacher, a confidant, a willing listener to our confessions.”

There follows a good chapter on the concepts of Web 2.0, focusing particularly on their potential downsides. The closing part of the book explores what can be done with web data analysis, the continuing power of television programming on what people search for online and  arbitrage opportunities from internet data. The final chapters look particularly at the role of early adopters and “super-connectors” in boosting online trends and how their behaviour can be used to predict the future mainstream.

I don’t think Click delivers any huge revelations but, as you’d expect from a Time magazine columnist, it’s all pleasantly readable. From chapter to chapter the book sometimes feels a bit disconnected – more like a meandering series of articles than a single tightly argued narrative. However the chatty informal style is also part of the book’s charm and helps to make it an enjoyable, if undemanding, read.

The author is particularly successful at conveying his sheer enthusiasm for the work of data analysis. He infuses his discussions of the process of formulating and testing theories with a sense of fun.  The book is at its most interesting where he happily discusses cases where his predictions have been wrong-footed by events, and then goes through the process he went through to find out what went wrong and how similar analyses could be refined in the future.

The book was published in the US last year, but I’ve been reading the recently released UK edition.  A nice feature of this is that the author has gone to the effort of  updating and anglicising the book at bit.

Click: What We Do Online and Why it Matters by Bill Tancer is published by Harper Collins

Most unbelievable Dreamweaver bug ever …

I’ve been using Dreamweaver for nine years now and have put up with some pretty poor behaviour from it on occasion. However, since our last upgrade (to CS3) I’ve generally been pleased with the noticeable lack of random crashiness.

Until yesterday.

I was innocently editing a CSS file when stupid Dreamweaver crashed and wouldn’t re-open. I mentioned it to a colleague who went to open the site I was editing – and his copy of Dreamweaver crashed and wouldn’t restart either!

Many thanks to Mike Padgett who provided a detailed fix on his site last year.  Amazingly, Dreamweaver CS3 crashes when you edit a file to exactly a multiple of 8,192 bytes.  To fix it, you just need to open the offending file in Notepad and add some content to get it above the Dreamweaver Filesize of Doom.

Judging by the number of comments on Mike’s post, this can’t be considered a freakishly rare problem. With the current economic situation a lot of people may be putting off upgrading to CS4 (where the problem is apparently fixed), so this weird bug is likely to continue to victimise further unsuspecting web designers for some time to come.

UK Government boost for open source (hopefully)

The UK Government yesterday announced it wants to promote the use of open source software in the public sector. There’s a good discussion of this on the Guardian’s technology blog:  UK government puts open source software on equal footing for procurement.

From the point of view of improving value for money in public sector website development,  I think this is definitely good news -  particularly if it boosts the use of open source content management systems over their proprietary cousins. The policy also contains a welcome commitment to open formats for information published on government websites.

Andrew Donoghue has a funny take on the story at ZDNet: UK Government reckons this open source thingy could catch on maybe.