The Fantastico route to Web 2.0
Recently I upset a lot of web designers by saying that Dreamweaver is reaching the end of its dominance and that the future for website production (complete with essential web 2.0 functionality such as in-built commenting, RSS feeds and end user content contribution) belongs to the big three content management systems (cms): WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.
Admittedly I’m biased on this, but I couldn’t help feeling that the responses were divided into two camps: those who had actually tried both approaches who largely agreed and those who hadn’t, who didn’t and who felt threatened by the suggestion and who wanted to close down the debate.
Between these two extremes I hope that there were plenty of more open-minded designers who were intrigued and ideally excited about the possibilities. After all, the cms approach doesn’t just offer more power, each of the cms solutions is open source and so free. That should mean that there’s nothing to stop you exploring both approaches and then making your mind up…
Unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as this. However, with a little help, it can be…
The problem hits immediately – installation. Visit the big three cms sites and you can quickly download the latest releases but you then have to set these up on your own hosting space. The ease with which this is done varies with each cms but suddenly you’re talking about MySQL databases, permissions, configuration files and so on and before you know it you’re reading through reams of baffling support pages discussing the finer points of table prefixes. This is frankly terrifying for your average page-based designer used to the simplicity of copying their local pages to their remote host.
It doesn’t have to be this way. To avoid such installation nightmares all you need is a host that provides decent cPanel support. This will provide you with a control panel that provides all the tools that you need to set up your database, ftp and unzip the cms files into position, back up your database, flush caches, manage table prefixes and so on…
Oh dear this is beginning to sound almost as bad. But it doesn’t have to be this way either.
Instead you can just click on your cPanel’s Fantastico button (the one with a nice smiley face) and take advantage of one-click installs. Within a minute or so you can have copies of each of the main three cms options up and running (and plenty of others too). It really is unbelievably simple and I strongly recommend that you give it a go – visit the Fantastico site and there’s a list of hosting partners offering Fantastico support for a pittance a month.
Fantastico is a huge step forward, but immediately I’ll put in two major caveats.
Firstly Fantastico isn’t foolproof. I remember first recommending it a couple of years ago for installing Drupal and, by the time the article came out, the current version simply didn’t work (due to a clash in table character set). I think the cms developers have now appreciated the importance of Fantastico to initial set up and first impressions and crucially, in its latest Fantastico Deluxe form, to encouraging prompt security fix updating complete with built in backup, so hopefully compatibility shouldn’t be an issue nowadays…
But in any case I’m not suggesting that you should rely on Fantastico. If you’re going to get serious about cms you have to realise just how fundamentally different it is to static page-based publishing and you have to get fully grips with how and why, and the implications.
Switching from Dreamweaver to cms-based publishing is not something you can do in a minute. Expect it to take at least a year (and don’t judge the possibilities on the default set-ups!) and in that time make sure that you do learn about MySQL and cms handling and in particular get to grips with installation, backup, migration and security updating without Fantastico. This is where all those other cPanel utilities like phpMyAdmin come in. Fantastico shouldn’t be seen as a replacement to these but as an addition.
Crucially what Fantastico does offer is the chance to freely and painlessly put your toe in the Web 2.0 cms water. Thanks to Fantastico there really is no excuse not to give content management systems a try.
In fact if your current host is cPanel-based you might well find that you already have access to Fantastico and could be exploring what WordPress, Joomla and Drupal – my favoured option – have to offer in a matter of minutes. If not, you could sign up for a month’s trial with an ISP that does provide Fantastico support for as little as $7. If you’re currently a static page-based Dreamweaver author, that could prove the best investment you ever make.