LegRoom Changes, Part 3

Submitted by jbreland on Sun, 04/01/2007 - 05:28

For my third and last post in this series, I'd like to discuss overall site management design changes. Prior to this latest change, I had always run LegRoom off of PostNuke. Now, PostNuke has been good to me over the years. It's been around for a while so it was a pretty mature product even in 2002, it has a huge community behind it, and it's been flexible enough to let me do pretty much anything I wanted during the previous couple redesigns. I'm very appreciative of all the hard work that the PostNuke devs and community have put into the product, and I certainly do no regret choosing PostNuke for my site.

With the latest redesign, however, I felt the need for something different. I could've just slapped a new theme on top of my PostNuke install, as I did previously, but I really wanted to migrate to a new content management system altogether to give me a chance to truly redesign the site from the ground up, as well as clean out a lot of the cruft that had been gathered over the years (see Part 2 for some examples of this). Additionally, while PostNuke was a capable and mature CMS, I wanted to move away from it for three main reasons:

  • Development progress seems almost non-existent. Take version 0.8, for example. If I recall correctly, initial development of 0.8 began in 2003, possibly even 2002. However, version 0.8 has still not been released. Now, I'm quite sure there are a lot of factors contributing to this delay, and I don't even pretend to know all of the facts, but just from a pure end-user perspective this is ridiculous. There have been minor updates to the 0.7x branch during that time, but to go so long without a major release gives the impression that either development is stalled or non-existent, there are severe technical difficulties involved (which can shake confidence in the developers involved), or there are severe personnel and/or communication difficulties within the developer community (which, again, can shake confidence). Personally, I just got tired of waiting.
  • PostNuke is a heavy system, and the generated output (at least from my older version) was just plain ugly. I wanted a CMS that produces cleaner, more efficient, and standards-compliant code, something that doesn't use several levels of nested tables for positioning. From what I read, this situation has supposedly improved significantly in the current PostNuke releases, but that doesn't help me much because of the next reason.
  • In order to make PostNuke work how I wanted, I had to make some fairly extensive modifications to the codebase. I completely rewrote the menu generation code and RSS publication module, for example, as well as made various changes here and there to several of the other modules. The problem with this approach is that it makes an in-place upgrade nearly impossible. The end-result is that I was left running an extremely vulnerable version of PostNuke for several years. I was honestly surprised that I was able to hold off the hackers until I was able to complete the Drupal migration. Now, this isn't PostNuke's fault in any way, but simply another factor that has to be considered. I need a CMS that will do what I want without requiring modification of the codebase. PostNuke couldn't provide that.

So, after a rather extensive search, I settled on Drupal. As of version 5.0 it seems to offer the best combination of capability, flexibility, efficiency, and standards compliance out of all of the open source CMSes that I examined. (By the way, I'd really like to thank the admins of OpenSourceCMS for making it easy to "test drive" so many website management systems. If you're a webmaster that's not familiar with this site, check it out ASAP.)

So, aside from the CMS change, what else is new? While migrating all web content over to the new site I spent a lot of time "updating" all content to use a specific look and feel. My previous site was something of a testing ground for me, and was originally started when I just didn't know much beyond pure HTML. Each page that I added to the site was essentially created using whatever level of experience I had mastered at the time, resulting in a hodgepodge of styles and techniques. This is especially true of the Tips and Tricks pages, of which some had to be nearly completely rewritten. Now, however, I was able to apply the same coding styles uniformly across all pages on the site. Yay!

In addition to the common style, you may also notice a common layout for all of the pages. Each has a navbar across the top that will take you to any location in the page. Each page is broken up into the same sections, where appropriate, for consistency and easy of use. I also added section breaks, along with "return to top" links, to cleanly separate each section. These are a lot of subtle changes, to be sure, but they really do a lot to enhance site usability.

Other page-specific changes:

  • The Bookmarks page is now properly styles to match the rest of the site (thanks again, Steve)
  • As previously mentioned, I added a new Coming Soon section
  • DailyStrips has also been restyled to match the site, including rewriting the output engine to work better in the context of a website module (and no more tables!)
  • The Metasearch page (aka, Search Internet) has been tweaked and has had a couple more sites added

I think that pretty much covers it. I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the redesign process for this site. Up next - the conversion script I used to migrate from PostNuke to Drupal. It is truly one of the most ugly pieces of code I've ever written, but it got the job done. As promised, I'll make it available to everyone else to use, along with an explanation of the details and shortcomings of the script. I just need a bit more time to clean it up and write the details.