Author: Bruce Byfield
Using the interface
Drupal favors a hierarchical interface, with only a few top-level entries. This is possibly the worst possible choice for a program with as many options as Drupal, because, starting at the second or third level, users are overwhelmed with choices. If all you are doing is adding content, the arrangement is bearable, but if you are administering, it means that you usually have to click three or four times for every one or two clicks in WordPress to accomplish the same task — a small difference for a single task, but one that soon adds up when you are configuring a site or needing to set related options that don’t happen to be grouped together
One improvement that would especially benefit Drupal would be a submenu that would allow users to move freely between items at the same menu level. As it, users cannot skip directly from Adminster -> Logs -> Recent Hits to Logs -> Top Visitors, for example. Instead, they have to return to Administer -> Logs first, a necessity that not only adds to the number of mouse-clicks, but also makes learning the interface considerably harder.
After Drupal’s, WordPress’ interface comes as a relaxing surprise. Part of the reason for WordPress’ greater ease of use is that it offers fewer options. However, in addition, WordPress has more top-level items in the menu hierarchy, and therefore requires less drilling down or searching for items. To increase usability, WordPress also divides the top-level items into two lines of half a dozen items each, the second of which is a submenu in some contexts. WordPress also includes a Dashboard of its most common tasks, which allows many users to avoid other parts of the menu altogether. The overall result is that WordPress is much easier to use and learn for both contributors and administrators.
Once you get to the page you are looking for, much of the difference in usability disappears. Both Drupal and WordPress do an outstanding job of incorporating two or three lines of help into the interface. However, the trick is finding the page you want in the first place.
Verdict: WordPress. Even though Drupal has more options, they could be arranged more efficiently.
Drupal and WordPress both make use of a combination of predefined elements and themes to customize the layout of a blog.
In Drupal, predefined elements are available under Adminster -> Site configuration -> Site Information, while in WordPress, they are found under Options — neither of which seems a particularly apt description. In both, the customizable elements include the name of the blog and a tagline or slogan. However, while the rest of WordPress’ options are fine-tunings of the relatively minor matter of date and time presentation, Drupal’s Site Information continues with more obvious elements, such as a mission statement for the first page, the name for an anonymous poster (like Slashdot’s “Anonymous Coward”), the default front page, and footer contents. If you care about date and time options in Drupal, you can go to Adminster – > Site configuration -> Date and time to adjust them.
Both Drupal and WordPress support dozens, if not hundreds, of themes. For both applications, minimalist themes predominate, but chances are you can find something in either for every aesthetic sense. Generally speaking, the themes available in WordPress under the Presentation menu control the degree to which you can control the colors used or position content, and the amount of customization possible varies with the theme. By contrast, while themes in Drupal also affect the degree of customization available, they do so to a much smaller extent. By choosing Administer – > Site Building -> Themes in Drupal, you can choose which elements to display for any theme, as well as such details as whether comments are accompanied by posters’ photos. Further customization in Drupal is available in Site Building -> Blocks, where you can customize headers, footers, and sidebars, and in Site Building -> Menus.
In Drupal, you can even choose a separate theme for the administration pages, allowing you to administer an elaborately designed site while using a minimalist theme, or to try out a theme privately to see if you like it. By contrast, WordPress propagates a change of theme as soon as you select it, giving you no chance to explore without changing your site.
Verdict: Drupal. WordPress will satisfy many users, but if page design is of primary importance to you, then Drupal will be more satisfying.
Regardless of whether Tiny MCE is used, both Drupal and WordPress have the expected options for uploading graphics, assigning tags, and publishing. Unsurprisingly, WordPress’ interface for these choices is somewhat easier to use than Drupal’s default, but almost identical to Drupal with Tiny MCE enabled.
Verdict: Tie for most users. If you have special needs, such as using international characters, then Drupal wins because of its customization.
Managing comments and spam
WordPress and Drupal manage comments and spam with much the same efficiency. They let you notify a configurable email address about comments that need approval, and use the Akismet spam plugin as a filter. WordPress’ use of links to approve, delete, or designate as spam has a slight advantage in efficiency over Drupal’s use of combo boxes for actions, but that advantage is balanced by Drupal’s ability to configure rules for allowing or denying access to your site according to username, address, or host.
Verdict: Tie. If your priority is ease of use, then WordPress has an edge, but if managing spam is the priority, then Drupal does.
Reading site stats
As you might expect from a system designed for multiple users, Drupal includes a wide variety of logs. In addition to a general status report, Drupal includes logs for recent hits, “access denied” and “page not found” errors, and top referrers, search phrases, and visitors. As if that were not enough, from Adminster -> Site configuration you can also set up your site for use with Google Analytics.
Compared to Drupal’s detail information, WordPress’ site stats are disappointing. The Dashboard displays a summary of recently added content, but the most detailed information WordPress offers is listed under Blog Stats and Feed Stats. Blog Stats lists referrers, as well as search engine terms used to navigate to your site and the links clicked on your site, and shows page hits in both columns and graphs, but this is an extremely limited selection of information compared to what Drupal offers. Feed Stats is even more limited, showing only graphs, although to be fair this feature is still in beta.
Verdict: Drupal. Even if you don’t get much traffic, you wouldn’t be human — let alone a blogger — if you didn’t want to know as much as possible about how your site is being used.
Using other features
A useful feature in both programs is the ability to block visibility of the site from both search engines and ordinary users. In Drupal, you can go to Administer -> Site configuration -> Site maintenance to take your site offline; alternatively, you can disable the Ping module in Administer -> Site building -> Modules and go to Administer -> User Management -> Roles to prevent users from doing anything on the site. In WordPress, you can set a similar option by selecting Options -> Privacy -> I would like my blog to be visible only to users I choose, and then assigning no users except your administrative account. Either way, disabling access allows you to configure a site without the disconcerting experience of receiving hits or comments before you are ready for them.
Additional functionality is available in the form of plugins for WordPress and modules for Drupal. WordPress’ vary from enhanced statistics and reporting and ad management to tools for enhanced handling of comments and spam. Drupal’s selection of modules is equally broad, and includes an aggregator for RSS feeds and the capacity to add forums and polls.
Verdict: Tie. Given the sheer number of WordPress plugins and Drupal modules, choosing one over another is impossible. Let’s just say that if you want a particular function, you have a good chance of finding it in either one.
This comparison used preconfigured sites, so the exact functions of the Drupal or WordPress site you use may differ from the ones mentioned here. However, the differences between the two programs were so systemic that the exact structure of the sites you use should not greatly change the results given here.
The truth is, both WordPress and Drupal are mature pieces of software with, I suspect, a good deal of influence on each other’s development. Neither is going to have a major feature that the other lacks for any length of time, and most bloggers could probably be content with either.
In the end, your choice of one over the other will have more to do with your preferences and needs than with any advantage or disadvantage one has over the other. On the one hand, if you like as much control as possible over every aspect of your blogging, or need to manage multiple blogs, then Drupal is designed for you. On the other hand, if you are willing to let the program do some of the management for you and have relatively simple needs, a preference for navigation efficiency, and only a single blog — or perhaps two or three at the most — then you will probably be happier in WordPress.
Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com, and IT Manager’s Journal.
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