Drupal Gardens Review

This is huge. Drupal Gardens is the best way to get your feet wet with Drupal. Even if you’re a Drupal pro who prefers self hosting over SaaS, Drupal Gardens could be the best option for your small-biz / small-budget clientele.

3 reasons why I love Drupal Gardens

1. Free Starter plan
This is huge. Drupal Gardens is the best way to get your feet wet with Drupal. Even if you’re a Drupal pro who prefers self hosting over SaaS, Drupal Gardens could be the best option for your small-biz / small-budget clientele. For Drupal noobs (and WordPress and Joomla folks curious about Drupal), a free starter plan offers a test drive of Drupal 7 optimized for non-technical site builders. Best of all, the free plan isn’t watered down. It has limited storage and bandwidth but offers the same features as the paid plans.

Unemployed or recently graduated? Drupal experts are in demand and have excellent earning potential. Many government agencies, non-profits, schools, and businesses around the world use Drupal. So if you want to gain a valuable skill set, then go to Drupal Gardens now and learn how to build websites using custom content types, views, web forms, and themes. With the free starter plan, you have nothing to lose.

2. Ready for content
With Drupal Gardens, you can immediately get busy creating content. It comes with features such as a WYSIWYG editor, web forms, photo & video gallery, and even a slide show module for your homepage. If you were to install Drupal 7 on your own server, then you’d have to install these modules separately. With all of Drupal 7’s UX improvements, I was surprised it didn’t come with a built-in WYSIWYG editor. Site builders expect everything to be easy like WordPress. So how are Drupal noobs supposed to know they need to download, install, and configure WYSIWYG module before they can do something as simple as upload a photo? Clearly, Drupal Gardens solves this problem by bundling some of the Drupal community’s and Acquia’s best modules.

3. No lock ins
One of the first things I tested was the ability to export a free site from Drupal Gardens and install it on my own server. It worked and was very easy. This is how software should be. I want to choose SaaS because it’s easy and worry-free, not because I’m locked into a proprietary system. Granted, when Amazon Web Services fail, then we see the dark side of The Cloud, but that’s a risk we take with any hosting, not just SaaS. It all boils down to control and responsibility. At any rate, I like the idea of being able to start a site quickly (and freely) on Drupal Gardens. Then, if I need more control, I can easily move it over to my own server. Or, if I need to scale, and I’m comfortable giving up some control, I can grow with Drupal Gardens or even migrate to Acquia’s fully-managed platform. All in all, “no lock ins” is a huge reason to try Drupal Gardens.

Now for the tough love…

3 Ways Drupal Gardens Can Improve

1. Build businesses, not websites.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been searching for the best SaaS platform for small businesses. Update 2012: I don’t recommend Adobe Business Catalyst Business Catalyst offers a complete solution, but they’re not open source. Nevertheless, according to my research and discussions with clients, there’s a huge demand for an “all-in-one” website solution for small businesses, and BC offers the best value I can find. Let’s face it, a website is a commodity, but if it’s a complete business solution, then it’s extremely valuable.

BC offers five systems in one:
Business owners want:

  • Content management (CMS)
  • Ecommerce
  • Customer database (CRM)
  • Email marketing
  • Reports and Analytics

Well, Drupal offers all of those too.

Out of the box, Drupal is already a robust CMS and supports “users” with custom fields (could be a CRM with a little tweaking). Drupal Gardens includes mailing list and Google Analytics modules. The missing piece is ecommerce. So my suggestion is to offer Ubercart on Drupal Gardens.

Also, Drupal Gardens currently doesn’t support email accounts. Why force small businesses to host email elsewhere? With a few email accounts included in each paid plan, Drupal Gardens would be a complete small business website solution—an OpenSaaS alternative to Business Catalyst.

In all fairness, Business Catalyst already offers email, FTP, web-to-lead funnels, and a bunch of other features. It’s an Adobe company, and let’s face it, we all use Adobe products. But BC is built for designers who want to resell web services, not the average non-technical site builder.

I’d love to see Drupal Gardens become a transparent, OpenSaaS alternative to BC. I’m not a fan of white labeling or hiding the fact that you’re reselling a service.

2. Offer amazing themes with easy customization options.
Drupal Gardens’ base themes are extremely flexible (20 collapsible regions), and the ThemeBuilder tool is useful. However, it’s still not as easy or robust as some of the tools available for WordPress.

Just check out the video for Thesis Theme Framework or the Striking demo on Themeforest.

I’m sure I’ll ruffle some feathers by comparing apples to oranges—I know WordPress doesn’t have a premium OpenSaaS platform like Drupal Gardens, and the aforementioned themes aren’t part of WordPress core. However, if it’s quicker and easier to build a beautiful website with WordPress, then why would anyone struggle with Drupal? I’m thinking about the small business owners and office managers who wear a bunch of hats—one of them being Website Builder.

I’ve been using Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla for several years, so I’m familiar with dozens of theme frameworks and starter themes. Many non-technical people choose WordPress over Drupal because WordPress is easier and has a better selection of beautiful themes. Professional Drupal developers prefer to custom design and code their themes, but is Drupal Gardens for pro developers?

According to their FAQ, Drupal Gardens is “for people who want a quick, affordable way to build a website with a great design.” So I interpret that as: Drupal Gardens is designed for everyone, even my Mom (who isn’t a computer person). Am I wrong?

ThemeBuilder is awesome (I wish it was part of Drupal 7 core!) , but I encourage the Drupal Gardens team to check out Thesis and Striking.

Why does Seth Godin choose WordPress and Thesis? I doubt he actually built the site himself, but you know what I mean.

Why was Striking the top seller on Themeforest from 2010-2011?

Both themes look great out of the box and are incredibly easy to configure. Their color and font pickers are easier than ThemeBuilder, and Striking in particular has an amazing set of features.

3. Make themes responsive by default.
I’m not sure what the best option is for optimizing websites for mobile, touchscreens, and internet TV (maybe this?), but it would be excellent if Drupal Gardens was the first OpenSaaS CMS to provide a responsive default theme. My tweet about this topic received a reply, so I know it’s on people’s minds.


Drupal Gardens definitely impresses me, and I know the platform will only improve over time. But for now, I think self-hosting Drupal is still the way to go. For some of the projects I work on with healthcare providers and colleges, SaaS isn’t even an option. They require control and are willing to assume the responsibility. However, with a few tweaks, Drupal Gardens could become the be-all-end-all SaaS website platform for small businesses. I’ve been searching high and low for a platform that will allow my clients to focus on content, not code or servers. Maybe one day soon, Drupal Gardens will combine business-building features like those in Business Catalyst with the beauty and usability of some of the best third-party WordPress themes. Then my job will be obsolete, forcing me follow my true calling: maker of silly videos.

Thoughts? @ me.

About the Author:
Thomas is the ringleader at Motionbuzz.
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