A Big Drop in the Bucket for Drupal

Apparently, the days when a computer science graduate student can invent some cool Web software and raise a few million dollars to build a company around it are not over. Brand new (less than a month old) North Andover, MA, startup Acquia announced yesterday that it’s raised $7 million to market software and services in support of the popular Web publishing system Drupal, invented by Dries Buytaert, a PhD candidate at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Like the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, and the MySQL database system, Drupal is a free, open-source program with a large community of volunteer developers and users. And Acquia’s CEO, Jay Batson, says it will remain so. Rather than creating and selling a proprietary version of Drupal—or “forking” the system, in geek speak—Acquia will work on specialized distributions of the software and help organizations deploy it on a larger scale. “We will be to Drupal what Red Hat is to Linux,” Batson says.

Drupal has been downloaded from the community site Drupal.org hundreds of thousands of times and is the primary content management system behind tens of thousands of websites, from major publications such as The Onion and Linux Journal to smaller sites such as the World of Warcraft fansite Almost Gaming. Perhaps the most famous Drupal site was the Deanspace website used to organize Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Acquia LogoWhile several competing systems, such as WordPress and Joomla, are also free and open-source, many Web publishers prefer Drupal because it has a simple core with dozens of pluggable modules that handle features such as posts, comments, forums, polls, RSS feeds, user accounts, and site access. Volunteers have developed hundreds of additional modules supporting features such as shopping carts, webmail, event listings, and multimedia hosting.

Drupal is so widely used, in fact, that the time has come for some professional support, according to Batson. “Drupal usage has roughly doubled every year for the last six or seven years—and as it reaches a bigger mass, doubling means a lot,” says Batson. “It is being used in some pretty substantial places. And those people needed something more than just a volunteer community behind the system. At the last DrupalCon in Barcelona, a couple of major people stood up and said ‘Dries, what are … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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