Moving to a new platform always comes with a learning curve. I expected big changes in Drupal 7, I had read lots of anticipation about it while it was still under development but never poked my head in. I was merrily plugging away with Drupal 6. Now that I've had the opportunity to explore Drupal 7 in its full release form I'm left with some not so rosy early opinions. Part of an effective user interface is familiarity, so I'll remain optimistic that these gripes really do just turn out to be me being unfamiliar with the setup. I do have some nice things to say about Drupal 7 that I'll hold on to for the end of the article, so if you'd like to skip my stormy cloud, I suggest you go there.
The first thing that happened after installing Drupal 7 was something called the overlay module. Essentially it's a light box like module that comes with the new Drupal 7 core. The overlay module makes all administrative links open up in a large modal dialog. It felt gimmicky and confusing. I imagine the developers had a reason for including it, but to this moment I don't know what that reason could have been. The modal dialog box comes with a multitude of bad side effects. Firstly and most importantly to me, older and/or less capable browsers are incapable of displaying these dialog's correctly. Using Drupal in the work place means accessibility for clients and end users who aren't always using the latest web browsers or may need to access content from some type of alternative browser. I admit to not having the patience to verify that the overlay module degrades gracefully, mostly because even if it did, it renders the entire dialog concept pointless anyway. Another drawback to the modal dialog concept is the goofy editing work flow it creates. Editing pages happens in the modal dialog, meaning to see the changes you need to reload the webpage, effectively rendering the dialog completely pointless. The last complaint I'll make about the overlay module is that it creates an inconsistent administration experience. While opening an administrative link provokes the overlay, clicking through to another level results in landing on an actual administrative page instead of staying in the overlay. Ultimately, I felt it was an abuse of the light box concept and was done for aesthetic purposes. If anyone would like to enlighten me as to why overlay was implemented as a default option please leave me a message in the comments. In the meantime, disabling the overlay functionality was as easy as disabling it in the modules administrative page.
The second big knee slapper I ran into was the new blocks page. If you're familiar with Drupal 6 you might have fond memories of your time spent in the blocks administrative area where you could drag and drop blocks around immediately seeing their effect on the layout. The new Drupal 7 blocks page is intimidating. Almost everything is a region now. More regions is a good thing, it means more flexibility of placement. Unfortunately it also means that the blocks page no longer shows you where the blocks go. It's been dumbed down to a sortable list. I wanted to add a block to the right side bar, is it sidebar one? sidebar two? There's no more visual cue. Instead you can see a blue print of the different regions on a separate page before you click back to finish your block sorting.
Here's something I struggled with. The CCK file fields don't seem to let me specify "any" file extension. In Drupal 6 I could just clear the box to allow any file type, now I seem forced to anticipate any extension my users or I might need to upload. I'm assuming this was put in for our own good, it's probably not good to allow people willy nilly access to upload any type of file they like. The downside is that it's almost impossible to anticipate every file extension a user might need to use. My spidey sense tells me I'll be adding new file extensions to these lists from time to time. This isn't a terribly big deal, but it's certainly a disappointment.
After reading that wall of complaining you might be surprised to hear what I say next. I still love Drupal.
Drupal 7 still has the great multisite structure and functionality. The installation mechanism now sets up the settings.php file for you. Salting hashes increases the security of your users and was sorely missing from Drupal 6. Blocks can now be positioned on a per theme basis without leaving the blocks page. Meta data options for content is now appropriately placed with the content type options as opposed to the theme options. Over all there's some nice improvements that i've found make the administrative interface more intuitive than ever. I've only barely scratched the surface of Drupal 7, and I'm sure I'm going to find many more improvements. Once the modding and theming communities catch up with this new version I think we'll see the Drupal platform as strong as ever.