Blog entry

Why Drupal? First Principles

Posted on Tue, Jun 24, 2014 
by Jeffrey McGuire

This post will give us some common ground on which I can build my case for Drupal. To get started, we’ll need working definitions of success in business today, the nature of open source software, and a quick explanation of Drupal itself. In subsequent posts, we’ll explore specific concepts and examples of how Drupal enables success because it is open source software at scale – a powerful combination: the empowerment of freedom multiplied by an ecosystem of thousands of service providers, tens of thousands of developers, and millions of sites online.

What is success? How does Drupal get you there?

We’ll need to agree on a working definition of success and outline some key factors that will help get your organisation there before I can make the case for Drupal as an enabler. I sort the points I listed in my first post in this series under four broad headers:

  • Innovation
    • faster (and/or continuous)
    • cost efficiency
  • Cost savings
    • faster time to market
    • focus on your core business
  • Efficiency/Productivity
    • best-of-breed, integrated solutions
  • Risk mitigation
    • improved quality, security, and accountability
    • reduced cost of risk AND safe, proven technology choices

There’s plenty of overlap and any one point could be included under at least a couple of headers, but for argument’s sake … Success in today’s digital business world requires you to be innovative, be smart about your spending, get the most out of your investments in technology and people, and do what you can to reduce risk in your business.

Drupal can help you be innovative, cost-efficient, and productive while reducing risk in your business because it is open source software at scale.

What is open source? Four Freedoms

Let’s make sure we’re on the same page here, too. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS or OSS) is defined by the “Four Freedoms”, which are derived from Richard Stallmann’s original Free Software definition from 1986. People often get caught up with the "free" in “free to download and use” – the fact that open source software comes at a price of zero – but this is only one aspect and not necessarily even the most important one. When we talk about “free” in open source software it is in terms of freedom: four specific freedoms that form a virtuous circle, complementing and mutually multiplying each others’ effect.

The Four Freedoms – You are free to:

Use it: for anything, anywhere, forever

Open source puts you in control. My software is mine and I can use it for any purpose I want, for as long as I want. I can invest in my vision free from the worry that someone else could turn off a system I rely on. Likewise, my government can build citizen services on infrastructure that it owns and controls rather than being at the mercy of 3rd parties.

Study it: understand what you are using

Open source is less risky; you are free to understand it. Because I can see every line of code in FOSS, I can make better informed decisions. I can decide Drupal is secure enough for me because NASA, NYSE Euronext, and Pfizer use it. If that’s not good enough for me, I can hire someone I trust to assess it for me, or do so myself.

Modify it: fix it, make it better

Open source lets me customise it to be the perfect tool for the job. Drupal is the product of millions of hours of shared best-practices and development by a massive community of practitioners. It often provides 80% or more of what most businesses need right out-of-the-box. After that, you can set up workflows, integrations, or even completely new functionality to make exactly the tools you need. When I am building something visionary and new or when I am serving a niche constituency, no proprietary solution is going to change their product for me. If it doesn’t cover their target, 80/20 audience, it doesn’t make any sense for them to. Drupal, on the other hand, puts no limits on how innovative you can be.

Share it: redistribute, sell, give back

Open source gives me the power to focus. If I build a Drupal solution for a particular problem space, I am free to build a business around solving the last 20% for you without waiting for anyone else’s roadmap to catch up with me. I am free to pass that on to anyone else in the same situation: thousands of Drupal professionals build on each other’s work every day in this way. The freedom to redistribute your code empowers you to compete in your core business instead of competing in IT.

When put into practice, the Four Freedoms also have benefits that might not be immediately apparent. In One Way Forward: The Outsider's Guide to Fixing the Republic, from 2012, Lawrence Lessig describes open source this way:

"In the world of computer software, open source communities develop and improve ideas organically, based on concepts and practices that work. Driven by innovation contributed by individuals, open source simply means that a system is available to any who wish to contribute. It provides the fastest possible rate of improvement for ideas."

Since your developer has open access to use, study, modify, and then share it all with Drupal’s huge professional community, Drupal is constantly and rapidly improving. This kind of massive-scale collaboration has proven its worth: Drupal now runs 2% of the web and powers thousands of successful digital experiences.

What is Drupal? Open Source at Scale

Leaving technical details aside, Drupal is an open source technology platform and community that can boast of massive adoption and success thanks to the combined efforts of many individuals and a comprehensive ecosystem of Drupal product and service companies. It is successfully used by individuals, governments, and organisations of every size to build websites, applications, and support every kind of digital business activity. From marketing to eCommerce, from running mission critical infrastructure in the healthcare industry to the world’s biggest entertainment websites, Drupal is there. Drupal is also a massive community that includes web professionals and service providers around the world. In terms of Lessig’s “fastest possible rate of improvement for ideas,” more than 80,000 active users on the project home,, and more than 20,000 active developers are innovating at astonishing speed. Open source at scale is all the benefits of the Four Freedoms multiplied by a massive, global community of professionals.

Market Presence1,500,000+ sites
Global Adoption228 countries
Extensive Capabilities22,000+ modules
Broad Community80,000+ active members on
Active Development20,000+ developers
Expert Drupal Services1000s of companies

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