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Welcome Backdrop! and the road not taken

September 26, 2013
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Back in 2008, when Drupal 6 was released and version 7 was only a faint glow on the horizon, the Drupal project stood at a crossroads with multiple possible futures. One of those futures was the one that's unfolded: the path to what's emerging in Drupal 8.

This is a story of pursuing maximum growth and enterprise clients. Its key players include Acquia, the multifaceted enterprise founded by Drupal lead Dries Buytaert, and other enterprise level Drupal-focused companies. In these circles, the inherent advantages of growth, professionalization, and market maturity seem self-evident. In this future, Drupal core development is increasingly carried out in association with or directly within corporations. If some users or contributors are left behind, the accepted wisdom says, that loss is easily compensated for by growth statistics and new market offerings. Contractor fees and investor profits keep rising along with demand. What's not to like? Progress isn't for everyone, is it? "I really think we can say we've built the best CMS for enterprise systems," the project lead can conclude with satisfaction.

But what if we'd taken a different path? What if profitability and expanding market share and wooing enterprise clients weren't the driving aims? What if, instead, we'd focused on stability, usability, and accessibliity for small and medium sized organizations--the ones that were the core of the Drupal community up to Drupal 6? What would Drupal look like today?

Thanks to Jen Lampton and Nate Haug, we may just get to find out. Their Backdrop fork of Drupal aims to chart the road not taken.

Personally, I haven't felt this excited about the Drupal community in a long time.

Not surprisingly, response to Backdrop has included the familiar claims that greet any radical departure: that its proponents are stuck in the past, afraid of progress, shortsighted, disruptive, and so on.

I'm hopeful we can soon move past these reactive responses and recognize Backdrop for what it is: a positive addition to the open source world. A sister open source project built on the same base but answering a distinct need. A fresh approach with shared roots.

I'm far from saying goodbye to Drupal. For now at least I plan to keep working and contributing in the Drupal space for some time to come. But I'm also planning to dig into Backdrop. Why not? No one knows yet where it's going. But if together we can take it somewhere, I could happily work in both Backdrop and Drupal. Hey, it's much more attractive than having to learn Joomla or Wordpress!

Backdrop reminds us in the most direct way possible that, whoever may claim the trademark or exert founder's rights, no one person or company "owns" Drupal. It's all of ours. And diversity is a strength. When we look at the Drupal principles (disclosure: I wrote the original version myself), doesn't the Backdrop project ring at least as true as Drupal 8 does?

Yes, Jen and Nate and the rest of us who pitch in will take the code in a different direction from where Drupal goes in the future. But is that so different from the ways that Drupal itself has diverged radically from its own past?

They say you can't go back. But in some cases, maybe you can.