Hosted Drupal CMS planned for midyear

The service will be released at about the same time as Drupal 7, a major update to the open-source CMS platform

Acquia hopes to make a hosted version of its Drupal open-source content management system widely available in about three months, the company's CTO said Wednesday.

The service, called Drupal Gardens, is in beta testing now with a "couple of thousand" users, said Dries Buytaert, who created Drupal and cofounded Acquia to build a commercial business around it. The service will be based on Drupal 7, an upgrade to the CMS software that will be released at about the same time, Buytaert said at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Drupal is a software platform for publishing Web sites and managing text, images and other content on those sites. It has been used by individuals to publish blogs and by larger organizations, including the White House and NASA, to run their Web sites.

But Drupal has also faced criticism for not being as easy to use as some other Web publishing systems, notably Wordpress. "Drupal has a lot of add-on modules that make it extremely powerful, so you can do a lot with it, but it can take a lot of work," said Brice Dunwoodie, publisher of CMSwire.com, a Web site that covers the content management industry.

Drupal 7 and Drupal Gardens will come bundled with a number of commonly used add-on modules to create a base package that has more capabilities to begin with, so users don't have to add them themselves. It will also have a revamped Web site management interface that is designed to be easier to use.

"One key pitch for Drupal Gardens is that it's going to help grab some of the low- and midend market back from the likes of Wordpress and Joomla," Dunwoodie said.

In some ways, Acquia has turned the usual development model for software-as-a-service upside down. Established vendors such as Salesforce.com began with a core product and then offered a platform for customers and partners to add new capabilities. Because Drupal is open source, its developer community has already developed dozens of add-on modules that can now be bundled with Drupal Gardens, Buytaert said.

The hosted service will be free throughout 2010, after which Acquia will offer a basic service free and two subscription services with more advanced features. The prices will be US$19.95 and $39.95 per Web site per month, according to the Drupal Gardens Web site.

The subscription services will be aimed at businesses that want to set up "micro sites" to manage projects, conferences and campaigns, Buytaert said. If companies want to stop using the service, they will be able to download the source code for the Drupal Gardens CMS platform and run it in-house, he said.

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