The White House, Harvard University, Yahoo, Sony Music. What could they possibly all have in common? All their websites are designed and managed in Drupal that's what. Since its conception as a student project in 1999 Drupal has taken the open source world by storm. Dries Buytaert the Belgian founder, coder, Director and current lead of Drupal is from Antwerp. His project is that rarely seen specimen - a world beating Belgian software product, world beating Belgian product of any kind in fact.

The idea of open source software flies directly in the face of all assumptions about capitalist free market economics, copyright protection and intellectual property rights. That is, exactly the same issues that the film and music industries are so desperately trying to keep control of. They are of course doomed, when you've had a delicious free lunch that you helped cook why go back to paying for dinner when you're not even allowed in the kitchen?

Cooking metaphors aside, the Drupal generation have seen profound shifts in the way services are developed and delivered online. Plus we're talking about the actual building materials of the web. Who can blame us for wanting to extend the principle as far into everyday life as we can. The other reason why Drupal is so powerful and fascinating is because it places a high emphasis on community. The latest version, Drupal 7, for example has been tested, developed, patched and improved by many of the 830,000 registered users.

These kinds of numbers do not go unnoticed. When Drupal suffered a server meltdown in 2005 taking the site offline, Sun Microsystems donated an Enterprise server, the Open Source Lab offered hosting and administration services, and end users donated more than $10,000. Buytaert was astounded. He'd struck a chord, especially in the USA where users and developers wanted to be free of the corporate structures that dominated large scale software supply.

This brought up the next problem for Drupal. They had to expand so quickly to satisfy growing demand that Buytaert started another company called Acquia, based in Boston and started to think more about interaction design and the holistic user experience. The results are pending but if they live up to the latest thinking on UX and interfaces, Drupal should be unbeatable.

The techno hippies are on a roll, next step? Open source your life.

Dries Buytaert will be at TEDx Brussels on December 6

John Fass

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