Multiple page layouts with a single template: exploring the power of template variables

…realize that a guy my size might take a while just to
try and figure out what all this is for

-Barenaked Ladies, “Pinch Me

Pinch me, indeed.

Although I had dabbled with MODx Template Variables a little bit, I must confess that until recently I didn’t really have any grasp whatsoever of their real usefulness. Chunks and snippets, those I understood.  But for whatever reason I just couldn’t grasp why a TV would ever be more useful than a chunk or snippet.  In my defense, the example provided in the official documentation doesn’t provide much insight, since the same functionality could be done with a chunk.

But then last week a light bulb finally went on for me.  It began, as do many of my mental breakthroughs, out of stubbornness.   I started transferring our new site design into MODx, setting up an initial template, and breaking it up into logical, reusable bits (chunks).  (All of which, incidentally, is ridiculously easy to do).   For the sake of this discussion, I’ll focus on a few different basic content layouts our site is going to need:

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“I love them equally” — a chat about MODx and Drupal with a fan of both systems

MODx and Drupal…  Living together?  What madness is this?  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…  and all that stuff.

Today marks a new ‘first’ for this blog – an informed, thoughtful take on the Drupal vs. MODx debate based on actual experience with each system.

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Top Ten Big Things I hope to do in MODx

(Who am I kidding, I can’t count to 10…)

These are not in any particular order, and I can almost guarantee there won’t be 10 things… that just sounded better than “Top Several Things”.  These are just some of the “to-do’s” and “would-be-nice’s” that I’ve identified so far as I’ve mapped out my project plan for the next few months.  Some of them are probably slam-dunks, and others are probably criminally insane.  Any feedback (insight, encouragement, discouragement, whatever) would be greatly appreciated.

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Why I’m starting with MODx Revolution instead of Evolution

And they say that it’s them and it’s us
And they’ll tell you it’s you and it’s me
But now I can see that it’s me against me
Against me against me against me

-John Wesley Harding, “Me Against Me”

Its time to put aside the MODx vs. Drupal talk for a brief moment, and instead turn to MODx vs. MODx.

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Why I chose MODx over Drupal, Part One: Because I’m Lazy, Stubborn and Anti-Social

“I stereotype. It’s faster.”

– George Clooney (as Ryan Bingham), Up in the Air

MODx is sleek, sexy and clean.

Drupal is bloated, high-maintenance and a hot mess.

Okay, did that get your attention?

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Getting off the fence

I have known this would be coming for a long time.

I’m the web server admin for a relatively large state university system.  Not for the campus websites (thank God), but for the system-wide administrative and policy pages.

I’m also responsible for how our staff publishes their web content.

In the decade or so that I’ve been here, that content has gotten increasingly disorganized and unmanageable, and our websites have become gradually less useful as a result.

So I’ve known for several years that one day I would need to deal with the whole “Content Management System” thing.

I’ve known for at least a couple years that my best bet was to find an open-source, PHP-based CMS.  (I’ll get in to that some other time.)

And I’ve known for about a year that the decision really came down to MODx vs. Drupal.  (Again, much more on this topic in the future.)

Truth be told, I pretty much knew all along that I’d inevitably choose MODx.  (Later, I’ll explain it all later, ok?)

But there were the Drupal people.  In my office.

(They’re everywhere, aren’t they, those Drupal people?)

They persistently made their case.

I listened and tried to keep an open mind.

They believed in their product, and in the personal investment they had made in it. They wanted me to just give it a chance.

I dragged my feet and refused to commit.

This went on for months.  During this time, I should have been doing an exhaustive comparative analysis.  I should have been doing requirements gathering.  I should have immersed myself in books,  installed both packages on test servers and  flogged them senseless.  I should have done the hard work of gathering the hard data to either support or refute my initial instinct to go with MODx over Drupal.

But I didn’t.

And then push came to shove, and there was NO MORE TIME.  There were timeframes and deadlines, and I had to pull the trigger on a CMS RIGHT NOW.

So I did what I knew I was likely to do all along – I chose MODx.

Needless to say, the Drupal People were Very Concerned.

They voiced their concerns.

I lamented all of the Formal Documented Objective Comparative Analysis that I hadn’t done. I needed some data, some justification for how I had arrived at this Big Decision. What if the MODx project was a spectacular failure?  How would my decision look then, especially in light of the Concerns of the Drupal People?

(Actually, no one but myself was requiring much in the way of a justification of the decision.  But I am my biggest critic, after all, so I needed to make sure that my concerns about my decision were sufficiently addressed by me and for me. Me, me, me. I made the right decision… didn’t I?)

As I thought about it, I realized that my reasons for choosing MODx over Drupal, be they right or wrong reasons, were a pretty intriguing topic.  I was seeing lots of archetypal patterns packed in there. Elegance vs. robustness.  Simplicity vs. utility.  Popularity and familiarity vs. obscurity and non-conformity.

David vs. Goliath.

Good vs. Evil.

(just kidding.)

(sort of.)

(No, really, I’m just kidding.)

Anyway, the point being that even though I had already MADE the decision, and was firmly in the MODx camp (and just-as-firmly NOT in the Drupal camp), I still found myself looking back at that fork in the road and thinking about the why of it all.  It seemed like a really, really important thing to think about, to understand.  Not just for *me*, but for those who might come along after me.

Therein lies the blog.