I’m currently in the process of beautifying my ‘website/blog’. It’s not an easy process and I think I’ve pretty much covered the whole gamut of web design tools and options.
I started this site over one and a half years ago, I started to write everything using Flash with ColdFusion 8 as the server side scripting language (I got to very much like ColdFusion once I could get my head around it). I was also doing a bit of Flash ‘Remoting’ which is basically using ActionScript 3 to talk to a database – in my case MySQL.
I thought the site looked nice, however the feedback worried me a little. I had some comments from people saying that they thought it looked a little too nice and so perhaps visitors would think I’m just too expensive and I would loose business because of it.
Also being written for Flash 10, visitors would have to have the up to date Flash plugin or my site wouldn’t work – which was another worry.
Finally (and this really made it the final nail in the coffin) If I wanted to update the site or add plenty of content to help bring in more traffic – I would pretty much have to write my own CMS (which I nearly did).
I sort of miss the old site really, it had some nice touches like a preloader some good sound effects and a completely original soundtrack on the ‘Contact’ page written by my good buddy Jeroen Tel.
It also has themes – so when it’s coming up to Christmas or Halloween the background colours would be pulled from the database and it would automatically play Christmas music, or adapt to a Halloween theme. It was really nice and I hated the thought of dumping this code.
After agonising for hours and hours (days in fact), I decided to drop everything I was doing – throw in the towel and just go with WordPress. I couldn’t believe what I was doing but for the good of the website, for the benefit of all the content I could add, for the ability to be found by the search engines (rather than just exist in some kind of unknown backwater of Google) I had to byte the bullet. I waited for my heart rate to calm down having realised I was about to dump one and a half years worth of work and instead go with what any rank amateur could also slap-up in minutes.
Tyler Larson (aka Tall Tyler) is a man after my own heart. I think he’s a genius. He was also very kind in sparing me his time in helping explain something rather cool to me, his site can be seen at http://motionandcolor.com, but don’t go there just yet or maybe bring it up in another tab.
Tyler has managed to do exactly what I was in the process of wanting to do. He has a WordPress website that is displayed entirely in Flash!
The only trouble is trying to make my own template. It involves quite a substantial knowledge of not just Flash but also a complete understanding of how the document model (DOM) works in browsers and at the time I felt it was more important to just get content out on the net and I really couldn’t face another year of hard work understanding how to make everything work so I thought I would keep it in mind but would put it on the back-burner for now and just carry on learning how to make a normal WordPress template without being displayed in Flash.
It was a little while after I started using WordPress for a while when I discovered a rather nice little tool called Artisteer. You can find them here. Artisteer is a template generating tool that makes designing a WordPress template from scratch an absolute doddle. Honestly, once you get handy with Artisteer you can knock up a nice looking design in next to no time at all.
The down side to Artisteer is that the layouts can get to look all a bit ‘samey’. The number of colums can be changed and it does allow for quite a bit of flexibility, but at the end of the day the templates are merely good and not stunning.
Something with Artisteer is that it allows you to make templates for not just WordPress, but also for Joomla! and Drupal.
At this point in my web development career I didn’t know what Joomla! or Drupal were, but I now know that they are also content management systems like WordPress. The best bit of knowledge I found on the net about the comparisons between the three systems is as follows:
If you want a blog that looks ok or even quite nice that is easy to learn and you can have finished in 1-2 days then go with WordPress.
If you want a website that looks really nice but is not strictly for a novice in 1-2 weeks then go with Joomla!
If you want a great looking site that can win awards and has lots of bells and whistles in 1-2 months then go with Drupal.
These three content management systems all work in PHP, so whether you know PHP or not you need to just go with it. I use IIS on Windows. I know there’s something called WAMP which I got working without too much trouble on my spare clunky server, but I just like IIS because I’ve been using it for years. Getting a PHP server running under IIS isn’t easy by any means but it can be done as you can see by reading this blog post. You will need to install FastCGI among other things and have a stand alone install of MySQL – which I do (if you want to stick with IIS and run PHP and get stuck just leave a comment below and I’ll get round to writing a post about how to get it working and some of the hurdles you might come across).
It was after about a month or so of using WordPress when I came across a website that I thought looked really, really nice and has a space theme which if you know me is right up my alley being a big Sci-Fi fan. The only trouble was it wasn’t available for WordPress but it was available in Joomla!
That was it for me. I decided I now had to learn all about Joomla and set up another test website to get it up and running. You can see how nice these themes are by visiting here http://rockettheme.com (again just open it in another tab).
I’ve spent the past two days immersed in Joomla! It’s a lot more heavy weight that WordPress and not as easy to learn, but just look at those style sheets, they look fab! In finding out more about Joomla, I discovered that there is in fact a component for Joomla that can be installed to make it just like WordPress! That was a boon finding that out and you can get this component for free from this site http://www.joomlify.com/.
I haven’t installed the WordPress component for Joomla! yet but I’m doing it right now. You won’t see all the combined results of everything I’m working on just yet as I’m practising everything with another website I’m working on, but I’ll keep you posted with the updates.