|reviewer||Michael J. Ross|
|summary||A guidebook for adding images, videos, and audio content to Drupal sites|
Drupal Multimedia is a fairly slender volume, at 264 pages, no doubt because it focuses on a limited subject area — implementing multimedia with some key contributed modules — as opposed to most of the recent spate of Drupal books, some of which try to cover every major aspect of the CMS. The material in Aaron Winborn's book is organized into eleven chapters, addressing most if not all of the key topics within the chosen subject area: Drupal basics; images, galleries, and slideshows; image theming and effects; third-party and local video; file management; audio nodes and fields; theming audio; and the future of multimedia in Drupal. The book concludes with a skimpy five-page index, which fails to contain such basic entries as Flash, FLV, SWF, sprites, star ratings, slideshows, and countless others. A robust index is especially critical for any technical book, such as this one, that divides related topics among multiple chapters, and has section and subsection names that in some cases are quite similar to one another and thus could be easily confused.
Because this book is geared more toward programmers new to Drupal, and not well-versed veterans, the first chapter — the second longest in the book — introduces the reader to the core concepts of Drupal (nodes, regions, blocks, themes, and modules — core and contributed) as well as two essential modules (CCK and Views). The explanations do not go into any great detail, but should be enough to give any Drupal newbie a head start. Nonetheless, readers may be confused by the screenshots on pages 16 through 19, which appear to be from Drupal 5. Also, the brief coverage of views arguments is inadequate, and needs to be beefed to be useful later in the book. For creating a new theme, the author advises copying wholesale an existing theme; instead, a sub-theme is a much better approach. Chapter 1 wraps up with a discussion of some basic concepts in Drupal theming, which makes puzzling the title of the section, "Advanced Theming." Speaking of themes, readers should note that when the author refers to "theming" an image or video, he means making the uploaded file display as content on the node's page (and not just exist as an attachment to that node).
For many programmers new to Drupal, the first hurdle they encounter is how to add an image to the content of a page or story — a seemingly trivial task that is built into most major CMSs — without writing HTML and hard coding the path of an image file they FTP-ed to the server. Drupal version 6 and presumably all prior versions, do not have native support for uploading and embedding in-line images. In his second chapter, the author explains how one can create image galleries, teaser thumbnails, and images embedded in content. However, in the discussion on page 45, some details are incorrect, such as the label for the "Save" button (three times) and the presence of the galleries drop-down list. Readers will undoubtedly be confused by two additional inaccuracies: There is no Navigation menu item for displaying the "image galleries" created by default, because initially the image_gallery view has no menu assigned in the Gallery page settings. Secondly, the gallery description is not shown on the gallery page; in fact, it is not even listed as an available view field. The section titled "Image Gallery Settings" suggests that the author may have been using an older version of the Image module. But this probably does not explain the erroneous statement on page 56, that "image nodes created with Image attach will automatically be marked as not published." The chapter concludes with an explanation of how to embed an image in content, using manually inserted image tags, or the ImageAssist module, optionally supplemented with a WYSIWYG HTML editor, such as TinyMCE. The fourth chapter looks at how to theme images, and discusses — it greatly varying levels of detail — style overriding, the Firebug Firefox extension, the Theme Developer module, image nodes, image-based rollover menus, sprites, light boxes, star ratings, slideshows, and various special effects: drop shadows, magnification, and watermarks.
The subsequent chapter — oddly titled "Developing for Images" — extends the discussion by showing how to insert images as fields utilizing ImageField and several supporting modules. One of those modules is referred to as "FileField Tokens" (page 70), but there is no such module; the author probably meant ImageField Tokens. Also extending the previously noted problem of non-Drupal 6 content, is the screenshot for "Display fields," on page 83, as well as the narrative, which appear to be pre-version 6. The latter half of the chapter delves into how to create galleries and slideshows (using views), user pictures, and images associated with taxonomy terms.
In written tutorials, videocasts, and other discussions of Drupal multimedia, one important area that is often neglected is asset management. This includes such seemingly mundane matters as where in a Drupal site's file system one should place plug-in files and even the uploaded multimedia files themselves. A more far-reaching topic is how to best associate multimedia assets with nodes so they can be accessed by various modules — for instance, as stand-alone content types versus CCK fields. Chapter 7 examines some of these topics, first discussing how to create and theme nodes whose associated videos can be used elsewhere on a site, such as in a gallery — using the Embedded Media Field and Node Reference modules. However, some readers may become frustrated because a couple critical steps are skipped, and, even worse, no guidance is provided as to how to make the video show up on a node reference content page, or what content provider selection to use (since "Local" is not an option). Next the author considers how to set access to videos by user role — using the Asset module. Unfortunately, the reader is apparently not shown how to do anything useful with video content uploaded and managed using the Asset module, including the scenario proposed at the beginning of the section. (Incidentally, one might assume that the author's solution would use the Asset Embedded Media submodule, but it is not compatible with the latest version of Drupal 6.) The Media Mover module, and its many submodules, offer an alternate method of video asset management, and the author shows how to e-mail a video from a mobile phone, to be automatically attached to a new blog post. The chapter concludes with a brief look at Kaltura, an open-source platform for storing and editing multimedia.
Some Web developers and end-users may consider online audio as the poor cousin of video. In truth, audio-only content plays a key role in many Web applications — from podcasts embedded in RSS feeds, to sample tracks on music sellers' websites. The subsequent three chapters of the book are devoted to managing audio content within Drupal using several resources and solutions — specifically, the Audio, getID3, FileField, jQuery Media, Embedded Media Field, XSPF Playlist, and Views modules
In the last chapter, titled "The Future of Drupal Multimedia," the author speculates as to what media-related capabilities he thinks we will likely find in Drupal 7 and beyond — such as native file handling (via hook_file) and multimedia support in core Drupal, the merging or deprecation of non-FileField modules, dissociation of data from nodes, improved module interfaces and usability, embeddable widgets (for data distribution), semantic multimedia (microformats, RDF, and taxonomy-powered tagging), mobile Web access, virtual reality (such as Second Life), tactile and olfactory media, and motion sensing (such as the Wii Remote controller).
One laudable feature of this book is the inclusion of numerous screenshots, which can be quite reassuring to a reader getting lost in the technical minutia of any particular recipe. Also helpful is the manner in which the author, for the most part, keeps the reader informed as to all configuration settings — and where to find them within the Drupal administration interface — that the reader must or may want to modify, depending on his or her needs. Technical books that fail to do this can be extremely frustrating to anyone trying to learn a nontrivial technology.
Yet there are some major flaws with the book: Far too much of the material suggests that the author was using Drupal 5. Aside from the screenshots mentioned earlier, sections of the text point in that direction, such as the statement, "The multiple image issue might be taken care of by Drupal 6" (page 56). Fortunately, none of these gaffes prevent the reader from learning how to perform the tasks using version 6. The second and more important flaw is the poor coverage of Flash content, as detailed above. A follow-up edition to the book, in which all of these problems are resolved, would be most welcome and valuable.
A revision would also be an opportunity to fix the grammatical errors that should have been caught in the proofreading process. For instance, the fourth complete sentence on page 11, is missing a verb. Errata include "Autrhor" (credits page), "you [have] learned" (page 2), ". you'll" (page 2), a ")" without a "(" to match it (page 17), "isin" (page 31), "it [is] installed" (page 32), "provide files" (page 33; should instead read "provide functions"), "hierarchal" (page 46), "formated" (page 57), "[the] FTP" (page 75), "menu — By" (page 117), "going a view" (page 119), "quicktime" (page 146), and "[Submit] Audio" (page 179). In addition, there are eight pairs of adjacent words missing their separating spaces — five on page 159, and three more on page 174.
As seen in many other Packt Publishing titles, this one contains excessive usage of inappropriate title case (e.g., several on page 8 and 9 alone), though occasionally title case is neglected (e.g., "Image attach" throughout the book). In addition, some of the phrasing is rather awkward, which may pose no barrier to a reader who already understands the particular idea being discussed in the text, but could prove a real detriment to anyone unfamiliar with that idea. For instance, on page 36, the author states that "Often you may wish to override a theme that is not provided as a file in the default theme." But no theme is contained within a single file, and one does not override themes anyway; rather, one can disable a theme, or modify a copy of it, or create a variation as a sub-theme.
Yet overall, this book's strengths outweigh its weaknesses. For Drupal developers who wish to add image, audio, and video content to their sites, Drupal Multimedia is a useful resource with which to begin.
Michael J. Ross is a freelance Web developer and writer.
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