Drupal Intranets with Open Atrium

By Tracy Smith
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About this book

In today's global society, online collaboration has gained tremendous importance as businesses look for ways to share ideas and collaborate easily. Open Atrium is a powerful and flexible Drupal installation that provides intranet solutions to businesses and organizations for sharing ideas. It is used to create intranets where co-workers or teams can collaborate easily. But Open Atrium is filled with so many powerful features that you may need some help to use it to its full potential.

Drupal Intranets with Open Atrium unlocks the power of Open Atrium and guides you through real-world examples of an Open Atrium intranet. Examples and screenshots are used throughout the book so that you can follow along on your Open Atrium installation. The examples walk through setting up your site, user administration, implementing core features, and maintaining your intranet site.

This book starts off with explaining how to set up a web server on a Windows or Mac computer and install Drupal with the Open Atrium distribution. After installing Open Atrium you will learn how to add and maintain users. The book also covers some exciting topics such as the different "spaces" or "workgroup" micro-sites that can be created to match your organization's structure. Reading each of these sections, you will understand and become familiar with managing the Open Atrium interface. Once you comprehend the Open Atrium interface, you will learn how to create a blog, document library, and issue tracker for each group's dashboard or site page. The book covers everything from editing a single piece of content to arranging the layout of that content on each page.

By the end of this book, you should be able to establish your own intranet site for your organization or workgroup using the Open Atrium Drupal distribution.

Publication date:
January 2011


Chapter 1. Overview of Open Atrium

This book is designed to help you become familiar with Open Atrium and Drupal and how the two work together to create a very simple and customizable intranet. Throughout the book, we will use a fictitious company called ACME Inc., to follow as we walk through each example and demonstrate real world functionality. I encourage you to follow along with the examples in each chapter to enrich your experience and learning. Each chapter will be filled with screenshots and how-to's and will provide the building blocks necessary to guide you as you build your intranet using Open Atrium.

In this chapter, we will cover the following three topics:

  • What is Drupal?

  • What is Open Atrium?

  • Who should use Open Atrium?


What is Drupal?

Drupal (http://drupal.org) is an open source software program that allows individuals or organizations to easily publish content. Open source software is software that is freely available and created and improved by the community. Drupal can be considered a content management framework that provides a foundation for building a simple or a complex system integrated with custom functionality.

Drupal provides a core set of plugins called modules which provide the basic functions of a content management system including the following:

  • User authentication

  • Content publishing

  • Blog

  • Poll

  • Statistics and logging

  • File uploading

Drupal can be installed by downloading the core package directly from the drupal website (D.O.) or you can add additional functionality right away by downloading and using an installation profile (http://drupal.org/project/installation+profiles). An installation profile provides a set of ready made add-on modules and customizations that work along side of the Drupal core modules to provide additional functionality. There are many installation profiles available for Drupal, including profiles for the following:

  • Conference organizing

  • Education

  • Churches

  • Wikis

  • Project management

  • Intranets

For more information about Drupal, you can go to the Drupal website at http://drupal.org , also referred to as the "D.O.". The following screenshot is an example of what you will find when you visit the Drupal website:

We will be working with the Open Atrium (http://openatrium.org) installation profile originally created by Development Seed (http://developmentseed.org), an online communications consultancy based in Washington, DC.


What is Open Atrium?

Open Atrium is a specialized installation of Drupal that adds on modules and incorporates them with the Drupal core to provide intranet functionality. It is an installation profile (http://drupal.org/project/installation+profiles) for Drupal. As with all installation profiles, it includes the Drupal core files along with all the customizations and modules used by Development Seed and the open source community to create a basic intranet. Installation profiles are also referred to as Drupal distributions because they include the core Drupal files with the distribution. An intranet can be defined as a tool for an organization to communicate and share information. This book will take you through step-by-step on how to install, setup, and use Open Atrium. To create a working intranet on top of Drupal without an installation profile would require many hours of additional programming, and integration of available modules. The installation profile reduces the amount of time it takes to get up and running by eliminating the need for additional programming or installing extra modules on top of Drupal to create a working intranet.

The following screenshot shows how the Open Atrium home page looks at http://openatrium.com:

Intranet in a box

Open Atrium comes built-in with basic intranet features to be used as a tool for groups to share information. In this installation there is a module called team spaces, which provides mini sites within your installation for your departments or workgroups. You are not limited to the features included with the base installation. Because Open Atrium is open source, features that are developed for Open Atrium by other organizations can be made available as an easy plugin to install on your own site. You can also develop your own set of features and integrate them with Open Atrium.

Team spaces

At the core of Open Atrium is a concept called group or team spaces. This feature allows individual projects or departments to set up their own unique space which includes all of the features of Open Atrium. Each group administrator can set the visibility of their group space to either private or public. When visibility is set to public, everyone in the organization can view and contribute to the groups team space. However, if the visibility is set to private, then only group members of that team space can contribute and view content. It is likely that your intranet will include a mix of private and public spaces depending on the workgroup or teams goals. For example, a Human Resources (HR) department may have both a private space for policy discussion and a public space for publishing general HR information and soliciting feedback.

Each team space incorporates the following features of Open Atrium:

  • Blog

  • Calendar

  • Group dashboard

  • Documents

  • Shoutbox

  • Case tracker


A blog can exist in many forms. For the most part, a blog is interactive and allows for commenting on specific blog topics. A member of a department can create a blog entry on a specific topic and allow other members to become involved in the conversation by commenting. When the blog is set up in Open Atrium, the creator has the chance to mark the blog private or public. If the blog is public, then the blog writer will have the option to post their blog entry to their particular department, or post the entry to the whole organization. File attachments can be included with each blog entry or comment. Each blog author or commenter has granular control of which members of the organization are notified of the interaction. In Chapter 8, we will walk through setting up a blog for the Human Resources (HR) department of ACME Inc.

The following screenshot shows an example of a blog summary page for the HR department at ACME Inc:


The calendar feature allow you to post events for single day events with a start and end time or events spanning across multiple days. The calendar feature is rich in functionality and allows us to pull in additional iCalendar (iCal) feeds from other calendars. An iCal feed provides basic information about each event including date, time, and description, which is based on a standard format for calendar data exchange. It allows you to pull in feeds published by other organizations or companies. You can set up your calendar to pull in feeds from Google Calendars, holiday calendars, and any calendar that is published using the iCal standard. You can add as many calendar feeds as you like and have them appear on your groups calendar.

The following screenshot shows an example calendar for the HR department with a manual event for on the HR Winter Festival on February 11, 2011:

Group dashboard

The group dashboard is available for all of the groups that you belong to and provides an overview of the activity for your group. There is also a site dashboard when you first login that shows information pertaining to any of the public groups and private groups that you may belong to. It is the first page by default that is shown when you navigate to your group. The dashboard consists of mini widgets that include calendar entries, blog entries, files, and comments. The layout, as well as what appears on the dashboard page, is fully customizable through the settings option. You can arrange items in a way that makes sense for your group or department.

The following screenshot shows the group dashboard for the HR department at ACME Inc:

Document library

The document section of Open Atrium is flexible and allows us to create one or more handbooks, also referred to as a notebook. A handbook is a collection of documents with a hierarchy that can be used within your department. Examples of handbooks could include:

  • Manuals

  • Forms

  • Policy and procedures

  • Issues

  • Images and branding

  • Form letters

The document section allows us to collaborate on documents as well as store and compare revisions to documents. You can also attach files and print out a final version of the handbook once all changes are complete. Each handbook consists of a main page and subsequent child pages. This allows the department to store and organize information in a manner that makes sense to them. Child pages can be rearranged, so that the final order of the documents can be completed at a later time. You can even attach different types of files including PDFs, documents, and images.

The following screenshot shows the notebook section of the HR's department team space:


The Shoutbox feature of Open Atrium allows you to share short messages with people in your group or organization depending on your settings. It is similar to Twitter (http://twitter.com) where you can leave short messages to be displayed within the Shoutbox. However, it differs from Twitter in that the Shoutbox is only available to view for members of your group space. By typing in the Shoutbox area, you can share messages, links, and any other information necessary. These messages and links will be displayed in a chronological order on the Shoutbox page. Depending upon your configuration you can also choose to have them show up on the dashboard page as well.

The Shoutbox is a pop-up window feature where you can review the most recent shouts or type a new shout. There is also a link to the Full view on the bottom of the pop-up to go to the main Shoutbox page. The Shoutbox page also contains a search box to allow us to search for a specific piece of information. We can type a search term and then all the related Shoutbox messages will be retrieved. Group members' pictures or avatars are also listed on this page by default.

The following screenshot shows an example Shoutbox page with a few messages created by ACME's HR department:

Case Tracker

The Case Tracker feature of Open Atrium provides a full ticketing system that your department can use to create projects, track bugs, and maintain to do lists. The system allows us to create one or more projects and add issues or items to each one. We can then assign each item to a particular person in our group and provide a priority, status, and request type. This can be used to track ongoing status of a project and is flexible enough to track bugs within a particular project. The Case Tracker screen provides a summary of cases on the first tab and provides additional tabs to view your own cases, department wide projects, and any archived projects.

A search filter is exposed on the right-hand side of the screen that allows the searching of cases by the assignee, project, priority, or status.

The following screenshot shows an example Case Tracker screen with three open cases from two different projects within ACME's HR department:

Each open case is listed on a separate row. The first column contains a colored box with an abbreviation for the project that a particular case belongs to. We can see in the screenshot that as you hover over one of these boxes, the full project name is listed.

Summary of features

Open Atrium seamlessly integrates the following features together:

  • Blogs

  • Calendar

  • Dashboard (group and individual)

  • Wiki (document library/notebook)

  • Shoutbox

  • Bug/Issue system (case tracker)

The beauty of Open Atrium is that all of these features are available immediately after the initial installation. Even if you have never heard of Drupal or Open Atrium, after reading this book you will be able to install, configure, and immediately use Open Atrium for your organization or department.


Who should use Open Atrium?

Open Atrium can be used by any organization and for any site that requires intranet like functionality. There are many project management and intranet applications available as a software service or for purchase. As Open Atrium is open source, you can be assured that it is freely available for immediate download and installation. If your company is already using Drupal, then Open Atrium would be a perfect addition to your companies network of sites. If you don't have Drupal experience in-house, you can use this book as a guide to walk through each step of setting up your intranet. Open Atrium is a great candidate for sites or teams that need project management, document sharing, and issue tracking. It can be used as a communication tool to provide your resources with timely information and can improve the workflow of your organization.

Because Open Atrium is open source and built on top of the Drupal platform, you will find that there are a vast number of resources available. The Open Atrium distribution and is supported by a community site located at http://community.openatrium.com. This site provides resources for both end-users and developers.



In this chapter, we started out talking about what Drupal is and what it includes. At its core, Drupal includes user authentication, content publishing, statistics and logging, and blog functionality. Drupal is an open source content management framework that can be downloaded for free from the Drupal website. We covered installation profiles that are prepackaged Drupal distributions that can be used to install Drupal for specific applications, including the following:

  • Conference organizing

  • Education sites

  • Church sites

  • Intranets

The next section talked about Open Atrium and the rich features that are included with the distribution. Open Atrium provides departments and organizations the ability to create team spaces for individual work groups and includes the following features:

  • Blog

  • Calendar

  • Group dashboard

  • Document library

  • Shoutbox

  • Case tracker

We then covered who should use Open Atrium and how it can easily be implemented for any team or working group for project management and communications within each group.

In the following chapter, we will learn how to create the foundation to install Open Atrium, by learning how to setup a web server and where we can go for more information for hosting our Open Atrium website.

About the Author

  • Tracy Smith

    Tracy Smith began working with computers at the age of 10. His experience includes network integration, programming, finance, database design, and project management. Tracy enjoys working creatively with clients to help architect their overall vision and break it down into smaller technical pieces. Tracy currently works as a Web Developer for Phase 2 Technology, based in Alexandria, VA. He is the founder of Alpha Geek Tech, LLC, a technology consulting firm. His web experience began in the dot-com era when he worked for Flipside.com. He is actively involved in the developer community and while working as the Technology Director for Quiddities Dev, Inc he spent his free time as the lead programmer and architect for 12seconds.tv. He holds a B.S. in Computer Information Systems and Business Administration from Wingate University.

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