A sleepless night for Earl Miles late last week provided the Drupal community a replacement to his Dashboard module. Earl Miles announced a successor to Dashboard at his site, Angry Donuts. The new module is the Panels module and I expect we'll be seeing it used a lot by Drupal's users, especially newcomers of Drupal and those less inclined to dig into the PHP code.
Dashboard the previous module, allowed Drupal developers an easy way to implement "simple" two-column layouts of content (called nodes in Drupal) that are not sidebars. While you can put blocks about anywhere in Drupal, the core doesn't offer an easy way to put content outside the "main body". While dashboard overcame the "single column" for content obstacle, it required knowledge of PHP to implement.
With the panels module, changing the layout of your Drupal pages can now be more user interface driven. You'll still need to know some HTML to use the module, but less PHP will be needed to change the layout. An excerpt from Earl Miles post, The dashboard revisited:
But with the panels module, it's just clicky clicky, and your content is there.
But that's not all! Content types are completely pluggable. By default it supports blocks, nodes, and custom (which is a title and a textarea you put text into) but it's relatively straightforward to plug other content types in, and configure them.
And layouts are pluggable! All they require is a tiny bit of PHP describing them, a theme function which is mostly HTML, and a CSS to place things properly.
While I haven't tested the Panel module out, I would say based on the way Miles describes his work...it's similar to phpWebSite's Layout Manager. The phpWebSite module has "the ability to move and change the boxes on your site. Clicking small arrows you can position any block where you would like". While Drupal 4.7 allows blocks about anywhere in the theme, the way phpWebSite's Layout Manager moves and defines blocks is very similar to how Miles describes the way his module will work within Drupal.
If you are interested in the panels module, I encourage you to read Earl Miles original post. Since pictures are worth more than a thousand of my words, you'll want to take a look at the available screen-shots to get a better idea of what Miles is offering in this module.
The Panels module is working code and not ready for full production sites. However, the code is available for testing, improving, and debugging at Drupal.
Bryan Ruby is the owner and editor for CMS Report. He founded CMSReport.com in 2006 on the belief that information technologists, website owners, and web developers desired visiting sites where they could learn about content management systems without the sales pitch. Besides this site, you can follow Bryan at Google+ and Twitter.