When developing a Drupal site, one of the first decisions to be made is whether a basic install or an installation profile is best. The choice depends entirely on your website needs, developer preference and resources (time, money, knowledge).
BASIC INSTALL + THEME
A basic installation means setting up Drupal "core" - the most basic, pared down version of the software that every Drupal site uses, including installation profiles. From the core install, modules (think of modules as building blocks, or Legos... or drops!) can be added to the core installation to extend it and increase the functionality of the website and the features available to users and administrators. The basic installation includes some simple themes (sometimes called skins, or designs... in other words, the look of the website) and most site developers will either choose another pre-designed theme to install onto the site, or a developer and designer may work to create a custom theme and apply it to the site. As functionality is desired or needed for the site, the developer can build. As design changes are needed, they can be done. A completely new theme can often be fairly easy to apply to a basic installation, even after module add-ons are done.
Drupal installation profiles provide a set theme, sometimes with color and layout customization and sometimes not, as well as pre-configured settings, modules and content types (this varies between profiles). An installation profile comes in handy when you are building a news/magazine site, or shopping cart site, for example. Those types of sites are common and some well-developed installations have been created for that reason. Of course, there are a number of other functional profiles out there - from project management to social network installs. Installation profiles can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they can speed up the initial site development since some functionality is built into the profile (views, content types, block settings). On the other hand, tweaking the settings to fit your own needs can be troublesome if the profile is complex or not built in an intuitive manner. It is important to understand that when starting a new site, if an installation profile is going to be used it should be used fresh out of the gate. Trying to make an installation profile "fit" over an existing site is a headache most people will not want. There are some profiles that offer their theme and/or their modules separately though (some). Consider also the development team or company that is offering the profile - having support in the way of a forum, phone number or any other contact information is important. If the right installation profile with the right features and the right design options fits into your site needs, it can be useful, cut down on development and design costs, and provide quicker site launching. If you aren't sure how well your needs match the cookie-cutter installation profile, go with a basic install and build it up as needed.
WE CAN HELP!
Four Points Consulting has extensive experience building Drupal websites for organizations. We focus on associations, not-for-profits, and other similar organizations. The functionality we can build into a website helps streamline workflows and build efficencies. We help build websites that make every day easier for you. Contact us today!