Using blocks to lay out content on your Drupal site can be a tedious and inflexible process. Panels improves this process by providing a simple way to display dynamic content based on relationships, contexts, and conditions without the user needing to learn to Drupal theming. If this sounds a bit like the Views module, it's because both Views and Panels were written by Earl Miles.
Panels has come a long way since its inception, and has several helper modules that take it beyond what it can do with its seamless integration with Views. Those include Panelizer, Panels Everywhere, and one that our own Jody Hamilton wrote more recently called Page Manager Templates. Page Manager is actually a module within Chaos Tools, a dependency of both Panels and Views now, that does most of the magic that we see on the front end of the Panels module. Because of its integration with many other modules and its overall power by itself, the Panels module is one of the most useful modules to have installed on your Drupal website. Views is finally making it into Drupal Core in Drupal 8, so maybe we will see Panels in Drupal 9!
Whether you are looking to create a simple 1 column layout, or a fully responsive multi-column layout, Panels has all of the tools needed to get it done. Panels layouts are easy to create, and can actually be exported and re-used across different sites. You can export the whole panel as well if you like. Here at Zivtech, we use a module called Features to export all sorts of settings, including Panels, Views, and content types to ensure all of our work is in code and can be committed to our git version control system. Panels can make your job easier as a Drupal site builder and allow you to display content without editing your theme much. You can even add additional CSS classes and IDs to give your panels the CSS selectors you need to get the page looking just right.
Beyond the layout flexibility and ability to display content dynamically, Panels also has robust access and visibility settings. You can easily set up whole pages or parts of pages to display or not based on user permissions, the user viewing, and many other conditions. This gives the flexibility to build the robust, responsive, and dynamic content and page layouts that we build here at Zivtech. This post is really just the tip of the iceberg for what Panels can do for your Drupal website. Want to learn more about Panels? Check out our upcoming Panels Training on September 17, 2014.