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Before I get started, I want to clarify that my tone is "contemplative and hopeful", rather than "angry, whiney ranting".
Over the last six months, I've been trying to find a plugin or hack that will give me some control over the Panel (what everyone else in the world would call a "Sidebar"). I'm a moderately decent PHP developer, but the Panel "module" is so obfuscated in MVC coding practices, that I can't get my head around how to build a plugin that can do what I need without digging into the Vanilla core (obviously a big no-no).
I shamelessly admit that I'm a spaghetti-code-cowboy, and while I am trying to embrace OOP in the context of a scripting environment like PHP, I tend towards the more pragmatic "let's get it done yesterday" approach, rather than the "I'm writing software for a nuclear power plant" approach.
I do think Vanilla is an awesome platform, and the developers have done a great job producing clean code, even if the MVC pattern is a different flavor of Kool-Aide than I'm used to drinking (I'm usually nose-deep in WordPress).
Our Vanilla friends could could take a lesson from the the WordPress Sidebar/Widget strategy. Specifically, multiple "Sidebars" can be registered with a theme, and "Widgetized" plugins can be associated with the Sidebars.
I'll continue hacking away at the Panel for now, but Vanilla, please consider giving us friendly Sidebars!