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How to become somewhat adept at modifying vanilla to your needs for free 1) create your own webserver on a used machine at home. a) obtain an old computer b) download ubuntu c) install apache or nginx or .. d) install mysql e) install vanilla 2) get some skills a) run through some tutorials on the web for: -php -css -oop basics -read the documentation on site about mvc b) learn some debugging skills with your browser - obtain firefox and firebug - or chrome or some other web browser where you can inspect elements - watch some videos on how to debug with firebug or whatever c) get an editor and modify some programs. 3) read discussions on vanilla forum even if they don't pertain to what you are looking for - you might get some ideas. 4) read the documentation - read the wiki - add to the wiki, if you can. 5) try to solve other people's question. If you can find a working solution to someone else's question - provide an answer. 6) learn how to frame a question - so someone will understand what you want. - include you version, theme, screenshot, and any other pertinent info that might help the person helping you. 7) download plugins, themes, etc - try to digest them, modify them, experiment. - look at various function calls people use in plugins - download the example plugin and experiment - read the theme tips provided by 422 and others. - read the wiki that hbf volunteered to create 8) slowly look at the different files in vanilla particularly the helper_functions.php in vanilla/views/discussion and vanilla/views/discussions 9) don't be afraid to modify the core on your test box - if it will teach you something. than after you understand the change - write a plugin that does what you want and remove changes from the core. 10) make your suggestions in a non-abusive way. Remember everyone is learning and most are volunteering their time gratis and the development team of vanilla consists of a small group with only so much time in the day. Instead of gripeing contribute. If you learned something new that you struggled with but now understand either through your own solution or with somebody elses help - add it to the wiki.
11) read 1-10 again, and then one more time and then...
.... add your own tips
I may not provide the completed solution you might desire, but I do try to provide honest suggestions to help you solve your issue.