What is Joomla?

Date posted: August 23, 2011

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The second article in a series of three guest posts on CMS.

Joomla is an open source content management system (CMS), founded in September 2005 as a fork from Mambo. Joomla is one of the three most popular open source content management systems in the world. It powers nearly 25 million websites, or 10.3% of marketshare of the top one million websites, boasts 500,000 forum posts, and has thousands of contributors. Over 2,800 government websites from 204 countries use Joomla. Indeed, it is more likely that a government has Joomla running in some part of its website system than it is that the government is a member of the United Nations.

Joomla is a completely independent project, powered only by its volunteers. There is no major corporation contributing to Joomla or backing it in any way, as is true with WordPress and Drupal. Joomla’s annual budget is less than $400,000 per year, largely derived from Google AdWords and donations. No one is paid for their work on the Joomla project at this time.

Furthermore, there is no “benevolent dictator” in the Joomla project. The community is governed through three entitites, including the Production Leadership Team (PLT), the Community Leadership Team (CLT), and the board of directors at Open Source Matters (OSM). The PLT’s job is to set the vision and direction for the project’s software. The CLT governs the community, including Joomla’s websites. OSM is responsible for finances, legal aspects, and the trademark for the project. The three teams work together to govern Joomla and meet regularly to discuss the project.

What makes Joomla unique?

Joomla has made some interesting changes in the last year to its project, making it fairly unique among open source CMSs. First of all, the Joomla project now consists of two entities: a CMS, plus a fully independent framework. The framework is called the Joomla Platform, and it was released in July 2011. The platform may be used for many types of applications in development. The most notable development is eBay’s adoption of the Joomla Platform, as it develops an intranet system for measuring analytics.

The CMS is also in active development.  The CMS now undergoes releases every 6 months, with three releases occurring during each major development cycle, called a series.  The first two releases of the cycle (in this case, Joomla 1.6 and 1.7) are short-term releases, viable for a period of 7 months before reaching end of life. The third release (in this case, Joomla 2.5) is a long-term release, good for at least 18 months. Joomla 1.6 was released in January 2011, and Joomla 1.7 followed in July 2011. Joomla 2.5, a long-term release, is expected to be released in January 2012.

Following the release of Joomla 2.5, a new cycle of development will begin. Major changes will happen to Joomla with the next release, Joomla 3.0, which will appear in July 2012. A discussion of those changes is starting to emerge now.

Joomla 1.6 ushered in some major new features for Joomla, including a powerful access control list (ACL) system, nested categories, and improved templating. Joomla’s core output now supports HTML 5 as well. A fully accessible administrator template, Hathor, comes with this Joomla release. Hathor allows use of Joomla’s back-end by people with disabilities. It supports WCAG 2.0 AA standards, making this template essential for those with disabilities who must support Joomla administrators.

Joomla 1.7 has built on Joomla 1.6’s successes, squashing hundreds of bugs, adding a few new features, and completing the separation of the framework from the CMS.

What kinds of sites are good to build with Joomla?

Joomla is generally seen as standing between Drupal and WordPress from both a marketing and technical perspective – while WordPress occupies the low end of the Web site development market and Drupal the top end, Joomla bridges these two markets easily. Because of Joomla’s simple, friendly interface, Joomla is widely adopted by former WordPress developers who need a bit more power to build a given site but don’t necessarily have a full arsenal of coding skills. At the same time, in the hands of an experienced developer, Joomla can build a powerful site with thousands of pages, shopping carts, social communities, and more.

My company, 4Web Inc., has built small sites (5-20 pages) with Joomla, mostly so our clients can edit the sites without knowing HTML. More typically, the sites we build consist of hundreds to thousands of pages of content.

With a wide variety of both commercial and free templates and extensions available, it is possible to build a Joomla site without knowing HTML, CSS, PHP, or MySQL. However, if you want to go beyond the basics in Joomla, the best way to accomplish this is by learning hand-coded HTML and CSS, with an eye toward learning Joomla’s templating system.

What are Joomla’s strengths and weaknesses?

Joomla’s weakness, at this point in time, is its lack of multi-site management capabilities. There are some third-party extensions that allow for multi-site management, but I have not used them, and reviews of these extensions tend to be mixed. Without excellent multi-site management potential in Joomla, there is a major difference between Joomla and Drupal, since multi-site management is core to Drupal’s functioning.

One of Joomla’s strengths, however, is that over 8,000 third-party extensions are available. These extensions are useful – from the simple (creating dropdown menus in Joomla) and the beautiful (slideshows and photo galleries), to the powerful (shopping carts, social networking, and content construction kits) and the downright silly (the Simpsons Quote Generator comes to mind). Don’t see an extension you need? Joomla is built with the integration of extensions in mind, with tools that developers need to make this integration an easy and seamless process.

Joomla’s community is also a major strength. Many engaged, involved participants write code, squash bugs, write documentation, complete translations to dozens of languages, answer forum questions, and generally socialize with each other. Joomla Day events happen around the world with great regularity, typically organized by Joomla user groups, providing opportunities for developers to meet each other in person and collaborate. Two international Joomla events are planned for 2012, one in Europe and the other in the U.S.

I encourage you to take a closer look at Joomla. The community is strong and supportive, the tools are excellent, and the fan base continues to grow.

-Jen Kramer

For nearly ten years, Jen Kramer has been educating clients, colleagues, friends and graduate students about the meaning of a “quality Web site.”  Jen develops sites that are functional, usable, accessible, and supportive of business and marketing goals.  Through her full-service Web site development company 4Web Inc., she works with clients to build highly customized Joomla websites for a variety of small businesses, non-profits, government agencies, and educational institutions.

Jen is also a lynda.com author.  Her six titles include the very popular Joomla! 1.6: Creating & Editing Custom Templates and Joomla! 1.6 Essential Training.  In January 2010, Jen’s first book Joomla! Start to Finish: How to Plan, Execute, and Maintain Your Web Site was published by Wrox Press (a division of Wiley).  Her second book, Joomla! 24-Hour Trainer, a book and DVD combination, was published in May 2011. Jen is the manager of Joomla! User Group New England and she earned a BS in biology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MS in Internet Strategy Management at the Graduate Center of Marlboro College.

See our posts on Drupal, and WordPress.

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4 thoughts on “What is Joomla?

  1. Scott J

    What a great description of Joomla and it’s strengths and weekness. Earlier this year I developed a site in Joomla 1.6 only to discover near the end of the project I needed additional configuration capabilities of Drupal.

    As a primarily a wordpress user, I would agree wordpress is the easiest, with Joomla a solid stepping stone to Drupal. I was getting pretty comfortable with Joomla before switching to Drupal which I’m still fumbling with. I’m already thinking my next site will be done in Joomla.

    Is there any word that upgrading from 1.7 to 2.5 will be as easy as pressing an upgrade button, or will there be issues such as presented when upgrading from Joomla 1.5 to 1.6?

  2. Jen Kramer

    Joomla 1.7 to 2.5 updates are as easy as pressing a button in Joomla. The 1.5 to 1.6/1.7/2.5 migrations are difficult, but between 1.6/1.7 and 2.5 is very easy.

    Thanks!
    Jen

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