Joomla 3 – A Case of Upgrades

The Content Management System

By now most readers have heard of a Content Management System, but for those who haven’t I’m sure you have heard of names like Drupal, WordPress or in the case of this article, Joomla. These systems typically install on a website like Microsoft Office does on your desktop. Then from these applications you can design a template and then add articles and other objects to your template. The idea behind them is that a user will be able to update a website without having to code. They are only responsible for adding articles in a word-processor type of entry system. The system then converts this to code and a programmer sets up the template for them and it’s a fairly seamless process.

There is a reason why Joomla is being singled out in this instance. First it’s because it’s a fairly new major release and second it’s what I’ve been tasked to learn for a particular project. Then it’s a good example about upgrades with software companies since many are moving from boxed, perpetual licenses to Cloud based licenses and this latest update is a good example of what can be done and what could have been done better.

A Joomla Background

Joomla was originally founded as a branch of the Mambo Content Management System back in 2005. In those 7 years since its release, Joomla has matured into a much more dominant force from humble beginnings to join the ranks of the top Content Management Systems. Unlike many other systems including Drupal and WordPress, Joomla takes a unique approach to content organization through its Menus system. In simple terms this pretty much means, if an Article, the most basic form of Joomla content, does not exist in a Menu, it simply doesn’t exist. Some experts may argue this is a bit of an exaggeration, but after usage of many different content management systems which also includes PyroCMS, e107, and phpNuke, I feel safe in saying this is a unique approach specific to Joomla. I will admit this was the hardest part as a programmer to learn.

With that said, one area that Joomla exceeds in is usability. Not quite to the level of WordPress, but the indexing and search capabilities of its article management is beyond the programmer-friendly feel of Drupal which lacks those basic usability items. And this is even further improved in their latest 3.0 release which comes on the heels of a major 2.5 update back in January of this year.

 The Problem

The problem with the upgrade process was not the upgrade itself. Believe me when I say the Joomla 3 upgrade is well worth it. Just for the sake of the updated UI and Twitter Bootstrap core that is now being used. The problem is that the update came too soon after the previous “major” release and because of that, many of their module and extension developers were not prepared with updates to their products. Whether this is the fault of the Joomla development team or the 3rd party developers, that is not certain. What is certain is that while the core received a nice upgrade, many modules, almost two months later, are still waiting for their upgrades.

What this causes is it forces many Joomla websites to not upgrade to take advantage of these new features and it keeps the core of their followers in previous versions. To some extent this was what happened to Microsoft with Windows XP as well having to support it for many years after it was rendered obsolete because Microsoft failed to migrate everyone to the newer OS as they had in previous attempts. While staying on a familiar platform for the sake of these modules may be beneficial the result is that it hurts further development of the platform while it waits for its customer base to catch up.

What To Do

I’ve seen it happen too often where this is an issue. For the short term, when you rely heavily on numerous modules or extensions its always best to let the initial bugs work themselves out and wait for the first patch. But after that the debate then comes down to what the new technology offers. In this case the Twitter Bootstrap makes templating much easier than previously with Joomla. Because of that one must weigh if their own extensions are not being updated whether it is time to move to another 3rd party for those extensions. In many cases this is what causes the turn in the economy because if businesses, especially in technology, cannot adapt to the changing demands, then they will suffer, but someone will step in to take their place. So in fact you might get features or better extensions than what you were previously left with.

Final Thoughts

Some final thoughts I have on this topic. First, I’m not the biggest fan of Joomla and the more I learn the more I learn why the two biggest players are Drupal and WordPress. The simplicity of WordPress and the power of Drupal are unmatched by Joomla, however that is where it has found its niche. I just hope for their sake that this upgrade does not fail because of the short sightedness of their upgrade in this 3.0 release. It could end up hurting more than the extension developers and even hurt Joomla’s overall growth.

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