Joomla

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Joomla

The best brochure CMS and the #1 rich media publishing tool.

5

Our rating: 

5
Get It: Web App
License: Free (Open source)
Review & Alternatives: Best Free CMS
Categories: Online Services, CMS

Pros & Cons:

Best Brochure CMS - Best multimedia publishing tool. Will handle dozens of tasks, easily re-purposed. Has one of the best eCommerce CMS versions available. Lots of docs. High traffic OK. Secure when managed correctly. Super high quality potential, even up to Accessibility Level AAA. Top SEO when implemented correctly.
Still uses table-based page layout. Many low-quality plugins. Not good with high page numbers. Webmaster is critical for security. Ideal for 1-person or small team use, not good for multi-team use. End quality is very implementer-dependent.

Our Review:

Joomla is the best brochure CMS and the #1 rich media publishing tool. It's so good that there are no commercial challengers that come close - for example, there are about 100 plugins just for streaming media (YouTube vids etc).

It is also the most flexible CMS around, and can be repurposed for a multitude of jobs - for example as a directory site, or an ecommerce CMS.

It's a standard PHP-MySQL app for shared hosting - though it is more sensitive to incorrect server settings than most other server software. It's not a certainty that you can run Joomla on just any hosting, because of this.

In the past, Joomla did not have core ACL and therefore Drupal was a better choice for any job that required different editors for different pages or sections. Joomla's ACL does have some issues, and is in no way granular, so if you know that full-feature ACL will be a requirement for your site, Drupal is still a better choice.

Everything in Joomla is done with plugins (of which there are around 10,000 or more, split between the various cms versions), so it's crucial to know which does what. The core application is strictly a framework on which to hang the vast range of free and commercial plugins that is unchallenged in capability in web applications. Because of Joomla's flexibility, it can be turned into an almost unrecognisable application: an ecommerce store, a video site, an online magazine, a file repository, a directory, and so on - ad infinitum it almost seems.

There are some plugin issues for several reasons. These include the facts that Joomla has more than any other CMS; you can completely change the function and appearance of the CMS with them; and it is easier than most to extend, so lots and lots of people write plugins - some of whom have never heard of basic developer skills such as validating your pagecode as the first step, or taking care of security issues.

This means there are some bad plugins out there. They are insecure; they wreck the pagecode validation; they interfere with other plugins. So you must choose wisely. Check the security section at Joomla central; install plugins in a logical sequence; validate the pagecode after installing each one; and check compatibility with other plugins each time. If you find you've installed a bad one, uninstall it and try a better one. Some users install a large number of major plugins that alter core functionality, and then find their technical knowledge is insufficient for them to be able to resolve the issues. If you go this route you need to be aware that a highly extended, complex WCMS may not be able to have issues resolved by an ordinary webmaster - but this applies to all capable CMS. It's simply that Joomla makes it all so easy that people can go too far and get caught out. Large numbers of major plugins plus very high traffic are probably not a brilliant idea - this profile requires another approach.

Joomla handles high traffic well - there are numerous sites with 1 million visits plus and two terabytes of data bandwidth per month. However, high page numbers is another question, as the admin structure is not designed for this. At around 10,000 pages, things start to get interesting; the strong area is between around 50 and 1,000 pages.

Templates are another very strong feature. There is an unbeatable choice, running to many thousands. They are very easy to customize and a different one can be used on every page if you wish, though that is not a normal choice. Joomla templating is probably the best in CMS - very easy to change, to customise, to experiment with.

Documentation is very good, as this is one of the largest webapp projects in existence. There are numerous books, PDFs and web guides. There have been tens of millions of downloads of this software. The forum on the central website has thousands of psots per posts per day and about 100 different labguage sections.

There are several concurrent version series of Joomla and this needs some explanation:

  • The 1.0 series is now obsolete and not supported. There are, of course, several million 1.0 sites out there that will never be upgraded. As long as basic security precautions are taken, they should be OK to leave as-is. This was a very simple CMS, so security issues are not a major worry - as long as the plugins were good and the hosting is good (as with any CMS).
  • The next series, the 1.5 series, was the most completely supported version until recently, when the 2.5 series passed it in terms of support. Even so it is technically obsolete and only security patches will be issued, no developments or new plugins will be created. The last version was 1.5.22 and if you are running J1.5, that's the version you should use, as all previous versions have exploits. Luckily the superb template system allows replacement of the steam-age tables with a clean divs + CSS layout.
  • The 1.6 version was a temporary series, although not seen as such at the time; it proved to have numerous bugs and was quickly buried. If you have a J1.6 website you are advised to upgrade to 2.5 as soon as possible since the 1.6 version is not seen as safe or supportable. It is probably the most 'dead' version of Joomla. Its existence is not even admitted to on the Joomla site, which creates numerous serious issues when trying to upgrade. The great benefit of this version was that it introduced ACL to Joomla which is something that users had begged for over the last several years.
  • The 1.7 version was a quick patch solution for the problems in 1.6. It would be wise to upgrade to the 2.5 version.
  • At Q2 2013 we have Joomla 2.5, with version 2.5.11 current at the latest upgrade of this article. Joomla is now a fully-matured CMS with core functionality that enables it to punch far above its weight. It's not really a beginner's CMS any longer, unless you use it in basic mode - which is fine, of course.All that is left to do is get rid of the old table-based code layout scheme (which was obsolete in 2003 and is therefore way past its sell-by date), and Joomla will be top class in all departments.

Overview
Joomla is either a complex CMS that is fairly easy to use; or a basic CMS that can be extended later on if you need it; or perhaps, for newcomers, a very complicated way to run a website. All these are accurate, depending on your viewpoint. If you are new to CMS, I would certainly advise you to get a Joomla-using friend to hold your hand for the first few days, as there is a serious risk of being overwhelmed. Even developers who are new to CMS can't work out how to go about finding templates and hacking them, or using the multi-language capabilities, or SEO fine-tuning - and these are among Joomla's strong points. So, if you are new to CMS, or even just new to Joomla, then your task will be much easier if you have help.

Joomla will handle very high traffic. One instance on one very basic dedicated server with 1GB of RAM will handle over 30,000 visits per day, depending on the CMS set-up (more plugins, of greater complexity, will of course slow it down, and mean you need to go to multi-server earlier). Extending the server (more RAM is the critical factor) will get you up to maybe 60k visits per day or more on one box. Over this number, you go to a load-balancing solution, and then of course you can handle any traffic you want. In theory it is possible to get 100k visits per day on one box but this requires a top-in-class tech admin.

You might, if lucky, be able to handle up to 5,000 visits a day, for any type of site, on shared hosting of high quality, but over that you go to a dedicated server. My advice is to miss out VPS hosting (often used as a step-up between shared and dedicated hosting), as there are a multitude of issues - it's hard to find a good service with enough RAM that doesn't cost as much as a dedibox, so you might as well go straight to that as soon as your shared hosting CMS site starts to crack up under load. The funds should be there, by then.

There are plenty of Joomla sites with over 1 million visits per month (33,000 a day), and some that burn 2 terabytes of bandwidth a month. That's high traffic. However, high traffic + high page numbers + many plugins can be troublesome, as every major plugin added will slow the site down. As it's so easy to add them in Joomla, this often affects large, busy sites. It just means you have to go to load-balancing earlier. A basic Joomla site is very clean and fast, server-wise - but as it's so easy to add plugins, there are few basic Joomla sites...

Security
The new 2.5 series has the security issues expected with any new version, so keep it patched in a timely manner. Keep in mind that version 1.7 onward has some ACL, allowing you to give specific editing rights to specific individuals.

SEO
It's worth mentioning this as all aspects of site popularity depend on this, whether you have a community site or a commercial one. 

Joomla has always been the #1 CMS for SEO as it has always been easy to fix the issues with plugins, plus the native page code is very clean (all dynamic apps have SEO issues, the problem is how easy it is to fix them). All pages validate and should continue to do so whatever plugins or templates are used (if not, reject them). This means: go to http://validator.w3.org and check your pages, especially the front page as it is the shopwindow for your site. 

Code is clean, and the latest versions allow the template to override some core features to improve them (with vector-based code, for example). A huge range of SEO plugins allow you to do whatever you could possibly want.

Potential  is superb - though out of the box, things are very basic - but this is Joomla. Everything is done with plugins. Directly after install, you can maybe publish text and images, but not much else. Seeing as this is the most feature-capable and the most flexible CMS on the planet, that should give you a few clues: you need the right plugins. Choose well and you have a CMS that will place at Google #1 globally with no trouble at all, which is why Joomla is so popular for commercial web projects.

The latest versions incorporate some of the code from Yannick Gaultier's sh404 plugin, so that now SEF URLS are possible without any plugin or htaccess file script. Note: they are not perhaps perfect, but the best Joomla core URLs seen yet by far - they have an /index.php/ in the middle. However, I have proved with a 6-year project that (a) perfect code is important to SEO, and (b) an index.php in the middle of the URL is of no consequence (the test site has hardly any links, has an index.php in the URLs, and beats 100 million other pages on tough keywords). Quality is a key issue in my view, in every area, and Joomla pagecode is good.

Full-feature CMS vs micro-CMS
A valid question to ask is: "What exactly is the difference between a CMS and a micro-CMS?". The simple answer is that a 'real' CMS will do anything and look good doing it, and it won't take too much work to set it up (for an expert). The capability obviously varies between apps but a full-feature CMS allows you to: have a menu called whatever you like, anywhere on the page, with any items on it, in any order, styled however you want; to have completely different content, menus or modules (content display blocks) on any page; to show different content on any page to any user depending on your chosen parameters such as IP (country), time of day, browser language, usergroup, recent activity, etc. - and so on and so forth - and to do it well and without torturing a developer to get it :)

Other contenders in this class are:

  • Mambo - this CMS was the one Joomla forked from - it's very similar to Joomla 1.0
  • Typo3 - a popular alternative
  • e107 - another mid-range CMS that functions well as a portal

None of these are anywhere near as capable as Joomla but may have better functionality in a particular area, such as ACL or high page numbers.


CMS terminology
Here is a good place to bring in some other terms used in the world of CMS:

Intranets and Extranets
These are older terms not used widely among tech staff now, but still popular as they convey the meaning well to most people. An 'intranet' is what we would mainly call a portal site now - a site that has distinct sections, and these sections may in some cases be on other domains. The classic example is the BBC website. Joomla is a fine portal CMS but should not be used as an enterprise portal where more functionality than good visual publishing is needed, since it does not have core enterprise functions such as versioning. These can be plugged in of course but the results are not as solid is if they are in the core, as with Drupal for example.

An extranet is where remote locations and sites are connected, as with VPN connectivity. This is an enterprise-class CMS function.

Scalability
To be 'scalable' means that a CMS can be extended in size, in all dimensions: traffic, page numbers, and functionality; and that it is still easily-managed and still solid even when scaled up in this way. It may also imply that some arrangements for extension on this scale exist in the core. Joomla is not scalable in the true sense since it will certainly handle high traffic, but high page numbers are not easily managed. The app's strong area is up to 1,000 pages.

For a full listing of CMS terms and abbreviations go here: CMS terminology.

 


Joomla was reviewed by on based on version 1.6.3.