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Joomla 1.6 Review

Author: Carl Heaton
He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.
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Joomla has been one of my favourite CMS’s for a while but I left it behind when WordPress answered the last questions I had with version 3. Secretly however, I have been waiting for J1.6 to come out in the hope that it also answered some of the questions I had about the last versions.

My First Impressions

Joomla has been one of my favourite CMS’s for a while but I left it behind when WordPress answered the last questions I had with version 3. Secretly however, I have been waiting for J1.6 to come out in the hope that it also answered some of the questions I had about the last versions.

Frankly speaking I always thought that Joomla had a better Content Management interface than WordPress, it was just easier to find stuff with bigger sites in Joomla. The massive draw back was the imposed Information Architecture due to Joomla’s content hierarchy.

So I took the Joomla 1.6 out of its shiny zip folder, installed it on my local host and I was ready to see what this baby could do.

The Installation Process – 6/10

Very much the same as it has been for a while, no new twists and turns. I do like that you have a guided process that you can see how many stages to take. I wonder however, how it would be to ask users to simply click and confirm the deletion of the installation folder?

You can see that there are more developers behind Joomla than designers in that you are given a long list of server requirements that are either Yes or No, most will not know what these mean. I find the ‘optional’ FTP layer details a little confusing (when thinking as a newbie just installing a CMS for the first time). I personally would make as much of this as transparent as possible.

So onwards and upwards to the new front-end

Joomla 1.6 Default Template – 6/10

Starting from the top and working down, Joomla is ahead of the game already with the font size selection. This means that they have the backs of special need users, which I am totally in agreement with. Even this functionality being in the default theme gives developers something to reference when wanting to do similar accessibility functions for their template. Additionally the template sports a ‘skip links’ bar which helps screen readers get straight to the content on the page. Bravo Joomla.

The navigation bar is a grey gradient with clear text, a clear HTML structure and CSS hooks make this easy to play with. Again giving a good example to template developers.

I like the new banner, it gives a fresh and solid over all feel to the template. The layout then splits into a left sub nav and module area with the right being the main content. I was impressed with the new way of laying out the home page as before it got a little messy with 1 column latest articles being shown and then that going into a 2 by 2 or 2 by 3 column. Even explaining that in words sounds complicated so a new simple 3 column layout with clear headings and into text gives a clear feel.

Suitable Simplicity – 6.5/10

One thing I can see that has improved is that they have not turned on everything all at once. Before we had polls, RSS feeds, links and a whole plethora of functionality that is not used and cluttered the initial template. I think now that Joomla has become so popular people know what it can do, so now they can tone down things and let users do more discovering than disabling.

We have a new font ladies and gentle man, welcome on stage "font-family: ‘Titillium Maps’, Arial; ", I think it works well and it is nice and clear.

The Ace Up Joomla’s Sleeve, Navigation – 6/10

The first left navigation we have is ‘About Joomla’, if you click on any of the links you see the sub-navigation system kicking in. The ability for custom menus has always been the Ace up Joomla’s sleeve, one which will surely be waiting for me in the admin area.

Attention to Detail, come on Joomla! – 4/10

When you click on ‘The Joomla! Community’ this is where an issue I have with Joomla really arises. Something that, in my opinion, really stops this wonderful CMS dominating the market and that is the attention to detail. On this page the < Previous and Next > links / buttons look terrible. They do not suit the rest of the template, no padding and looks like they are floating in the middle of nowhere. This is rife throughout Joomla which we will see as we start exploring some of the other pages.

My first trip was to the site map page, this must be for search engines as both the main area and the subsequent pages look blander than a Banana Milkshake with out the shake or the banana, they should call it a site dump not map. No headings or anything to say what page you are on e.g if you are looking at Articles, Categories or Web Links. Okay so I won`t be adding this functionality to my site.

Next up is the login screen. This whole process has been a massive fail for Joomla in my opinion. Again on this page there is nothing but two sorry looking boxes asking for a username and password. Granted the accessibility of the code is good with the use of the for="" attribute but this page looks sadder than a hot dog with no mustard or ketchup. If memory serves this page is also not easy to edit and actually add some nice content like a header, an explanation of why you are here, what to do if you lose your details. I am hoping that somewhere in the backend is waiting a page for me to edit and if i`m lucky a way of adding more fields.

Sample sites, now we are talking, things look much better and I am given a real impression of what is possible with Joomla. The Australia Park, Fruit Site, links to extensions and templates give me a feel that Joomla is much more than this shell.

One thing I liked was the new tabbed widget, this appears on the Sample Sites page and gives us access to the interior pages of the sample sites directly. A nice touch and way of showing off those famous custom menus we have all heard about before WordPress 3.x came along and kinda made it a mute point.

Time To Get Our Hands Dirty in the Joomla Administration Section – 7/10

Smooth, the login screen has been given a little make over as well. I am liking the new blue that is appearing, I think someone has been colour scheming. There is no forgotten password link, so I hope you administrators have good memories. This may have been due to the previous versions being spammed but there is plenty of help online to help reset your password. So in we go.

The administration of Joomla has always been its strong point. The admin home is clean, simple and informative. Left we have some nice new icons sporting the latest in CMS actions. I can quickly add new article, category, manage my media or re-arrange my menu, all the things a site owner will do on a regular basis. Below we have settings and then template management on the last row. Something I have always liked is the right hand side giving quick info on your sites statistics, however I would put Popular Articles on the right according to the menu item rather than who last logged in.

Looking at the Popular Articles gives me a clear title, creation date and hits. This is missing from the default install of say WordPress yet it is so very handy!

Administration Profiles – 7/10

Starting on the menu we first hit the user profile of administrator, and I assume of whomever is logged in at that time. The profile is very customisable and I like how the language selection is very intrinsic to everything that Joomla does. I can set the language of both the front-end and back-end and there now seems to be some new admin templates available, ohh fancy!

Then we hit a boring issue with Joomla, this idea of having to save before we move onto something else. It was a bug bare of mine with when this was introduced in Photoshop as well. Why can`t I just leave the page if I have not done anything? Nope, I have to first save and then the menus get enabled. I am sure this stops a lot of issues but for the User Experience it is frustrating. Right now, I want to go to the next menu item under Site but I have to move to the opposite side of the screen to first save, then I can move on. Joomla community, any chance of changing this in the next version? Maybe a quick Ajax call as a user leaves the page?

Global Configuration – 6/10

I do like the way this screen has a nice tab/link system, however usability says that one should know where one is, and with this menu system you do not. A small issue as the responsiveness of the menu is slick and quick. The same settings are available and the whole rigmarole of the mod_rewrite and htaccess changes stare at me, reminding me of all the previous issues with older versions. I hoped this was smoother this time, and after testing it is. Another nice thing is that the Search Engine friendly URL is activated by default. Looking through the settings I really feel that this is a powerful system and nicely customiseable. The ability to put in all the ftp details, smtp definitely give the impression that previous issues have given birth to these settings to help people send emails that actually get through and upload files that reach their destination.

Do I have Permission – 7/10

Now we are talking! Drupal has always been famous for its permissions and WordPress it’s lack of. Joomla seems to have hit this one square on the head. The awaited changes in 1.6 were just this, the ability to assign permissions to groups of users. This is an immensely powerful function for large companies having multiple sections managing their corporate site. Or maybe you have an article type site with many authors, whatever your site the permissions settings seem flexible enough to make sure nobody is editing what they should not be.

Each of the user types are listed nicely, on clicking say Publisher, we can see very clearly they are not allowed to manage components for example. Something else I just noticed is the idea of inheritance. Now this is again a very useful tool as it stop me clicking endless settings to customise each user persona. Now I can filter down the admin rights to each type of user with a few clicks. Well played Joomla!

Now with a firm smile on my face I skip over to the user section and see that I can now create custom user types. This type of functionality is very handy for larger sites so I can see where Joomla is positioning itself. It would be ill advised to go for the small blog type market where WordPress dominates so they are going for the medium to large sites with Drupal lurking around the larger sites with a menacing look on it’s face. Lets see where all this user functionality takes Joomla. I would expect to see some nice tutorials on how to really use the new user rights customisability in company aimed tutorials e.g. "how to customise your Joomla site to manage multiple sections and company divisions".

A quick look at User Groups shows an interesting example, Shop Suppliers. This does indeed feed the imagination. You are selling online and you simply want users to upload their products, now we have a User Persona for that very task. Joomla you are spoiling us!

Articles Under Control – 8/10

Adding a new article is peppered with the ability to control those permissions, it makes the page a little busy but works fine. One bug bare with adding articles has always been the pop-up HTML editor, why not a nice little tab system? I have to admit WordPress gets this right on the money. The popup appears, you change and then it re-loads the page with your changes, this seems to me a terribly inefficient way of doing it.

On the right we have a lot of lovely Joomla settings. It is however something that makes it a really powerful CMS. The article options tab is fantastic, you can really modify just about everything or leave it up to the global settings. So if you don`t want the author on this page, then he shall not be shown. If you leave the settings alone then the global settings take over. This allows you to change the settings for all articles in one place, which is found in the Article Manager. We are heading to the Article Manager now…

The Piece De Resistance of Joomla, Article Management – 8.5/10

For me the Article Manager is one of the best things about Joomla, you can search effectively, sort content and easily see your hierarchy. Publishing is a click away as is featuring an article making the Management part of Joomla’s CMS very effective. The best thing for me has to be the drop downs allowing you to show articles from a specific category, author, permission, type or state. A new little point is the alias appearing under the article title, this is useful if you want to know what URL will be shown on the front-end. If only WordPress had this!

Mrs. Category finally has some children! 8/10

Note: I am taking 4 points away because they should have done this a long time ago.

One massively limiting factor with pre 1.6 Joomla was the imposed Section > Category > Article structure. I don`t know about you but my sites are rarely that simple. The whole hierarchy was very limiting and confusing to explain. As we run courses on Joomla, a large portion was explaining this structure that was at the heart of managing your sites Information Architecture. Joomla 1.6 now enables you to assign child categories aka sub-categories. This means you can use any structure you want, that make sense. With the lovely manu system you an easily serve a page containing all the articles from a category giving you a much more flexible site. Lets say for example you have a e-commerce site that sells widgets, you will want to show certain categories, allowing users to drill down to Blue, Xtra Large, 240v Widgets that are on special offer; now you can.

No Frills Joomla Media Management – 6/10

The Media Manager remains pretty much the same, the only addition is the permissions settings. I have not been a massive fan of the way Joomla does this, however when your site starts getting full it really helps.

Whats on the Menu? – 7/10

The menu system of Joomla kept it high in the CMS choice awards for a while, with WordPress 3.0, it took a hit as they did it better, that is my opinion and I stand by it. A new feature, which is very useful, is the ability to see where the menu items are being used i.e. the "modules linked to the menu item" as this helps you visualise where the menu items will appear.

The Menu drop down gives you the ability to directly add to the that menu from the top main menu. I can see that some user testing / observing has brought this about because before it was 3 clicks away and something you do a lot as the site progresses. Listen to users, tick for Joomla.

Adding a menu got a lot easier too! Before you had to select the type and then go through all the details, now if you made a mistake or changed your mind you would have to go all the way back and start all over again. It was about 4 or 5 clicks before you were ready to add the menu item, now it is much more streamlined. Besides the type and the title the Joomla community have added a note field.

To the right we see a "Link Type Options" panel that does look very interesting. It allows you to put CSS hooks directly into the menu item, this can be really handy when you want to do something special. Further down we have the same options as before except at the end we have "Module Assignment for this Menu Item". When assigning a module a nice popup window appears but the state of its contents is something to be ashamed of. The text sizes are different the and the actual assignment (at least for the default instal) is an endless list of seemingly incoherent menu items. I think this should have been tabbed better or organised in stages at least.

Users in Joomla Group Together for Security – 6/10

User groups are an exciting concept if you are running a corporate site and a good way of keeping your site secure. Create the group, give it permissions and add users to that group. This way you can control groups of users much more easily. You now add groups directly from the top menu or within the User Management section.

When adding a section I noticed a common thread "Save and Add New", this is a great step forward literally with everything you can now do. It feels like everything is now geared to getting things done not just move stuff around. I likey!

Manage My Extensions – 3/10

What CMS would be a CMS without add-ons? Joomla certainly has it’s fair share, if not the most out of the top open source systems (if anyone has figures on this I would love to hear from you). Again this is a tedious and manual way of adding things to an online system. You must first find the extension, download it, upload it, enable it and play with it. Is it me or does that seem a long process, especially if you are simply wanting to try out an extension before you put it on the main / live site? Sorry Joomla but WordPress has this down and you are behind, please oh please make it so we can connect to the main extensions section of your site and install and activate? I have the feeling that due to the sheer amount of rubbish extensions polluting the Joomla community, this is going to be hard to achieve.

Note: I have not heard of any changes to the upgrade / update process, if it is the same, then -10 points straight away.

Do You Spreken? – 7/10

No news here except Joomla has done a good job of making language an intrinsic part of the core. The language files are easy to install and use and JoomFish is a great component that any self respecting multi-lingual site should have installed.

Conclusion about Joomla 1.6

Joomla is still a powerful CMS, the core is nice and works well but the issue I have always had is with the various plug-ins. I just don`t feel they are written to the same quality of say WordPress or Drupal. Some plug-ins really have a life of their own and finding the code that they spit out is like finding a needle in a giant haystack after 6 pints of Stella i.e. hard! As a designer I take great pleasure in making themes for Joomla, it is well developed and I would love to hear from Joomla Developers on how the new 1.6 is like to programme with.

Overall score : 7/10

Overall the new 1.6 version is a step in the right direction. The UI is much smoother, the new permissions are fantastically powerful, the multi-level categories give you freedom of content organisation and it is still a CMS that works with theme designers and developers.

Lastly if there is anything I have missed please put it in the comments below.

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