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Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition 69

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Michael J. Ross writes "There are countless content management systems (CMSs) available for building websites, and they offer varying levels of built-in functionality. But once a site developer has successfully installed any given CMS, a critical form of help (or hindrance) is the CMS's documentation, which for some CMSs is quite impressive, and for others absolutely atrocious. Joomla is a powerful and popular choice for Web developers, but can be daunting to newbies confused by its non-intuitive menu structure and restrictive content hierarchy. The documentation for Joomla is frequently criticized, for various reasons, and that may largely account for the popularity of third-party books — such as Barrie M. North's Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide, now in its second edition." Read on for the rest of Michael and Ethelyn's review.
Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition
author Barrie M. North
pages 480
publisher Prentice Hall
rating 9/10
reviewer Michael J. Ross and Ethelyn Holmes
ISBN 978-0137012312
summary A comprehensive introduction to creating sites using Joomla.
The book was published by Prentice Hall, on 1 June 2009, under the ISBN 978-0137012312. Just as with its predecessor, this updated edition spans 480 pages, and the material is grouped into 12 chapters: an introduction to CMSs in general and Joomla in particular; downloading and installing Joomla; basic Joomla administration; content management using Joomla; menus and navigation; enhancing Joomla functionality with extensions, components, modules, plug-ins, and templates; creation of content via the back-end and front-end; attracting Web traffic using SEO, referrals, and other techniques; how to create pure CSS templates; and building example websites for a school, a restaurant, and a blog. The book wraps up with four appendices on getting assistance with any Joomla development hurdles; four separate Joomla case studies; an introduction to SEO concepts; and installing WampServer.

On the book's Web page, the publisher makes available a description of the book, excerpts from Amazon.com reviews, the table of contents, and a sample chapter — "Creating Pure CSS Templates in Joomla!" — as both an online article and as a downloadable PDF file. There are also links for purchasing the print version, and for reading the Safari Books online version.

In conjunction with the book, Prentice Hall has published a DVD training course, titled Fundamentals of Joomla!, under the ISBN 978-0137017812. It consists of 13 lessons, spanning more than nine hours of video instruction. The DVD includes a bonus chapter explaining how to set up a membership site, not covered in the print book. The DVD disc is accompanied by a 128-page book, which includes all of the PHP and CSS code used in the training, plus additional material. As of this writing, Barnes & Noble is selling Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition and the video training course bundled together. Anyone purchasing the video course should be aware that Lesson #6 on the DVD has a compression problem, which causes a small lag between the audio and video streams. In response to this, Prentice Hall uploaded that particular lesson as a free download to the product's site, under the "Updates" tab. A multimedia training course such as this may be the ideal tool for someone who finds printed technical books to be rather dry, and prefers learning from audiovisual material.

In this review, we will be examining both the book and the DVD training course, as the two complement one another.

Barrie North is well regarded in the Joomla community, and for good reason. He frequently blogs about Joomla on the website of Compass Design, a consulting firm specializing in Joomla Web design and SEO. Joomla developers consider Compass Design's site a source for some of the most up-to-date information on the subject. Barrie also founded Joomlashack, a noted provider of Joomla templates and customization services. He has more than 15 years of Internet experience as a Web designer, plus over a decade of classroom teaching experience and curriculum development expertise. He consults on Web marketing, search engine optimization, usability, and standards compliance for Joomla. He's also a former member of the Joomla Design and Documentation Working Groups.

The title of his book's first chapter, "Content Management Systems and an Introduction to Joomla!," fairly describes what the reader will find. As a CMS, Joomla's primary function is to organize and present all the content stored in a site's database, avoiding the problems in the past of static HTML files. This chapter presents Joomla's out-of-the-box features and delineates its various parts, templates, and modules. The DVD mentioned above shows the differences between constructing an ordinary Web page with Dreamweaver and constructing one with Joomla. People who learn best visually should be pleased with this demonstration, as well as Barrie North's teaching approach. He holds one's attention with a friendly yet informative conversational style. This first chapter provides an in-depth tutorial that explains how Joomla displays its content articles, and how the developer can organize them into a hierarchical structure. It details how to plan and organize the content and user experience for the site. It also explains the hierarchy structure currently used in Joomla — sections and categories — and how to best structure content into them for small and large sites.

The second chapter, "Downloading and Installing Joomla!," gives the reader a very detailed explanation on how to get up and running with Joomla. It explains where one can find the most current Joomla files; how to unpack these files on a home computer or into a remote Web hosting account; how to use the Joomla Installation Wizard; and how one can support the Joomla project. Barrie states that the worst part of the Joomla installation process is setting up the MySQL database, and uploading all the files to a remote server. But for anyone who has performed those tasks with other software technologies, the process should not pose a problem.

Chapter 3, "Joomla! Administration Basics," shows how the power of the Joomla site administration system, despite its simplicity. Compared to such site administration systems as those for WebLogic and Oracle AS, Joomla's system is a piece of cake. Reader should find the DVD especially helpful during the presentation of the back-end, front-end, control panels, and menus — especially the demonstration and explanation of such topics as articles, the front page, sections, categories, and modules. Barrie also gives tips on how to import and export users to Joomla, and about language extensions.

The fourth chapter, "Content Is King: Organizing Your Content," is a substantial and key chapter for those building a site with Joomla. It delves into Joomla's so-called "managers": the Article Manager, Frontpage Manager, Section Manager, Category Manager, and Module Manager. The author explains how to organize content logically, and the role of components and modules. Someone new to Joomla could otherwise find the many components and modules confusing. Of course, one can play around with them, but it is much more efficient to learn what one is doing from an expert. He demonstrates the Custom HTML module very well, and in the DVD walks the viewer through the development of a site using it.

Creating menus and navigation in a CMS is often perplexing to the uninitiated, and that's the topic of Chapter 5. It covers how to work with menu items, and clears up the issue about how to get rid of the dreaded "Welcome to the Frontpage." It also gets into managing modules (as opposed to Chapter 4's managing module content). Barrie North states that menus are perhaps the core of a Joomla site. In a static HTML site, they merely serve as navigation; in a Joomla site, they not only serve that purpose, but also determine the layout of what a dynamic page will look like and what content will appear on that page when the visitor navigates to it. The relationships among menus, menu items, pages, and modules, are perhaps the most confusing aspect of Joomla. Newbies can find daunting why some menu content shows up in articles, and then how to get rid of it. In this chapter, the reader learns how to create a navigation scheme that works for a new site.

Chapter 6, "Extending Joomla!," explains why extensions are essential to any well-functioning Joomla site. Rare is the Joomla-powered website that has no additional functionality, beyond the basics. In the world of Joomla, the term "extension" collectively describes components, modules, plugins, and languages. There are many hundreds available, both free and commercially from third-party providers. This chapter covers the Joomla 1.5 core templates — Khepri, Milkyway, JA Purity, and Beez — as well as how to use third-party templates.

In Chapter 7, "Expanding Your Content: Articles and Editors," the author returns to the critical topic of content management — specifically, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing, and how it relates to the backend with what Joomla refers to as Managers, Administrators, and Super Administrators. Barrie North then examines how authors, editors, and publishers can manage content through the front-end, as well as how administrators can set various permissions through the Menu Managers. This is critical for the site developer who wants users to be able to update content in a controlled manner, without breaking other things (inadvertently or otherwise!). Quite useful is Joomla's "global checkout" feature, which allows only one user at a time the ability to lock and then edit articles, and, if necessary, fix problems with checked-out articles.

The most attractive and powerful Joomla site in the world will be useless without visitors. Chapter 8, "Getting Traffic to Your Site," benefits from the author's knowledge and experience in online marketing and search engine optimization. For instance, he explains why the developer should discourage clients who ask for Flash-heavy sites, because pages loaded down with Flash elements can discourage traffic, for various reasons. In the DVD training material, he presents a step-by-step process of bringing traffic to an example site, using Wordtracker and Google tools. He also shows how to use Google advertising tools such as AdWords and AdSense. Interestingly, Barrie North does not put too much stock in keywords and metadata, but rather emphasizes the use of page titles as traffic magnets. He argues in both the DVD and the book that while email blasts may be effective and popular marketing tools, they should be used with caution. He also covers how blogs are another useful method for bringing traffic to one's sites.

The final four chapters in the book are all hands-on application of concepts and lessons covered in the earlier part of the book — specifically, how to create pure CSS templates, and how to create the three sample sites (for a school, a restaurant, and a blog).

Appendix A provides information on getting help with Joomla. If one is interested in seeing how Joomla is used in the real world, then Appendix B should prove valuable, because it offers information on Joomla's usage for commercial and government websites. Appendix C provides a quick overview of search engine optimization. Appendix D goes into detail on WampServer installation, with corresponding illustrations.

The book contains some errata: "Cpanel" (pages 25, 27, and 289), and "add fee" (should read "ad fee"; page 218). Those errata were present in the first edition, and even pointed out to the publisher in an earlier review.

The book's material is organized so that the reader can utilize it as a tutorial, reading from cover to cover, or skim through and take what is needed at the moment. The introductory ideas in the earlier chapters are developed and built upon to help the reader understand more advanced concepts later on. The book can also be used as a reference. For instance, if the reader desires a quick overview of what newsletter extensions are available, Chapter 6 provides that information. Lastly, the appendices contain valuable extra information about various aspects of Joomla. The target audience does not have to understand PHP in order to read this book or work through the many examples. Each example is presented in a clear step-by-step fashion. If a reader were to implement all of the examples in her development environment, then she would gain the skills to be able to build a substantial website. The DVD has an extra chapter on building a membership site. If the reader would like to go into the business of creating Joomla templates, the author even has a chapter showing how to do just that.

Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition is to be recommended, particularly when matched with the DVD training course. Together they form a valuable reference guide and self-teaching tool, for newbies as well as seasoned website developers.

Michael J. Ross is a freelance website developer and writer. Ethelyn Holmes is a software and website developer — primarily using Java / J2EE and Joomla.

You can purchase Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition

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  • >daunting to newbies confused by its non-intuitive menu structure and restrictive content hierarchy

    Well, we've got to nip this sort of thing in the bud, otherwise, it's bound to start popping up all over the place, and we certainly don't want to see that happen.

  • by improfane (855034) on Monday August 24, 2009 @02:21PM (#29175815) Journal

    Joomla is very simple software to use.

    All you need to know about Joomla is:

    • articles go inside categories
    • categories go inside sections
    • menu items are the pages of a website
    • everything on the page is a module, even the menu
    • Each template has a number of positions that modules can go in
    • I'm surprised there is enough material to make a book on Joomla.

    • by oldspewey (1303305) on Monday August 24, 2009 @02:32PM (#29175963)
      Sounds like you're well on your way to writing your own Joomla book. You already appear to have the chapter outline sorted out.
    • by DeMechman (750857)
      I have been using Joomla for about 2 years and what you just wrote would have been nice to know up front. It is not simplistic if all the documentation seems to skip over very basic but important concepts. Joomla has come a long way but the non-intuitive naming of all the various components of a website make it near impossible for a novice to use without a lot of work.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Propaganda13 (312548)

        I wouldn't say impossible. The naming conventions cause you to click around a lot because it's not where you expected. Also there were certain parts that could be controlled in multiple areas. It definitely could have been made a lot more intuitive since it's supposed to allow almost anyone to run a site.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          I wouldn't say impossible.

          The OP didn't say "impossible" ; he said "near impossible".

          It definitely could have been made a lot more intuitive since it's supposed to allow almost anyone to run a site.

          Strongly agreed - I've been trying to fit "learning Joomla" into my busy schedule for around a year now, and it's almost as intuitive as picking up a mouse in one hand and using it to manipulate a pointer on a screen several feet awat from the mouse. (Note : I learned computing by putting my coding sheets into th

          • I agree that Jommla! has a bit of a learning curve, but the best place to start (I found) is:

            </BLOCKQUOTE>

            It should all be smooth sailing from there.
    • by popo (107611)

      I don't know anything about Joomla, but even the simplified version you just wrote sounds needlessly confusing: Articles, sections and categories? Can I have categories that are subsections of other categories?

      From my very, very noob perspective: (I am not a Joomla user) this seems like a needlessly rigid way of describing a standard nested hierarchy: Why not call anything that holds anything a "folder", and call all documents of any kind "articles". Then organize your "folders" by numbers or letters d

      • by rho (6063)

        Drupal basically does this. The taxonomy system of Drupal is one of the most confusing parts of it.

        Too much granularity on a Web site can get hairy very quickly. Rigidity isn't all bad.

      • I don't know anything about Joomla, but even the simplified version you just wrote sounds needlessly confusing:

        It gets a lot worse. There's things called "mambots".

      • by leamanc (961376)

        Wish I had my mod points right now, as I would give you a +1 Insightful, good sir. You have articulated my whole problem with Joomla. The basic concepts are made needlessly complicated, with terminology that is counter-intuitive.

        As others say below, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If you want to do anything beyond the basic functionality described in the GP post, you get into mambots, and that's a whole other system to learn, just to get things done.

        If you ask me, the point of a CMS is to make it si

    • Your summary takes the mystery out basic Joomla very succinctly.

      But, the strength of Joomla is its reliance on PHP and CSS to create disciplined and efficient templates for database-driven commercial web sites. Does anyone have recommendations for books/sites that dig deeper into PHP and CSS techniques for producing insanely great Joomla templates and sites? Even most un-free Joomla templates are little more than rectangular puzzle boards with your choice of yucky colors...

      Also... how does Joomla scale?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by roadsider (970039)

      I taught myself just about every software package that I use, and as a graphic and interactive designer, I've used a lot of them. Learning one made it easier to learn the next, and I've always had little patience for tutorials and manuals. Hell, I've even installed a Microsoft Small Business Server and I primarily use Macs. I usually referred to a manual only when I got stuck. Yes, I'm one of those types of end users.

      When I made the decision to steer my shop to using and deploying Joomla, I embarked on a

      • Types of users! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by improfane (855034)

        Interesting, have you used Drupal before? I tried using Drupal and found my experience to be the reverse: you have to create the taxonomy by yourself. In Joomla, they make a very basic (two level) hierarchy for you. I do not think there is actually much difference between a section and a category!

        Granted, I've only been using Joomla for about three weeks now. I was given good piece of advice by a local web development company the site was inherited from. This is very important in understanding Joomla's des

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Swampash (1131503)

        I have administered (and currently administer) a number of sites for various clients across a wide range of publishing systems - flat html, php, various CMSes running on Linux, UNIX, and Windows servers.

        I cannot find the words to convey the depth of the loathing I feel for Joomla. It embodies the worst of Open Source - as if it were written by a million angsty teenagers suffering from ADHD, with duplicated functionality across a hundred different modules, little or no sensible documentation, and the usabili

    • I agree. Joomla! is very easy to use, and a pleasure to work with.
    • No, it's bloated. It's not easy at all, and this poor organization makes it impossible to work for big sites. I'm not even talking about security issues, and the fact that Joomla is so slow to deliver the content.
    • by centuren (106470)

      Joomla is very simple software to use.

      All you need to know about Joomla is:

      • articles go inside categories
      • categories go inside sections
      • menu items are the pages of a website
      • everything on the page is a module, even the menu
      • Each template has a number of positions that modules can go in
      • I'm surprised there is enough material to make a book on Joomla.

      You left out extensions. In my experience every one who commissions or sets up a Joomla site wants to customize it with non-core extensions. Then they frequently want to customize the extensions themselves, to deal with things such as broken design continuity brought on by incorporating the new modules. Using Joomla as it arrives "out of the box" is easy, but that neglects to cover a huge range of actual Joomla use, which can become quite complicated.

      Rather than a lack of book worth material, it's almost li

  • Finally!! This one is sure to be a real page turner. I hope it comes on audiobook so I can listen to it while stuck in traffic!

  • Wow, look at the current front page!. It's like an RSS of op-eds. Everything is either an announcement, or covering of some event, or something like that. Now, I don't mind an slashvertisement now and then, but this is becoming too much.

  • If Joomla is an example of one with bad documentation, which ones are well documented and easy to use?

    • by dageyra (1246952)
      http://modxcms.com/ [modxcms.com] is the light and all that is good and righteous in the world. can you tell i'm slightly biased?
      • Looks nice. I've just started poking around in Wordpress, but I might check out this one next. My question to you (and anybody else who might read this) now is: Do you have any suggestion for a CMS that does version management (like MediaWiki, but perhaps with better interface)?

        It's a slight relief that I'm not the only one who's had problem with CMS:es. I've tried Joomla, Drupal and Movable Type. All three got the better of me.

        • by beguyld (732494)

          You might look at MindTouch (http://www.mindtouch.com/) It was forked from MediaWiki a long while back, and has version management, access control, etc. The Mozilla org just switched developer.mozilla.org to use it.

          It seems very well designed, but lately there is a huge push for businesses to pay thousands for the licensed edition. Still, there is a community edition, and the core of it is open source.

        • by rainbird (166919)

          Joomla does have a plugin for versioning. It is called ERM Version Control. Marketed in the US by anything-digital.com. It works really nice, though I wish it had better merge capability, where I could easier choose what updates I want to keep and what I would like to backout. All in all I am happy. I have a Joomla site with about 2000 pages with maybe two dozen people who have edit rights.

    • Wordpress.

      I have never looked at the documentation, but the interface is intuitive and easy to use. I've got a few gripes though, such as the default theme being fixed-width, but I have never found anything better.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Degro (989442)
        Wordpress isn't really a CMS in the same vein as Joomla! It's very flexible blogging software.
    • Check it out at: http://www.interspire.com/websitepublisher/ [interspire.com]

      I went through an eval of Joomla. Definitely not well documented and rather difficult to use.

      I went with InterSpire's Website Publisher instead. It costs $400-$500, but the documentation is much more detailed and overall much easier to use than Joomla. I like the fact that its templates are an actual HTML file that you can edit by example, instead of the PHP/HTML coding you need to do for Joomla. It seems to be based on the same open PHP/MySQL

  • by himitsu (634571) on Monday August 24, 2009 @02:52PM (#29176205)
    I own the first edition of the book and it's helped me understand the way that Joomla structures things in a way I don't think I could have by just pushing through the documentation.

    That being said, I don't really get how this was a review as much as an overview. I don't need to know chapter by chapter what the contents of the book are; I want to have a general sense of the style and the method that the author presents the material. It's good to see an author on /. that I actually know of but this really wasn't what I expected.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Slashdot "reviews" haven't really progressed beyond the third-grade book report level. I got bored in just the first sentence. My three-year-old daughter can weave a better book report, even if it'll have some nonsense like macaroni climbing a mountain to look for treasure in the jungle.

    • Good book, so-so review, passable review of the review (good point, but not very original).
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Step 1: Don't

    Step 2: There is no step 2!

    • by Swampash (1131503)

      Joomla is evil. That's all there is to it. The only way to get the functionality you would ever really need beyond basic content management is to pay large sums of money for commercial modules. The community is huge in the worst possible way. There are a million modules for one problem and it is near impossible to find the right one.

      The interface is deplorable. None of the methods of content management make any sense, and it is obviously not meant to be user friendly considering

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The correct url for the sample site is http://www.simplweb.com/restaurant note you had an extra E in your url.

  • robot that sweeps floors, or is that the one that cleans gutters?
  • Restaurant Link (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for the detailed review Michael and Ethelyn

    The link to the restaurant package is:
    http://www.simplweb.com/restaurant (no "e")

    Barrie North

  • Drupal (Score:2, Informative)

    by Degro (989442)
    Joomla! is terrible, and 1.5 has been floating around a long time. This guy sure took his sweet time writing the book. Luckily for him Joomla! development seems to move at a snails pace. Drupal is so much better in every way that I've needed to use these free PHP CMSes, especially when it comes to custom module and theme development.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FlyingGuy (989135)

      Don't blow Drupal's trumpet to very loudly. I have a drupal site that fell into my lap and it has been an abosulte PITA. Their "API" is horrible. Building a modules for that beast is NOT trivial and involves so much that is completely undocumented. Even using other modules that "work" and trying to reverse engineer those to begin to understand their API is just as time consuming and difficult.

      My guess is that most of these CMS systems started out as nice little projects that got popular, and now suffer

  • I agree with the above post. Joomla is terrible. It's not only that it has been full of security issues, but also it's very difficult to use, and slow. Here's what I think in more details.

    The goal of a CMS is to make it easy to edit a website. Truth is, it's more easy to learn HTML than to learn Joomla itself. Joomla hides what is behind it and especially HTML which is very hard to edit, makes it very easy to loose track of the hierarchy of the site by spreading the content across 100s of articles. It's t
    • At least they are paying lip service to security.

    • by Gramie2 (411713)

      You could use Apache Lenya, a CMS that uses a Java backend and spits out XML files and the associated XSLT. Then again, I have heard a lot more complaints about Lenya than compliments.

      One of the big advantages (in my view) is that XML/XSLT is far, far less vulnerable (have there been any?) to an attack than any PHP, ColdFusion, Java, or the like.

    • by oatworm (969674)
      I've been fiddling with Drupal, Wordpress, and even Alfresco (*shudder*) for a while now and, honestly, the only CMS that I can say is easy to use or even remotely intuitive is Wordpress. Drupal isn't too bad once you wrap your head around how it works, and it's certainly far more flexible than Wordpress ever will be. That said, Drupal is a big, big beast, and if you're not willing or able to spend the time learning its various nooks and crannies, you'll get lost in a hurry. In many respects, it's a lot
    • by centuren (106470)

      I agree with the above post. Joomla is terrible. It's not only that it has been full of security issues, but also it's very difficult to use, and slow. Here's what I think in more details.

      Terrible code has also been a common issue with Joomla (although often one can group that in with it being slow). Being contracted to set up a Joomla site for an organization falls into two categories:

      1) It's explicitly clear that the base install is what they get, with a template applied as it comes. Project over, the rest is up to the client. Verdict: EASY MONEY

      2) The client requires multiple extensions installed and integrated into a cohesive website and design, with customizations required to polish off

  • The summary doesn't cover one topic that everyone who uses Joomla is aware of: Lack of access control that allow groups and sub-groups to be setup that control content and menu access. Joomla 1.5 did not do anything to add this from 1.0.x. Granted, there are several add-ons that try to bolt access control on to the core, but they all fall short in some way. I still use Joomlla 1.0.x because the one extension that really did an OK job changed it's licensing for 1.5. I wonder if the book goes into any de
  • I'm amazed at how quickly I was able to set up Joomla for the first time. Including the server install time, I had it up and running in record time. Here [clarkconnect.com] are the steps I used to install it on ClearOS/ClarkConnect in case it is useful for anyone.

It is better to give than to lend, and it costs about the same.

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