The Joomla! developers have had to overcome bad press. Joomla's popularity exploded back in 2008 with Joomla 1.5. After that, there were no significant updates to the Joomla platform for about 3 years. During that time of darkness other CMSs began catching up to and passing Joomla. Users began switching away from Joomla to other platforms, namely Wordpress. A lot has changed since 2008. Below are a list of strengths and weaknesses of the latest version of Joomla, 3.0.
|Robust Core of features||Blogging features are a little sub-par|
|New user-friendly back-office design||Can be overwhelming for the beginner|
|No HTML knowledge needed, but is very helpful||Custom programming can be expensive|
|Tons of plugins and templates|
|Large support community|
|Mobile-ready design out of the box|
|Access Control Lists|
A little Joomla history
In January 2011, Joomla 1.6 was released which was a significant upgrade to the Joomla core. These changes included a new user-friendly interface, streamlined code, increased security, and search engine optimization. Probably the most significant addition was Access Control List, which controls what users can see and do on your website. Soon after that Joomla 1.7 was released in July 2011, with enhancements and bug fixes. Joomla 2.5 was released in January 2012. In Joomla 2.5 the ACL was beefed up. The latest version, Joomla 3 was released in September 2012. That too was a significant upgrade in the core, adding many new features including built-in mobile-ready design, thanks to Twitter's Bootstrap platform.
Managing a Joomla site
When you first login to the Joomla 3 Control Panel, you will see a dramatically redesigned layout from all the previous versions. There are now multiple ways to access commonly used functions. You'll find a submenu on the left, quick icons on the right, and your latest articles in the center. Across the top of the control panel, you'll find all of the same links and more in the main navigation bar.
Adding content to a Joomla site
Adding new content for your website is pretty easy. For the Wordpress user, Joomla doesn't differentiate between a page and a post. Joomla refers to content as an article. So if you'd like to add a new page or blog post just click "Add new article" under the quick icons section to the right. Once there, type in the title of the article and select a category. Just below that is your editor window. In there, you can write, copy, paste in your content. You can add images through the editor or through the "Images and Links" feature, which you'll find by scrolling down. On the right is the details section. Here you can Publish/Unpublish an article, set who can see your article, make it a featured article, and add tags. After that, click the green "Save" buton and you're done!
One feature I'd like to see is an article preview feature that allows you to see your article before you publish it to your website. This is a weakness in my estimation. Also, the built-in blogging features although very helpful, are a bit lacking. I know that that the good people over at Joomla headquarters are working to make Joomla even better every day. Fortunately for Joomla users, you can get a free add-on called K2 which is a fully featured blogging platform and Content Construction Kit or a CCK.
Once the article is created and saved, you now have to link it to a menu so a visitor can access your wonderful content. Unlike some other CMSs, your article doesn't automatically publish to your homepage, or any other page, unless you tell Joomla to do that. So the next step is to go to the main navigation bar at the top of your screen. Go to Menus, Main Menu, and click Add New Menu Item. Click the blue select button. Then click "Articles" then "Single Article." Give your new menu item a title (e.g. About Us). Then click the green "Save" button. That's it.
There are an extensive amount of features on the "Add New Article" and "Add New Menu Item" pages which are beyond the scope of this blog post. If you want to know more, you will have to explore on your own by visiting Joomla.org.
Modules, Components, and Plugins
Another feature that gets a lot of attention in Joomla is the module. Modules are like widgets in Wordpress. They are boxes of website goodness that can display just about anything like text, images, ads, videos, twitter feeds, etc. For example most websites have a sidebar or side-panel on the left and/or right side of a webpage filled with ads and social media stuff. The sidebar would be a module position and one ad would be a module in that position. The great thing about modules is that you can place them in any module position that is available in your chosen template. You can even embed a module in an article. This powerful and cost effective feature allows you to create different layouts on every page of your website without hiring a developer to do it for you.
Another way you can add more functionality to your Joomla site is to install a component. Earlier I mentioned K2 for blogging. There are many types of components you can install on your Joomla site. The functionalities are endless, literally. You can add SEO, eCommerce, learning libraries, directories, classified ads, catalogs, podcasts, etc. If you can't find a component in the Joomla Extension Directory (JED), you can hire a developer to create one for you.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention plugins. Joomla plugins allow you to add little features like social media buttons, popup windows, foreign languages, and others that don't necessarily require a module position and aren't as complex as components. They extend the functionality of your website in small, yet significant ways.
Some critiques of Joomla
With all of these features and functionality available in a Joomla site, a website owner can get overwhelmed rather quickly with Joomla. Some may see this as a strength, but it is also a weakness in a way. If you're managing your own site, you can easily spend countless hours just learning your way around Joomla. Another weakness of the Joomla platform is that the interface or control panel has almost too many links and buttons. I personally think the user interface is smartly done, but this is not for every website owner.
Joomla may be too complex
Another weakness is that the Joomla developers have decided to disqualify and eliminate a lot of extensions (modules, components, and plugins) from their directory. They have placed stringent requirements on these extensions mainly for security reasons. This also means that it takes longer and can be pretty expensive to develop new extensions for Joomla. Quite frankly I think this is a strength that makes your Joomla website more secure. One Joomla developer I spoke to called the Joomla platform convoluted.
It's clear that the good people over at Joomla headquarters aren't trying to simplify Joomla. Their response to the years of darkness was to add more built-in features and make the platform more complex. Since I'm a website developer, I appreciate the complexities of Joomla. But most website owners aren't developers. So if you're considering Joomla, it's best to hire a webmaster or website developer to build and manage the site for you. This person can set up the control panel so that you can add or update content yourself and also provide services like updating the site and backing it up. They can also provide custom programming services.
Unfortunately, I couldn't go much deeper into the analysis of Joomla because that would make this post super long, as if this wasn't a long post already. I wanted to highlight some of the features that a business owner could appreciate. Hopefully this will help you, the website owner, make an informed decision on the right Content Management System for your website needs.