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Choosing an open-source CMS, part 2: Why we use Joomla

Two companies decide that Joomla has the feature set and usability they need for their websites.

February 19, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - In this, the second installment of our three-part series on finding the best open-source content management system (CMS) for your needs, we asked two organizations that use Joomla to explain why they felt that Joomla was the best choice for them, how the transition went, and whether they're happy with the results.

(To find out why other users chose Drupal or WordPress, be sure to check out part 1 and part 3 of this series.)

Joomla hasn't been around as long as WordPress or Drupal -- the first version debuted in 2005 when it split off from the Mambo open-source community. The Joomla community stakes its claim in the middle ground between its two open-source competitors: the sophisticated but complex Drupal and the more accessible WordPress. It offers an ease of use closer to that of WordPress while delivering some of Drupal's power and flexibility, according to Paul Orwig, president of Open Source Matters, the nonprofit that supports the Joomla open source initiative.

As a result, it has become the second most popular open-source CMS in use today. According to Web technology tracker W3Techs, as of Feb. 1 about 2.7% of all websites use Joomla. This is in comparison to WordPress at 17.4% and Drupal at 2.3%. According to Open Source Matters, as of November 2012, Joomla had been downloaded more than 36 million times, including more than 9.5 million in the previous 12 months -- a 27% increase.

[For in-depth reviews of these three open-source content management systems, see Site builder shootout: Drupal vs. Joomla vs. WordPress. Since that article was written, Joomla was upgraded; for a look at the new version, check out Joomla 3.0 review: Making way for mobile. Looking for development tools? Try 10 Joomla extension modules for easier and better websites.]

Joomla's committee-based governance model, born out of a secessionist movement from the Mambo Foundation, includes many passionate, independent thinkers, according to Paul Orwig, president of Open Source Matters. The community has experienced some violent disagreements over direction in the past, and with no benevolent dictator to make the final call, those disagreements have led to delays.

Despite that, the community released Joomla 3.0 last fall and has committed to issuing major updates every 18 months, with interim releases every six months for early adopters and developers. "We have to walk this balance between empowering everyone's ideas and at the end of the day releasing software every six months," Orwig says.

The latest version, Joomla 3.0, supports 68 languages, has more than 10,000 extensions available and offers state-of-the-art capabilities for developing mobile-friendly websites.

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Joomla: Pros, cons and what's coming

Beginnings: Fork of Mambo in 2005
Installed base: 2.7% of installed sites (according to W3Techs)

Pros: Joomla could be a good fit for organizations that don't have a dedicated IT department, according to Paul Orwig, president of Open Source Matters. "It's an easier way for folks who aren't full-time Internet experts to create their own full-featured websites," he says.

Joomla's latest 3.0 release delivers out-of-the-box support for mobile users. While most open-source CMSs support MySQL, Joomla recently added support for PostgreSQL, as well as commercial offerings such as Microsoft SQL Server, Azure cloud services and Oracle. It also supports 68 different languages and offers a choice of 10,000 different extensions -- less than either Drupal or WordPress, but impressive nonetheless.

Cons: Not everything in Joomla is WordPress-easy. While the permissions system, called the access control system, is powerful, it can be cumbersome without some tweaking. Third-party extensions can help with that, Orwig says.

In addition, Joomla's committee-based approach to governance has not always served it well and has at times stalled decision-making. "People involved in Joomla want to have a say in the direction. They are passionate and independent thinkers," Orwig says. But they don't always agree. "In fact, sometimes they violently disagree," he adds.

The community has worked on improving processes and has pulled together around a new release schedule that includes minor releases every six months and a major revision every 18 months to which large production websites can transition.

Finally, Joomla extensions don't always play well together -- something that can happen in other communities as well. "Even though all of the extensions will work perfectly within Joomla, the left hand doesn't always know what the right is doing," Orwig says. For example, a photo gallery extension might not integrate seamlessly with a shopping cart extension.

What's coming: Joomla is now available both as the Joomla CMS and as a general Web development platform called the Joomla Platform. The latter is a PHP framework that lets developers create standalone applications that can run on desktops, tablets, smartphones or in the cloud. While the Joomla Platform and Joomla CMS are separate projects, the Joomla CMS is an application that runs on top of the Joomla Platform.

Joomla 3 introduced a full front end for end users, a new back end for website developers and administrators, and mobile support via an integrated Bootstrap framework.

"We also added a new back-end administrator interface," Orwig says, which has created a foundation for the overall user experience. "I expect we will see lots of enhancements and innovation that will continue building on that foundation, including more consistent user interfaces with the thousands of Joomla extensions," he adds.

Orwig says that it's too early to say what will be coming in Joomla 4, but working groups are forming around several initiatives. For example, he says, "We are exploring new ways of organizing and accessing content and simplifying how extensions are installed."

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