Joomla! Upgrade - Pros and Cons

More than two years after it's last major version was released, the Web CMS project Joomla! has announced the beta version of its next major release (1.6).

For an open source project, that's a lot of time between two versions. There have also been concerns raised about transparency and governance within Open Source Matters (OSM), the not-for-profit that manages the Joomla! project. However, with a new leadership team and much awaited release of Joomla 1.6, things seem to be back on track for the project.

First, the good things. The new release has made numerous improvements, many of which are subtle - enhancements to extensions manager, new templates out-of-the-box, newly written menu system, general refactoring, and performance improvements, among others.

However, some bigger changes - about which we have detailed in our WCM research before -- and the ones that add some enterprise capabilities to Joomla are:

  1. New Access Control System: In Joomla 1.5, you had fixed Groups, fixed access levels, and a fixed relationship between Groups and Access Levels. A user could only be assigned to one Group. Version 1.6 changes all that - you can have any number of Groups, Access Levels and can assign your users to multiple groups. There are also changes to how permissions work and in particular, the way you can inherit permissions and have a hierarchy could be very useful for more advanced scenarios.
  2. No more Sections: In Joomla 1.5, the way to categorize content was based on Category and Sections. 1.6 does away with Sections but you can have a category tree - as deep as you want to organize your content. However, the old limitation that one article can only belong to one category still remains.
  3. Form API: A new form API allows developers to customize the forms that makeup the back-end. So now you can have your own custom fields in forms such as the content entry form. While this in no way comes close to the ability to define custom content types (such as those in Drupal using CCK), it does make it easy for an extension developer to create an extension that allows you to customize your content entry screens.

And now the not so good things. If you are currently running Joomla 1.5, now is the time to start thinking of implications and things that you need to plan for. Consider the following changes:

  • Joomla 1.5 supported a legacy mode that allowed you to run extensions written for older versions. This will no longer be supported and you will need to ensure all your extensions support the new version. So start pushing the individual extension developers to make sure the extensions are upgraded.
  • Joomla 1.6 requires considerably higher resources in terms of PHP and MySQL. So make sure your host supports the new requirements
  • While having nested categories is a good addition, the fact that there will be no sections means the URLs will have to undergo a change. There might be implications on your SEO initiatives and general content migration issues.
  • The new ACL and Security system allows for a very fine grained access control mechanism. But with flexibility comes complexity and you will need to invest significant efforts to plan how you would want to structure who can view what. And if you are an Joomla 1.5 and want to take advantage of the new access control mechanism, you will need to map your existing users/roles to the new ones in Joomla 1.6 and this could again have an impact on your migration planning

So while the new release does add a lot of new features, make sure you plan well in advance, especially if you are dependent on third party developers for extensions or have a lot of content to migrate.

Perhaps more generally, this release takes Joomla! more in the direction of enterprisey use-cases.  However, to the extent that it doesn't quite get there on several fronts -- and yet has become more complicated -- Joomla! risks becoming a kind of uncomfortable middle for you: no longer the simple product its many adherents love, but not quite durable enough for most larger organizational scenarios. 

We cover more details about this as well as about the forthcoming releases of other Open Source products including eXo, JBoss and GateIn in our regular updates to the Portals and WCM evaluation research.

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iStudio Canada Inc.

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