Joomla, a Mid-Range CMS

Logo Joomla

Joomla is a PHP-based CMS that still enjoys widespread use despite its advancing age. In fact, Joomla is popular world-wide, except, oddly, in North America. Joomla, the second-most used CMS, is losing ground to front-runner WordPress, not due to any intrinsic problem but simply because of WordPress’s growing popularity. Joomla sits mid-way between WordPress and Drupal: more versatile than the former, less complex than the latter.

Joomla was born in 2005 when it forked off from Mambo, a now-defunct CMS released in 2002. The split occurred when members of the Mambo Open Source team disagreed on ownership of the brand and interpretations of the open-source concept. The dissenting members of the team created a not-for-profit company pointedly called Open Source Matters (“OSM”) to release Joomla, from the Swahili word “jumla” (an East African Bantu language), meaning sum, assembly, whole. Version 1.0, launched on September 2, 2005, was in fact a rebranding of the latest version of Mambo.

Joomla backend

Joomla competently handles multiple languages and versions while providing granular access control lists (ACLs) which, combined with superior user management, meets the needs of groups and enterprises that don’t require sophisticated workflows. User authentification is possible through a choice of protocols, such as LDAP, OpenID, and even Gmail.

The backend is clean and tidy but sometimes perplexing, with simple actions requiring special training in Joomla logic. Also, navigation isn’t the most intuitive. Joomla isn’t as user-friendly as WordPress; integrators and developers quickly discover that Joomla’s complex structure requires a steep learning curve before they can start personalizing. To make matters worse, OSM’s documentation is not the best, and rarely keeps up. For example, Joomla newcomers will find that the tutorials are almost always “under construction”, with the latest version dating back to… two years ago.

Compared to WordPress, Joomla is a true, versatile CMS designed without the constraints of blog logic. Complex file systems are easy to set up, posts and pages are not differentiated, and visible content can be defined on a page-by-page basis (for example, author’s name, publication date).

Joomla is much more powerful and granular than WordPress on many levels, but the flip side is that it is so much more complex, both for posters and for administrators or developers. The administrative interface would gain from further user-experience-focused design work, though, in fairness, the CMS has come a long way over the last few years.

One of Joomla’s best features is its vibrant, open and welcoming worldwide community. Its forum is quick to answer questions, and sub-forums have developed in many languages, the most active being Danish, Swedish, Thai and Arabic. One of Joomla’s weaknesses seems to be a lack of vision, dynamism, and clear direction.

To help you decide if Joomla is for you, OSM offers a free 90-day hosted trial period, which gives you plenty of time to make up your mind while avoiding the hassle of installing. A 90-minute trial is also available absolutely registration-free.

In short, Joomla is the Swiss Army Knife of CMSs: jack-of-all-trades, master of none. As a compromise solution, it will appeal to those who find WordPress too flimsy and Drupal too heavy.

The Rap-Up

“Joomla ! la la - It’s a Geek Thing!” (2010), rap song by TurtleApps.