Joomla! development news: an interview with Jen Kramer, lynda.com author

Published by | Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Learn how to make this web site in Joomla! 1.6 Essential Training with Joomla! author Jen Kramer.

As part of our ongoing training courses on content management systems, we’re soon to release a new course, Joomla! 1.6 Essential Training. If you’ve been watching Joomla! 1.6 Beta Preview, that course will be coming off of the Library soon and replaced with Joomla! 1.6 Essential Training.

I had a chance to catch up with author Jen Kramer to talk to her about her experience with this software. She described the planned evolution of Joomla releases. I thought our members would like to hear about this unusual development plan.

Q: So what you’re saying is that Joomla 1.6 will evolve into 1.7. Then, Joomla 1.5 and Joomla 1.7 will merge together into Joomla 1.8. Is that right?

Well, not quite. Joomla’s development path has become considerably more complicated than it has been in the past.

These are all individual releases. Each release builds on the one before it. Joomla 1.5 will continue, parallel to Joomla 1.6 > 1.7. Then they will merge into 1.8

A full description of Joomla’s release plan is available at http://developer.joomla.org/strategy.html

Up until the release of Joomla 1.6, Joomla based their releases on feature sets. When the features were done, the software was released. Unfortunately, in an all-volunteer community (no one is paid for Joomla core development at this time), this lead to a very long time between releases. Joomla 1.5 was released in January 2008. Joomla 1.6 was released in January 2011—three years later.

Joomla has now moved to a time-based release cycle, which includes short-term (STR) and long-term support (LTS). Short-term releases will be in active development for 6 months, then reach the end of life 1 month after the next version’s release. Long-term support means the product will be good for a minimum of 15 months. The previously supported long term release will be supported for 3 months past the release of the new long term release.

Here’s a table describing key dates over the next year for Joomla’s release and support cycle.

Release Name Type of Release Release Date End of Life
Joomla 1.5 LTS January 2008 April 2012
Joomla 1.6 STR January 2011 August 2011
Joomla 1.7 STR July 2011 February 2012
“Joomla 1.8” LTS January 2012 Unknown – at least 15 months

“Joomla 1.8” is what many people are calling the next LTS version of Joomla, but it’s not known what its exact name will be.

Q: What should people think about if they are deciding between Joomla 1.5 and Joomla 1.6 at this time for a new web site?

I would point to the schedule, and be very sure to factor this into your thinking. August is not far away (even though it feels like it, due the many feet of snow on the ground here in New Hampshire).

I have talked with a number of people in Joomla’s leadership. They have stated that migration from Joomla 1.6 to 1.7, then 1.7 to 1.8 will not be that difficult. They have also promised a migration tool for Joomla 1.6 to 1.7. There is no official Joomla migration tool available for Joomla 1.5 to 1.6 from Joomla.org; however, there is a third party tool available (http://www.matware.com.ar/joomla/jupgrade.html).

Easy migrations, unfortunately, are not borne out in past history in the Joomla project. I do not want to be in a position of building a site for a client in Joomla 1.6, only to tell them a short time later that I must upgrade their site to a new version—at some additional, and potentially significant, cost. If that cost is small, I’m fine with it, but again, the history points to difficulty in migrating.

If you’re building a new site in Joomla, and you really need one of the major new features in Joomla 1.6, you should definitely consider building there. In my mind, those new features are ACL (Access Control Levels), significantly improved accessibility in Joomla’s back end with the Hathor template, or possibly some of the templating features. The nested categories feature is flagged as a major new feature, but you can replicate that functionality easily in Joomla 1.5 with K2, Zoo, or another CCK (content construction kit) extension. If nested categories is all you need, I’d stick with 1.5.

I have said publicly, on my blog, that my company is still building sites in Joomla 1.5. That is not because Joomla 1.6 isn’t a great product. It’s got some absolutely fabulous new features we would love to use. But due to our concern over future migrations and support for them, we will stick with Joomla 1.5 for now.

Q: What should people think about if they are deciding to migrate a site from Joomla 1.5 to Joomla 1.6?

If you have an existing Joomla 1.5 site, and it’s working great for you, I would tell you NOT to migrate to 1.6. There’s absolutely no reason to do so in February 2011. However, you should be planning for February 2012, when you should definitely be migrating your site to Joomla 1.8.

Q: What kind of projects would be best for Joomla 1.5 versus Joomla1.6?

If you have a site that needs to comply with certain accessibility guidelines like Section 508 or WCAG, Joomla 1.6 is the way to go, no question. This is particularly true if the back end of the web site must meet accessibility guidelines. My good friend Andrea Tarr, who created the Hathor administrator template, tells me that it meets the WCAG 2.0 AA specification.

If you need the ability for many groups of users to see different content on the front end of the site, or if you need fine-grained control over who can create/edit/delete which content on the back end of the site, I would also go with Joomla 1.6. The new ACL (Access Control Levels) system is extremely powerful. (In fact, it’s so powerful that it’s possible to lock yourself out of the back end.) There’s not much documentation for ACL at this time, so be careful if you need to use the system. However, you can make Joomla do whatever you want where this is concerned.

Finally, if you have a project with fairly complicated templating, including a number of different variables for look and feel, you might be better off with Joomla 1.6.

Joomla 1.5 did a great job with templates, allowing you to override core output via a template override. However, a template override affects all views tied to that look. For example, if you override the look of a category blog, then every category blog on the site takes on that new look.

Layout overrides, available in Joomla 1.6, allow you to override the look of a specific instance of a category blog (or anything else).

You’ve always had the ability to set up parameters associated with your template. For example, you could configure a color style (tied to a specific stylesheet), configure a logo or title for the site, things like that. These vary with the specific type of template installed. You can see an example of this if you look at Joomla’s core rhuk_milkyway or JA_Purity templates in Joomla 1.5.

Template styles, new in Joomla 1.6, allow you to configure these parameters for specific pages. Now you have an easy way to make these pages red, those pages blue, and other pages green — all from a single template source, and all completely configurable by your client. You can assign a template style in the menu item for a given page, so your clients can handle setting up new pages with styles you configured for them. (Combine this with ACL, and you can lock the clients out of the template area, so they can’t change your configuration settings.) So if you’re building a template with a theme that lends itself to parameters and options, then Joomla 1.6 is also a good choice for you.

Q: What are some of the most engaging uses of Joomla you’ve seen?

Joomla is in use in 20 million sites worldwide. It powers 2.5% of the web. So that’s a pretty tough call, determining which sites are the most engaging.

If you’re looking for great examples of Joomla websites, check out the Joomla Showcase, which features sites built by community members in a variety of areas and languages.

Steve Burge has done a series of blog posts profiling some big names using Joomla for their sites, including eBay; General Electric; Palm; the governments of the UK, Australia, Mongolia, and Ethiopia; Pizza Hut; McDonald’s; and many others. You can read more at http://community.joomla.org/labels/joomla-portfolio.html.

Q: What foundation skills would people need to get the most out of Joomla! 1.6 Essential Training?

I’ve targeted Joomla! 1.6 Essential Training to those who have some experience building websites before, whether that’s with Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or another CMS. Mostly, that’s due to the language I use in the course. For example, I assume you know what the words HTML and CSS mean, if I used those terms in a sentence. However, there’s little coding in this title. Mostly it’s button-clicking, showing you how to set up a site from start to finish.

Q: What other related courses do you have in the Online Training Library®?

I have some other titles that may interest readers. They may already be familiar with Joomla 1.5: Creating and Editing Custom Templates and Joomla 1.5: Styling with CSS.

My favorite title is Web site Strategy and Planning, which covers how to plan a web site before you ever start clicking around.

And Preparing CMS Web Graphics and Layouts Using Open Source Tools shows all of the prep work, getting a comp ready for conversion to a CMS template or theme, using GIMP (an open source substitute for Photoshop) and KompoZer (an open source substitute for Dreamweaver).

Q: One question I’ve always wondered about. Why the exclamation mark?

Yeah, they weren’t really thinking clearly when they did that. In general, people use the exclamation point in the titles/headlines of articles, but not in the main text.

Author Jen Kramer will be hosting Joomla User Group New England on April 2, 2011 at Marlboro College Graduate School. You are welcome to join members of the Joomla leadership, business owners and instructors to learn the latest skills and techniques used in Joomla 1.6. For more info, go to www.joomladaynewengland.org.

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7 Responses to “Joomla! development news: an interview with Jen Kramer, lynda.com author”

  1. Hussain says:

    I do not know if it is me who is stupid or those who decide version releases of Joomla…

    If Joomla 1.5 is still will be developed parallel to 1.6 and then parallel to 1.7 and then all the garbage will be migrated to the heroic version 1.8 then my stupid question is:

    Why releasing 1.6 and 1.7? why not just working with 1.5 until a stable version of so called 1.8 is released? What is the meaning of these short period 1.6 and 1.7 releases? Why all these parallel developments and confusions?

    /Hussain

  2. PatVB says:

    I am wondering what about the template clubs and how they will keep templates in all these versions: 1.5, 1.6, 1.7 and 1.8 and all within a very short time span. I depend heavily on the template clubs to steer my clients to, and I like being able to give them a wide variety to choose from. It just seems like it’s going to be a nightmare of sorts for template designers and extension designers to keep up with this pace.

    I still have a few sites in Joomla 1.0 because they are still working well and earning money, but now are really starting to show their age. Waiting for 1.8 seems like a good idea. What are others doing?

    Pat Vanden Bosche

  3. diver165 says:

    I honestly do not understand.

    How can you still develop Joomla 1.5 and Joomla 1.6 at the same time secretely developing Joomla 1.7? How can you honestly put out a link to Joomla 1.6 on your website and tout it to be the latest and best Joomla available, but have secret plans to only support it for 6 months? Why go through the trouble of releasing it in the first place!!! All you do by releasing something like this is waste time supporting and patching CMS that is marked for end of life.

    I agree with the previous posters, this will be a total nightmare in keeping up with the various extensions and templates. I honestly don’t know what to tell me customers. Some want the ACL functionality but I don’t want to sell them a site that I know will be end of life by the time I’m finished.

    Lets here something official on the Joomla web site. Maybe I’ve just missed it.

  4. Kareem says:

    i dont think it’s so bad. if you consider it more just a change of versioning strategy it makes more sense

  5. Chris says:

    The Joomla strategy haters may be right, I don’t know, but the Joomla Development Team seem to be pretty smart.

    First, the only support or “development” for J1.5 will be security updates. It is COMPLETELY normal to release and develop these while working on 1.6. Also, 1.6 is no longer being “developed” in the sense that they are adding features. My understanding is that, they are only doing security updates for that as well (at least from J1.6.3 on). they are really only “developing” 1.7. And even then, you could just as well call it J1.6.XX. It is just a number. The idea is that they are adding new features every 6 months with security updates along the way.

    It seems like a MAJOR misunderstanding and mis-use of words to say that the short-term releases will “not be supported” after a certain date. I think this is to say that they will no longer be releasing security updates for it. That is because instead of the security update, you just need to update to the latest Joomla (i.e. J1.6.3 to J1.7.0, etc.). The word is that it should be as simple to upgrade from J1.6.2 to J1.6.3 as it will be from J1.6.3 to J1.7.0.

    Am I wrong? Do I misunderstand?

    The only real uncertainty and confusion I have are concerning the new features released from say a J1.6 to a J1.7. Will these added features make many J1.6 templates, extensions, plugins, etc. goof up when moving to 1.7?

    It actually seems like an exciting plan, I am just concerned that the Joomla community doesn’t truly understand it and is not getting behind it. This will just grid-lock things. I say we do what it takes to stay up with the J! development.

    What are you thoughts?

    Chris

  6. Hussain says:

    Chris hi,

    when you talk about security updates do you mean that templates and extensions developed for 1.6.X do not need to be updated to work for 1.7.X or 1.8.X? Is it that what you mean? Do you mean extensions developed for 1.6.X automatically will work for 1.7.X?

    Please explain, the answer is indeed important to us… It is updating extensions and templates that concerns us. Thank you.

  7. Jen Kramer says:

    Hi everyone — thanks for the comments! I’ll address each:

    @Hussain: Sorry if the development path isn’t clear. 1.6 becomes 1.7; 1.7 becomes 1.8. 1.5 is maintained while this is happening. You will be able to jump from 1.5 to 1.8, or you can follow the path to 1.8 via 1.6 and 1.7.

    The reason for maintaining 1.5 while having short releases for 1.6 and 1.7 is so that development is happening while those who need long-term stability can also have that. Joomla’s release cycle is patterned after Ubuntu’s.

    @PatVB: The template clubs are, for the most part, keeping up with the development of Joomla. 1.7 is currently in development. I do not expect templates will change much from 1.6 to 1.7. However, templates are VERY different between 1.5 and 1.6.

    @diver165: The Joomla project can be pretty bad at communicating their intentions. One of their problems is communicating across too many channels, and then no one can find what was said later. The release schedule is very much in the open, and the development process is as well. This post is a good summary of all of the places where things were said about 1.7 (and later) development:

    http://people.joomla.org/groups/viewdiscussion/1070-Beyond+16.html?groupid=458

    @chris: Your summary of the intentions of the Joomla project is correct. The theory is that a 1.6.3 migration to 1.7.0 is a “one click” process. However, the project does have a history of having some difference between theory and reality. The leadership knows that easy migrations are critical to making this work, so they are working on making the migration process easy… at least for core features.

    As always, the tricky part is with the extensions. I am not a developer, and I can’t say whether the migration for 1.6 to 1.7 from a 3rd party extension point of view will be trivial or a nightmare. It may even depend on the extension. Pay close attention to what’s being discussed over the next 2 months to get a better picture of what’s happening.

    The Joomla community has been burned by migrations before, and they are concerned about charging clients lots of money to complete tasks that are, in theory, supposed to be easy. We will have a much better picture about how this plan works going forward, after the 1.7 release.

    @Hussain: I don’t know whether 1.6 extensions will work for 1.7 or not. Right now, they are picking features to include in 1.7 and starting the debug process for the July release. We should know the answer to this question shortly.

    Thanks all,
    Jen

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