24 May 2008

Should I Joomla?

Posted by Gary K under: Content Management Systems; Design; Hosting; Web design .

Sometimes clients are looking for an easy solution for a web site they can maintain themselves, or at least one that allows them to easily submit new content for a web designer to style and add to a site. Clubs and organizations, especially non-profits, can benefit from such sites. For these, the perfect solution is a content management system (CMS) like Joomla.

I have had much experience with Joomla. Take a look at eNews Park Forest for a very complex, well-developed site created to provide news for residents of Park Forest, IL, and surrounding suburbs.

One of the best selling points of Joomla is that it is Open Source, free. You pay only for hosting and a domain name. If you ask a web designer to set up your site — and perhaps your should if you don’t know PHP and MySQL — you pay for time. This could run anywhere from three hours for a simple install to eight or ten hours for installations that are more complex and require more styling.

Joomla is very robust. You can do some incredible things with it, and you can do some incredibly boneheaded things with it.

Let me explain.

A base install of Joomla is very efficient, offering minimal drag on a MySQL server and code that is web compliant out of the box. So, you will start with a good PHP site and a solid MySQL database. If you go to Joomla.com, you will see there are many components and modules to add. Some of them are good, some of them are written using horrible code. These can break a site or cause many CPU-overloads which web hosts will complain about. There’s nothing worse than trying to open your site, only to see the words, “Account Suspended for CPU-Overload.”

Never, never, under any circumstances should you add a statistics counter to your Joomla installation, e.g. Joomlastats or BSQStats. They will horribly bloat your database and may cause CPU-overloads.

If you do add components that require you to change your template, e.g. add a CSS-include or some Javascript to your template, make sure you note this somewhere. If you remove the component, you’ll want to clean up your template so you don’t end up calling files that no longer exist.

That may sound like simple advice, but it’s easy to get lost with very large installations.

For more, I’d advise you to register at the Joomla Forum, start reading, asking questions, and experimenting.
One final piece of advice, I’d recommend setting up a backup site for every live site you install. It’s too easy to make a horrible mistake in Joomla (inserting a comma in the wrong place in your .htaccess or PHP.INI files, or in one of Joomla’s many PHP includes) and finding your site gone. This is even an uglier feeling than the Microsoft Windows infamous “Blue Screen of Death.” In these situations, you will see a blank white screen in your browser with a few lines offering minimal details about your PHP error. A good host can help you repair your mistakes, but it’s better to understand and learn what you did wrong.

All in all, however, Joomla is well worth the time investment.

Welcome aboard. Joomla’s a helluva ride.

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