Open source CMSes prove well worth the price

We look at five free offerings boasting solid Web publishing features that challenge their commercial competitors

Open Source Matters Joomla 1.0.13

If there were celebrity breakups in the open source community, Mambo would provide great tabloid fodder. After disagreeing with Mambo Foundation management in 2005, the core developers jumped ship, forked development, and Joomla resulted. Technically, both systems continue to be enhanced, and modules created for one system generally work with the other.Joomla administration, though, is more improved and, based on discussion board activity, Joomla appears to have the momentum right now. There's also more tangible backup, where some hosting providers market Joomla as their site-building solution.

Joomla satisfies Web publishing needs that range from small business Web sites to corporate portals and extranets. The central package is relatively easy to install and those with basic skills can manage a Website. As delivered, this CMS includes fundamental components such as news articles, polls, blogs, calendars, search, and RSS feeds. Add-ons and extensions (some that require purchase), include document management and e-commerce engines.

Joomla lets registered front-end users enter content while back-end administrators change design templates, alter page layouts, add modules, and manage users. My administration testing started at the Web control panel, which has four areas for arranging content, installing features, and handling overall system maintenance. I understood how to use most functions, such as creating folders and uploading media, right away.

The harder part of this CMS is learning the menu system and also managing the various content containers. Still, I believe after a week of reading and experimentation that even relative newcomers could have a small production-ready site -- and that time that can be compressed if you're experienced with a commercial CMS, such as Ektron, Eprise or Red Dot. That's because Joomla Web sites follow common design and publishing methodologies used in the enterprise.

First I created sections, which represent an overall page. Similarly, I customized various individual modules, including RSS feeds, polls, contact lists, and mass mailings. Lastly, templates combine HTML and CSS to define the look of pages. After modifying the templates with built-in editors, I employed the Module Positions screen (that has 50 slots) to position objects until I had the look I wanted.

Additionally, the administration Web interface clearly lists all of your elements and when they were published, and provides access to other functions (such as user permissions, server, configuration, along with wizards to install new modules). Thus, I believe reasonably complex sites can be maintained by IT staff with modest training.

Yet I found a few places where I wondered what the developers were thinking. For example, your site's home page is managed from the Menu Manager, which is normally used to create menus that appear on the top and side of each page.

Supporting front-line users
For day-to-day tasks, Joomla is generally accessible. To mirror a typical enterprise workflow, I created roles for authors, editors, and publishers. Authors didn't have any trouble submitting content using a three-part Web form that has expected features to format text, insert links and images, and create tables; other parts of the forms let you define metadata and the time content should be published. Editors follow the same process to modify articles. Publishers may perform all the jobs done by the lower roles, in addition to pushing content to the live site.

There isn't any formal workflow or notifications in the basic system, but publishers can review a list of content and quickly see its state (such as unpublished). In addition, there's basic content control, such as check-in and check-out.

More sophisticated workflow was one of more than 1,000 extensions I spotted for Joomla -- with the majority available under GNU GPL or Creative Commons licenses. Hence, I think without much extra work or expense you can customize your installation for vertical markets or special needs.

Joomla developers quickly built on the legacy of Mambo, especially improving administration. What the basic system lacks in functionality can usually be fixed by installing a component. Version 1.5 (which was in Release Candidate 1 stage during testing) appears to address concerns about the complexity of the menu system while injecting more Web 2.0 functions (such as more design latitude in how pages appear).

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Mike Heck

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