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Compare CMS - Part 3-2 - Popular CMS Reviews

Compare CMS - Part 3-2 - Popular CMS Reviews 2

Joomla - continued [Joomla page 1]

Joomla limitations

1. Because it is so amazingly capable in terms of the total number of tasks it can handle, it is sometimes used, mistakenly, outside of its CMS class or type. There are better choices for: multi-team use; large intranet use; public / private profile use; large page numbers capability; complex content management arrangements; document and file management; and plenty of other usage types. This applies to all CMS everywhere of course: they need to be chosen for their core feature set, applied to the specified task. There is a danger that Joomla will be used for completely inappropriate tasks, as a fit-all solution. In CMS, there is no such thing.

2. Joomla is not an enterprise-level CMS, and it is a mistake to treat it as such. ACL, workflows, audit trails, versioning and so on may or may not be able to be plugged in - but some of these functions need to be in the core to work properly. They are not present in Joomla, and ACL especially needs to be a strong core function in order to work well. Joomla is an excellent general purpose CMS, and the best rich media CMS there is - but a large enterprise CMS it is not.

3. There is a page number limitation that means Joomla is not appropriate for use as a very large CMS. This has nothing to do with traffic,and it will handle high traffic if the hosting is capable. Over 1,000 pages Joomla is not easy to manage, and 10k pages is the practical limit. The content management apparatus is not designed for this size. Most CMS in practice have between 50 and 500 pages so this is not normally an issue.

4. There is a practical limit on the maximum word number per page of six thousand words, depending on the editor used. Of course, 6,000 words per page as an upper limit is not one that will affect most people. However, we frequently hit it on this site, since it is a very rich resource in that respect. The page crashes, and then we have to split it and rebuild it. That's why the pages keep moving...  This won't affect many users though.

5. A CMS is a complex application. In some cases, the user interface has been made exceptionally slick, as here; but that doesn't change the fact that something like Joomla will be difficult for newcomers to use, and then later on, difficult for them to solve problems on. The danger is that people think it will be easy, and overreach themselves. There are a very large number of simply awful Joomla sites out there, which is probably only a statistical certainty anyway. There is a temptation for less-capable users to blame the application, but a bad workman often blames his tools. In most cases a more experienced user or a different application for the task would have solved the problem.

Joomla bugs

There is no software that is perfect, entirely bug-free, or cannot be improved. If you say different you must be one of the developers, as no one else would take that position.

Joomla, like all other CMS software, has some issues. These should not be serious enough to put anyone off, and if you know the issues you can find workarounds.

1. Firstly, let's please state clearly that the fact SEO is poor out of the box is irrelevant. A content management system like this is simply a framework, it doesn't do much by itself. Everything is done with plugins, and the SEO angle can be fixed to about 95% of perfect. That score is higher than most other webapps. It only falls down on the code layout base, which is still, unfortunately, primeval. To fix the SEO issues, and bring the application up to near-perfection, you need to know exactly what plugins to use. With approaching 5,000 plugins to choose from it isn't an easy task.

2. The worst actual fault in Joomla is the ItemID bug. It can happen that a new page is given the same content ID as the index page, and as can be imagined, this creates a lot of problems. This affects some 1.0 series installs badly. Instead of fixing this problem, some plugins make it worse.

3. The biggest drawback in everyday terms is that Joomla needs much better ACL (access control levels - user group roles etc). Since a requirement for at least two user groups, of varying user rights, is pretty much a basic requirement for 50% of sites now, Joomla is seriously handicapped. Of course there are plugins to fix this but ACL needs to be a core function, not an add-on feature.

4. Some other publishing worktools like versioning and workflows wouldn't hurt either. Plugins fix some of this, but these features ideally need to be in the core. Versioning is an important function and in order to act as a small enterprise CMS, Joomla needs this. Without versioning, all pages are essentially disposable, and this is not acceptable for business use.

5. The search function is probably the worst on any CMS - it doesn't work. And it doesn't work in at least two different ways: firstly, a search for terms such as even a page title will probably not return that page in the first ten results. Secondly, there is a maximum character limit in the search box that means perhaps 50% of  search terms cannot even be entered.

No plugins we have tried fix these issues as they are core problems. Plugins make the appearance of the results look different - like for instance the Ajax auto-complete ones that bring up results as you type, just like major search engines now - but they don't fix the fact the search function basically doesn't work.

In practical terms this means that you should not use Joomla for any website where search will play an important role on the site. For instance, this would apply to some types of directory sites. Alternatively, a MySQL - PHP developer needs to be employed to replace the search function entirely - which would certainly be the best bet. He could do this the easy way by pinching the search function out of Drupal, another  open-source PHP - MySQL CMS, which has a search function that works perfectly.

6. The code layout scheme needs fixing as a priority. The half-and-half system of divs and tables is just about acceptable now, though other more advanced CMS are pulling ahead rapidly in this area. There are many drawbacks to this old layout; and since cells and tables became obsolete around 2002, the time to fix this is long past. This is also a core point in SEO for CMS; Joomla is good in most areas, but this particular fault needs actioning right now, not at some unspecified time in the future. Next year, if Joomla is still based partly on tables, it will be looking very old-fashioned and limited. It is hard to understand why the developers introduced J1.5 in its current form, when clearly the biggest change needed was to the code layout.

7. Modules (and all similar functions) desperately need an additional assignment control: Assign to all, excluding selected page/s.

You often need to de-select the index page and a few others, for example, and there needs to be a smoother way to do this than selecting every page on the site except those. Selecting 4,989 pages out of 5,000 is a real pain, especially when many of them will be on different menus. There need to be assignment controls by section, by category, by menu, and so on. And for every group assignment control, there needs to be another one: except for selected pages.

It's very strange because this is one of the first things a sysadmin will ask for in Joomla: where precisely to locate this most obviously-required of facilities. But if you ask J developers, they can't understand the question. Yet another example of how usability is always the last guest invited to the party.

8. Joomla won't handle high page numbers. This is mainly because the management functions simply won't scale to large size, they are appropriate for small to medium sites. It's a matter of opinion exactly how you define 'large size' or 'high page numbers'. In any case, since the vast majority of CMS actually in use (as against those dreamt of or talked about) have between 50 and 500 pages, it is irrelevant for most users. Over 1,000 pages things get harder; and over 10,000 pages would be very difficult.

But note: this has nothing to do with high traffic: Joomla will handle any traffic figure you can throw at it. It will handle 33,000 visits per day, a million visits per month, and use two terabytes of traffic bandwidth per month. This is a hosting issue, as Joomla is just a simple bunch of PHP scripts. It's all in the load-balancing. However, it won't even handle 5,000 visits a day if you add a bunch of incompatible plugins...

Of course the developers have done a fine job; just a few odds and ends need fixing. It needs to be stated VERY clearly that in contrast with other content management systems this is not just a good score - it is an excellent score. Most CMS have a much larger number of issues since they are highly complex webapps. And, realistically, this is one of the reasons for the success of the massive Joomla machine. It just works.

Joomla documentation

Better than for just about any other OSS project. Loads of books and PDFs out there. The tech guides aren't written in a modern user-based style, they list features; even so, this is fine stuff for the open-source world, and possible because of the immense size of the Joomla community. Even the new 1.5 series has books available; and that was true even during the RC period, before the first stable release in January '08. This is exceptional in the OSS world.

Joomla has a functional documentation team, which is a first-class achievement (other CMS may have one, but it is a matter of opinion whether you could describe them as 'functional').

It needs to be pointed out, though, that the documentation - even here - is not perfect. Authors in this area (ie non-professional volunteers who most likely work in a different field) haven't yet discovered that there need to be two classes of document: tech docs and easy-user guides. As a result we have our own documentation line we supply to clients, since otherwise they would not be well served. From a usability point of view, an end-user (the CMS owner), who is not likely to be technically adept, needs to be able to open their visual editor and edit content quickly. This is likely to be the first job on their list. Therefore it needs to be the first section of a basic user guide. As stated, OSS documentation teams haven't realised this yet, so we fill in the gaps.

Joomla multi-site

The term multi-site and multi-siting has several different interpretations: multiple sites on one server, running on the one CMS; multiple proxy servers fed from one main server, for load-balancing; and multiple servers with CMS clones, again for load-balancing. Joomla has plugins for various modes, though we haven't tried them. It seems as though whatever you can think of, someone has built a Joomla plugin for it. Load-balancing is a hosting issue, so before you wade in here you should speak to your hosts. They will have their own solutions, which inevitably are based on their own preferred hardware options. So you'll need to know what they use, before you can go ahead with multi-site installs.

Joomla handles high traffic very well as it is basically just a bunch of PHP scripts. It can easily cope with 33k visits per day or 1 million a month, and burn two terabytes of bandwidth. Questions in this area are basically hosting issues, not application issues, though unskilled implementers might come up against problems.

Joomla accessibility

Joomla has a very high accessibility potential, as this is an SEO component and Joomla SEO is amongst the best in CMS. Joomla 1.0 series is good, and Joomla 1.5 series is among the top three CMS for potentially high accessibility scores. The word 'potentially' is used only because, as with all quality issues, the skill of the implementers is crucial to the end result.

There are people who think Joomla SEO is poor, and those who install a CMS with 20 code error fails or more per page, at the W3C validator. This level of skill is not sufficient to be able to install a CMS with a good accessibility score.

In case you need some sort of evidence for Joomla's potential here, we have seen working examples with an accessibility score of AAA. The triple-A accessibility score for a CMS is far beyond the reach of 99.99% of CMS and 99.99% of implementers. This points out just high both Joomla's quality and SEO potential are, if you have any technical background. Many would say those two are the same thing, of course.

Joomla on a Windows server

Joomla will run on an IIS server but it's not a great solution as it can't function 100%. In practical terms it will be running at reduced capability due to various issues. The server will need PHP and MySQL on it, so that would at least exclude the incompetent hosts who don't know how to run a Windows server.

One of the main problems is that so many jobs are done on a server with the htaccess file. This is the local master control file for many paramaters. There is no htaccess file on an IIS server. This results in two major problems:
  • Many plugins won't work as they need htaccess file scripts
  • Basic CMS webmastering means that htaccess file work is a normal task. The alternative is either things don't work - or you have to ask the site hosts to do all your simple webmaster jobs for you, and of course they may charge for this service
If you don't have access to the IIS server management console, life will be very difficult; and if there were no user control panel, such as Plesk, it will be worse. The IIS option (or simply a basic Windows server using XAMPP) is fine for LAN work, though if you are talking about an office worktool you might find issues (as ACL isn't really good enough for multi-group use). This CM system will work well for a single group, but not multiple groups.

As regards production a Windows server is not an optimal choice. Even basic things like SEF URLs are going to be a problem, though now there is a simple IIS solution, using the sh404SEF plugin. If you want to run a simple site, then you may be OK. To be honest an ASP CMS may be a better choice - see our page on ASP CMS and flat-file CMS.

It's hard to work out why you would need or want to run Joomla on an IIS server; it's possible if you absolutely have to, but some functions may be unavailable. We would look at an ASP CMS like Umbraco or DotNetNuke first, to see if that would fulfill the brief, before worrying about how to get Joomla working well on IIS. Changing to a normal server would be a better choice.

The new Joomla 1.5 Series

At October '08 the newer series of Joomla, the 1.5 series (the older line is the 1.0 series) is nearly a year old. What's it like?

It's Joomla but better. There are improvements everywhere, many of which could / should have been applied to the older version perhaps. It's different, and will take several hours adjusting to - certainly more than a day in total, when changing to it from J1.0, if you want to count the hours.

In most ways the new version seems to be an improvement. There are some questions to be asked though, such as, "It's not that different - why couldn't some of these improvements have been applied to J1.0?". And, "Why create a totally new version without fixing the old code layout scheme that is obsolete by years, and screaming to be fixed??" Hmm, tough to answer those...

Anyhow, despite the fact that J1.5 is an obvious improvement, we won't be using it any time soon. Why? It's still far too new (a webapp needs to be 2 years old before the bugs are worked out); it still has exploits (even large, well-run sites are still being hacked); it has too few templates as yet; it has too few plugins as yet (and plugins are the reason Joomla works); and the documentation is even worse than the usual open-source token affair.

As usual, no one has heard of that nasty swear word "usability". This word is hated and despised by all developers, who have a heart attack whenever they hear it and run away quickly. No developer would ever consider having usability testing carried out on their applications, as this is the work of the devil and cannot be tolerated.

An example: the first job any user will need to do is remove the ridiculous message on the index page, "Welcome to the front page". But where is it? Certainly nowhere that anyone familiar with Joomla will be able to find. In fact - you won't be able to find it, as there is no obvious help anywhere. You will have to hunt through the forums for hours until you find a well-hidden thread that explains it. Terrific. But if you had just one person on the documentation team who had vaguely heard of usability, tasks like this that need to be done in the first 5 minutes would be flagged up.

And the author / date / time tag that is added to the head of articles automatically? Again, you won't be able to find where that is enabled, in order to switch it off. It isn't in Global Configuration for instance, as it is in J1.0. Of course most people will need to switch it off immediately, as 99.9% of CMS websites aren't run as a blog (strangely enough). Why it would be set as the default, when far less than 1% of sites need it, is a mystery. But there are always going to be plenty of those when no usability testing is run.

Joomla 1.5 advantages
However the new 1.5 series does have two massive new positive feature - it can live on badly set up servers, and templates with a proper code layout can be used to override the obsolete core code layout scheme.

As there are so many wrongly set up servers out there, J1.5 has a big advantage over J1.0 - and this group also includes resellers (reseller hosts), who are a growing percentage of hosts. Their server set-ups are often unalterable and fixed, and this applies even when the set-up is faulty (they have no access to the server to fix it of course).

The problem is that hosts are mostly set up and organised to run flat sites - some seem to have never heard of CMS or ecommerce. But the server needs to be set up differently - correctly - in order for many of these database-driven apps to run safely, or even at all. But many hosts really don't have a clue; they never read any of the security updates from Apache and PHP, for example. If you don't understand what I'm saying here - we've seen a host running PHP3 on their servers recently. If you have any knowledge of this area at all then that will tell you all you need to know.

So Joomla 1.0 is a problem here as it demands that servers are set up correctly. That means many users have a bunch of problems with their hosts: either educating them, or living with badly-configured servers.

The 1.5 series, though, gets around this in a number of very clever ways. It can override faulty server security settings, and even get around wrongly set file permissions that prevent a CMS running at all as you can't write to the files. It has a built in FTP system (an 'FTP Layer') that just overwrites the blocked files by FTP - very clever.

In addition it has a template override facility, whereby a template author can (and most definitely should) override the faulty code layout scheme that Joomla still has by reason of its history - the mixed tables and divs system - and use the correct div and CSS layout that all modern web pages use. This is a great advantage and should be utilised to the max. SEO for CMS is important and this facility contributes in a big way.

And it may well be even more secure than J1.0 is, in the end - once all the exploits have been found of course...

Joomla 1.5 plugins problems
Modern CMS and other database-driven web server software depend to a great extent on plugins for features, and even for functionality. Never is this more true than in the case of Joomla, which out of the box is basically a simple publishing framework. The plugins - and of course the extended functionality that they are able to supply due to the nature of the Joomla framework - are the key to its success. If there is a problem with the plugins, then there is a problem with Joomla.

At May 2009 there are still major issues with Joomla 1.5 plugins. In fact we know of capable webmasters who have just given up and gone back to Joomla 1.0.

This situation will soon resolve itself, as the bugs are ironed out of J1.5 and the community develop more and better plugins (Joomla 1.0 plugins don't fit the new version). But we stand by what we say, that a new webapp needs two years before it is stable, ie usable by all in the same way that the last version was. When people are still giving up in frustration, a CMS is not stable.

Joomal 1.5 Verdict
Joomla 1.5 is a big improvement but didn't go far enough, the code layout scheme needed fixing before anything else - by a long margin. Right now it isn't usable for us, but it's getting better every day. Essentially it's still in beta as far as we are concerned, but will soon, hopefully, be a sensible proposition. It needs plugins, templates, and holes patching. Then we'll have to get stuck in and write some user documentation.

Joomla v Drupal etc

For Joomla v other CMS, see the reviews for those individual cms.

Joomla is the best choice for many brochure website CMS requirements. Drupal should be used if there are likely to be user groups with different roles.

Better for SEO - Joomla or Drupal ?
This is answered more fully in the Drupal review, but the answer is Joomla. In theory it is clearly the other way round - but that's theory. In practice, Joomla is easier to set up for a better SEO rating. It's true that if you have a great deal of time, and are a Drupal expert, then it may be possible to set up Drupal better. Drupal's big advantage is the correct, tableless layout; but setting up to take full advantage of this requires some time input. In addition, Drupal is much harder to use, so getting even basic SEO functionality is not a 5-minute job. Use Joomla if it's a straight choice.

Best CMS with ACL
The best CMS with ACL in this cost range is Drupal. Joomla cannot compete here and it's probably a mistake to try.

Joomla examples: 
    [1 million plus visits per month on this famously OTT site]

an ecommerce store:
    [a comprehensive Joomla-Virtuemart treatment]

Joomla comparison - verdict
The biggest and brightest online publishing tool - we came up with a new CMS class term to describe it, as nothing else seems comprehensive enough: a multimedia publishing tool. Unbeatable as a rich media publishing CMS (there are 100 plugins just for streaming media, for example). Not an enterprise-class CMS due to the lack of ACL etc. Good community-use features; easy management; not suitable for very high page numbers. The small zip installer size gives no clue to its capability - this is PHP webapps in turbo mode.

High traffic? This is a server question as much as anything - caching, and clustering / load balancing solves most problems here, so if your hosts are on the case, you'll be OK. If you have high traffic, you have a high income, so anything is possible. There are Joomla sites running successfully with 33k-plus uniques per day, in other words 1 million-plus visitors per month; and the central Joomla site at joomla.org can have a couple of thousand people online at any one time - so the CMS itself can cope. Of course, it is run by a good host, which is the key to avoiding many problems and issues. The vital role of top-class hosting cannot be overstated. In any case Joomla is simply a PHP script group, and fairly streamlined at that. High loads should not be a problem; but note that this is a different question from high page numbers.

There is a faint whiff of instability in some cases; but these are always where the CMS has been heavily extended. Plugins cause the problems and these need to be much more closely examined than is current practice. The Joomla core can almost certainly handle X million uniques in any time frame you want, with suitable load balancing - it's just a skinny bunch of PHP scripts after all. But adding dodgy plugins won't do you any favours; and it's quite amusing to see forum requests for assistance with problems, which people have caused by adding anything up to twenty heavyweight plugins piecemeal. If you think you can add any combination of plugins you like, then please be advised - you can't.

Note that site page number size is not related to traffic - but income certainly is. There is no such thing as a busy site with low income; or there shouldn't be - it would have to belong to a very lucky but commercially naive owner. Introduce us, please!

There are several other pages on this site that feature Joomla, and can be found via the CMS Section Index on the main menu. Try this one about Joomla Myths - a hilarious collection of garbage written about Joomla, in some cases by people who should have known better.

Joomla CMS - Tech Spec 
cms type: multimedia publishing tool
cost: free
license: OSS (GNU - GPL)
installer includes: core files, 1 visual editor
installation type: remote via web, or on local machine
codebase: PHP, MySQL
server type needed: LAMP or similar
[can be run on an IIS server - will need PHP and MySQL - but is a poor choice for this CMS]
dedicated server needed? no
additional server apps needed: no
database type: MySQL
zip size: < 3MB; decompressed < 7MB 
# of plugins available (estimate): 4,000 [plus the same again in templates]
ecommerce option: yes - several
Ratings [out of 10]:
ease of installation: 10
admin score (capability, usability): 9
how well it performs:
[for the 1.0.xx series only]
- for its CMS type: 9
- overall: 8


Joomla was a fork of Mambo - meaning that the developers were the same, and some split to form a new project that embodied a lot of the old one. This is a common theme in the software project world and often leads to huge gains - look at how Linux and MacOS derived from Unix.

This PHP-MySQL CMS, then, is the foundation of the world's most popular CMS. It is centred around an Australian group, who caused the split when they tightened their grip on the Mambo project.

Since the bulk of the dev team left, and started up again with a new vision and greater determination, progress has been much slower in the Mambo camp. It is a good CMS but a year or more behind Joomla; and as Joomla improves more, and faster, it pulls further and further away from its parent. A lot of the plugins still work in both, but that will change when Joomla 1.5 is released, which should happen in early 2008.

Mambo is a good PHP CMS but given that Joomla is similar but better, and has a lot more drive behind it, the choice seems clear. Recently, Mambo got a bit of a boost when some 3rd-party developers looked as if they might stop working on plugins for Joomla, but this will most likely blow over. The ruffled feathers were caused by the Joomla core dev team suddenly deciding that the monster success of the Joomla project wasn't, in fact, due to the tremendously successful mix of free and commercial plugins in vast numbers, and was presumably caused by some other factor; and having decided thus, announced that commercial plugins would no longer be welcome. No doubt they have woken up to the real world by now and moderated their demands, and the storm in a teacup will soon blow over. A stange decision with numerous anomalies, such as that some commercial plugins were approved (templates for instance), but some weren't. There's nowt so strange as folk, as the old north country people used to say. With luck, the fracas will soon be in the past.

Compare CMS - Joomla v Mambo
A cruel comparison, I believe, for Mambo; Joomla is the same but better. And the future doesn't really promise any change: the gap is likely to get larger if anything. In the future, though, if there were some things you didn't like about the new Joomla - you'd be able to come back to the 'old' version by going back to Mambo. Just a thought.

MamboCMS - Tech Spec
cms type: multimedia publishing tool
cost: free
license: OSS (GNU - GPL)

PLEASE NOTE: these critiques represent an entirely personal opinion. They are personal reviews. There are some negative views expressed here that are one person's opinion and may be entirely wrong. There are positive opinions here that may be equally wrong. There are obviously many people who are entirely satisfied with webapps that have been criticised in some way, and you should ask some of them before taking this material at face value. There may also be those who are unsatisfied with CMS apps, or aspects of them, that have been praised.

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