Joomla! Catches the Irish software fancy -

Joomla describes itself as an open source content management System (CMS) which has gained such  popularity since it appeared  in  September 2005  that web designers and entrepreneurs increasingly  regard sites built around it as standard issue. 

The great advantage for any business updating or redeveloping a web site using a CMS is that once the site has been built, updates can be done in-house by staff with little or no technical knowledge.  This means that companies which update content  on their web sites regularly can save a great deal of money by using a CMS such as Joomla

And because content on CMS-based sites can be updated more frequently,  organisations with CMS-based web sites are likely to be ranked higher by search engines than competitors with sites where content is not updated as often.   

However, some Joomla! developers have reported problems  optimising pages to interact with search engines.

So why has the Joomla!  CMS become so popular when a Wikipedia search   reveals  that there are  a host  of  rival content management systems  such as  SilverStripe, Drupal and WordPress, many of which are also open source?

And how easy is it to find people in Ireland with experience of using the Joomla CMS to  build sites ?  We talked to Irish Joomla developers to  find out.

Sean Owens is Managing Director of Willows Consulting, which claims to be the longest established Joomla! development business in Ireland

After working for Oracle, Owens went on to found Willows Consulting in 2003, an Irish web development agency that now provides clients with a Joomla! CMS as standard.

Willows Consulting specialises in the development and customisation of web-based open source applications. It is headed by Owens and Aine Williams and employs a staff of seven people across Ireland and Poland.

Willows Consulting has a client base of more than 150 companies and it also provides training in open source application development.

Willows Consulting used Joomla in a 2007 website redesign and development for CityJet which aimed to create a clear site with a professional look and feel that reflectedthe client base. That site included a full featured on line document manager that allowed suppliers to access documents and images from a secure central repository and advanced traffic analytics which allowed the airline to identify emerging trends on the web and  to maximise benefits from them.

"The CityJet site proves that open source web based solutions are now of a standard to deliver serious cost savings to large organisations while not compromising on quality,” Owens said after the site went live. Willows has also used Joomla! as the basis for a corporate intranet for  Bord Na Mona the Irish semi-state body that controls turf harvesting.

With  IT budgets in Ireland being cut by around 20% on average, thanks to the recession, Owens says that Joomla! is becoming increasingly popular with  Ireland’s semi states.  It is also reported to be increasingly popular with public sector organisations in the UK and across Europe.

“When the Mambo development forked, a lot of the brains went to Joomla!, while some of the brawn stayed with Mambo. Joomla! has a very active development community behind it, while Mambo’s last release was in 2008,” commented Sean Owens, who began working with Joomla when the CMS was called Mambo.

Owens offers a word of caution to corporates preparing to dip a toe into the world of Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS): “Open Source products should carry a health warning saying because this is free software there are no guarantees - you are taking a risk. You will find people on message boards ranting about problems they’ve encountered that they can’t seem to get fixed. They act like they paid for it, but they forget the investment from them was zero. It’s the spirit of open-source.” says Owens.

Corporations planning to build a complex site can also consider using some of the excellent plug-ins and templates available for purchase, as apart from cutting development time, they are likely to have been more rigorously tested than free components. However, Owens adds another cautionary note about using Joomla Add-ons - “We would be reluctant to use very many add-ons, as in many cases they alter core files and nail you into that product structure,” he explains.

Owens is looking forward to the beta release of Joomla 1.6, which is currently in Alpha testing. He believes that Joomla 1.6’s enterprise features will make it very attractive to corporate users. It will be possible to limit users to modifying particular areas of a site’s content. For instance, only accounts personnel would be able to modify entries in the accounts parts of the CMS, while other areas could be restricted to senior management, or other departments.

Willow Consulting is busy despite the downturn. Last quarter  it launched several Irish sites, including zuva.ie,  an independent valuation site, artglass.ie  for a  company making architectural glass installations and  a site for, the Haiti house building charity havenpartnership.com.

Irish web designer David Monaghan founded Fluid New Media in January 2008 after 12 years experience in the creative industries . He began using Joomla! after exploring various ways to edit content online. “The main advantage for clients of using a CMS such as Joomla!, is that anyone can make changes to their own web-content, even without any technical knowledge and at no additional cost.“

Also, because no user licence is required for Joomla! this further reduces the cost to the client. Instead of trying to hide this from customers, Monaghan actively promotes it:

“At Fluid New Media we embrace Joomla! software and pass the benefit and value onto our customers by producing a website that exactly meets their requirements, while providing full support if they need it. We offer each new client a free consultation to establish their needs before deciding whether to base their site on a Joomla! Platform, ” he explains.

Monaghan uses many of the 3,500 Joomla! plug-ins that are available, to provide his clients with shopping carts, podcasting and event registration facilities.

While around 60% of the add-on components that now exist are still free, a very active market has developed with paid-for plug-ins and the open source community now charges for about 30-40% of the Joomla! add-on components that exist. One of the most popular is Virtuemart, an eCommerce plug-in.

Specialist code development companies such as iJoomla also produce commercial add-ons which can save developers lots of time. For instance, iJoomla has just updated its popular Ad Agency component by releasing a new version which can retail for as little as $79.

So why use a web designer with Joomla! experience rather than learning how to use Joomla! yourself? According to Monaghan:“The benefits of using our service are clear; - it's down to time. Our clients don't need to spend their valuable time mastering this product. Instead they can leave the development stage to us and divert that time to sales. Our knowledge of the product ensures that all of its functionalities are exploited to the optimum to meet customer requirements. Once the site is delivered, clients can keep their content fresh by updating it themselves”.

“Developing a websites can be a daunting prospect and we aim to keep it as simple and engaging as possible for customers. The highest compliment paid to us is that the majority of our customers were recommended to us by others.”

Emmet Dunne, co- founder of   Dublin based web development agency Kooba.ie is another Joomla user who is busy depite the recession. “We have worked on a few Joomla! projects for a number of our clients,” Dunne said . “It is a great tool, but the benefits of using it depend on the requirements of the website. For large projects with quite specific requirements, it can be more cost effective in the long term to develop bespoke content management tools, as opposed to using Joomla.”

Other Joomla developers agree that  the  Joomla CMS requires a steep learning curve. One Twitter user said  that while one could become reasonably adept with it in a short time, it takes about a year’s experience to  really  master it.

A short history of Joomla
Joomla is written in the PHP programming language and uses the My SQL database to store information. Joomla results from a fork of the Mambo  open source CMS which occurred in August 2005.

Before 2005, what is now   the Joomla  CMS was known as Mambo. The Mambo CMS was  first developed in Australia as a proprietary software package but was released  as open source software in 2002.

The Joomla CMS emerged  in 2005, following the decision of Miro International  to trademark the Mambo name and form a non-profit foundation, when Mambo  developer Andrew Eddie posted a letter to the open source community on the Mambo web site. The   entire Mambo development team left Miro and created a web site called OpenSourceMatters to distribute information to  Mambo users, developers and web designers.  This generated a lot of controversy in the open source community about  the meaning of open source software. Within a day,  more than a thousand developers had joined the project.

After gaining the  support of Free software campaigner Eben Moglen, who founded the   Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), the  team renamed  the mambo Fork  Joomla, which comes from the Arabic word jumleh, meaning “all together” or “as a whole“. Version 1 of Joomla! Was released on  September 1st 2005.

Joomla! won the Packt Publishing Open Source Content Management System Award in 2006 and 2007. Johan Janssens, elected by the Joomla community, led the development of Joomla 1.5, which was released on January 22, 2008.

The most recent stable release is  version 1.5.14, released in July 2009. 

In June 2009 an alpha version of  Joomla 1.6 was made available for testing .     According to the website of Brian Teeman, one of the co-founders of the Joomla project, nobody knows when  Version 1.6 of Joomla will arrive, but this is no reason to  delay starting a web project based on  Joomla, as  most of the functionality needed will be in  Version 1.5.14.