Author: Ron Severdia & Kenneth Crowder
Publisher: O'Reilly 2009
Aimed at: Intermediate Joomla users
Pros: Useful reference
Cons: Tendency to exhaustive lists with obvious explanations
Reviewed by: Mke James
The big problem with Joomla books at this particular moment is that Joomla 1.6 has just been released. This doesn't mean that a book shouldn't cover or even be mainly about Joomla 1.5 but it does present a difficult choice of exactly what to cover. Joomla 1.6 isn't particularly compatible with 1.5 and so this is a very real choice. There is a small diagonal flash on the corner of the book cover which says - includes Joomla 1.6 and to be honest this is more or less a token gesture because this book is very Joomla 1.5 oriented.
Using Joomla starts off with a brief look at Joomla and its history, moving on to consider installation. Instead of explaining how to install Joomla on a Linux server with all its complications the book describes the use of Fantastico, which is available on most cpanel-based web hosting services. Of course this means that if you are not using a compatible web hosting service Joomla installation is going to be a problem.
From this point on the book tends to descend into a listing of menu options with brief explanations of what they do. Chapter 3 is a Tour of the Administration Panel, complete with lots of fairly obvious screen dumps. The item-by-item description of what you are looking at is also mostly useless. For example:
The User Manager allows you to manage user accounts
- well the surprise would be if it didn't!
I haven't picked this one out as an extreme example it is fairly typical of the level of explanation. If this sort of redundant space filling material had been culled you might stand a chance of seeing the occasional comment which is helpful. For example the description of the FTP settings is clear, helpful and very non-obvious.
Chapter 5 changes tack and discusses content. Here we have some general comments about the task of creating content mixed in with Joomla specific ideas. At least the ideas are described in terms of how to complete specific tasks. The next chapter continues the theme with "Creating Content". Unfortunately it again lapses into listing every menu option with useless descriptions. Chapter 7 discusses the menu system and it starts well with a description of the menu and content structure but it once again soon turns into the fairly pointless listing of menu items and options.
Chapter 8 is about components and is the start of a section about extending Joomla.Chapter 9 is on modules 10 is on Plug-ins and 11 is on Templates. The discussion of components, modules and plug-ins is at the level of what is available and roughly how to use them. There is no discussion of creating your own and this is reasonable as it would involve a lot of programming. Templates on the other hand are discussed down to the level of customisation. This is done reasonably well but the chapter never really seems to want to get to grips with the task of creating a custom template. As a result it simply leaves you with an imperfect understanding.
The next few chapters cover facilities that don't really fit in anywhere obvious - the user manager, media manager, extension manager and tools. Once again there is far too much pointless listing of menu items and options.
Chapter 17 is about converting a site to Joomla and is at a different level to the forgoing chapters. It considers the sort of site design that is easy to implement using Joomla and how to map an existing site design into a template. It is higher level - but ends all too soon after only a few pages. Chapter 18 then goes on to the topic of extending the site but this turns out to be just a list of what extensions are available with short explanations of how to perform some tasks. This is actually quite useful as most Joomla extensions are poorly documented.
The next chapter is on SEO and SEF addresses. The problem here is that both are big topics and setting Joomla to use SEF URLs is often much more difficult than the chapter would suggests. Chapter 20 on security is similarly too short and not deep enough.
Finally we reach Chapter 21 and Joomla 1.6 which is once again much too short. It is just a list of new features in Joomla 1.6.The section on upgrading is a single paragraph that tells you nothing. If you do read this chapter carefully then you might well conclude that you have just wasted your time reading the earlier chapters, however, because, yes, you probably should have been learning about 1.6 not 1.5 and guess what, if you had implemented your site using the earlier chapters the help given to upgrade is almost non-existent!
This is a book that has some good parts but they are deeply buried by lots of useless uninformative lists of options and menu items. Overall the book gives you no idea how Joomla is organised or how to work with it. Its final flaw is that it just doesn't cover 1.6 in enough detail and it doesn't comment on how 1.6 and 1.5 differ as the book progresses. This not a good choice if you are a beginner and it has nothing to tell an expert.