Author: Jennifer Marriott & Elin Waring
Publisher: Addison Wesley, 2010
Aimed at: New users of Joomla
Cons: Too many lists with obvious descriptions and too little overview of Joomla
Reviewed by: Mike James
An official book should concentrate on its subject and be authoritative. Does the official Joomla book live up to the promise?
With Joomla 1.6 available, users and book publishers have a difficult choice in deciding whether to go with the tried and trusted 1.5 or the more capable 1.6. This book mostly covers 1.5 although there is a chapter on 1.6 later on.
It starts with a look at the history of Joomla, which is reasonable, but then it dives into describing things that really aren't going to be easy to understand until you know a bit more about how Joomla is used. In particular components, modules and plugins are difficult to explain at this stage.
Chapter 2 is where you would expect the action to start and it is entitled "What Now and Where Do I Begin: Before you install Joomla!". You might expect this to be about server requirements or hosting considerations but no. The chapter is a sort of general discussion of why you might want a web site, domain names, copyright, trademarks etc. All useful but more like general knowledge than specifically about Joomla.
Chapter 3 is were we really get started on installing Joomla and this shows how to install to a Cpanel-based host using phpMyAdmin for database operations. This is probably a realistic approach to installing Joomla.
Chapter 4 is about working with Joomla and focuses on creating content. Unfortunately at this point the book descends into listing menu options and describing the obvious. For example:
Author Name: Allows you to choose whether the author name will be shown along with the article.
Yes, this adds a little information, but if you are actually using Joomla hovering your mouse cursor over the option produces popup help text that says more or less the same thing. There is some general discussion of what the menus and options are for so it isn't quite as bad as a simple listing. However in the main the book is organised to follow the structure of the Joomla menus rather than anything deeper about the way Joomla is organised around categories and sections and how this relates to the menu structure.
Chapter 5 moves on to customising templates. It would probably have been better to have a chapter on using templates and their interaction with modules first. At this point you need to be happy with CSS, HTML and generally editing tags. The idea of position is only introduced towards the end of the chapter. This is a shame as a Joomla template is essentially an HTML page with positions defined - and once you know this everything is much easier to follow.
Next we have a look a components, modules, plugins and languages. This probably isn't the correct order to do things in because modules are the workhorse of the layout and components are something you use to create specialised pages. In terms of simplicity and frequency of use modules come first. The chapter is more or less a list of the standard modules included with Joomla and how to use them. Again we have lots of menu and option listings complete with hardly necessary descriptions.
By Chapter 7 the authors seem to have concluded that their main work is over. You now know how to use Joomla. The chapter is on caring for your site, which basically means we are back to considerations of what it looks like plus some SEO. Then suddenly we are back to Joomla with a look at navigation, i.e. menus. Although navigation is an SEO issue, Joomla's menu structure is much more important than this as it maps the user's interaction with your site into the categories and sections and special pages you have created. Chapters 8 and 9 present a set of examples that show that Joomla can do things.
Finally we have a quick look at Joomla 1.6 which is described as the future. This is quite a good discussion of how 1.6 is different and it even considers the task of moving a site from 1.5 to 1.6 - but not really in enough depth to give you any idea how difficult this might be. There are too many comments that resources need to be modified to work with 1.6 with no real clue as to how to modify them or how difficult it might be. As a result at the end of the chapter you feel attracted to 1.6 but slightly worried about what adopting it or migrating to it might cost you.
The book closes with a chapter of interviews with experts which is more or less just an ego trip for the participants.
This is a shame because "The Official Joomla book" deserves to be better. This isn't a terrible book and if you buy it will help you find your way though the Joomla menus structures and even indicate how to edit templates. However what it doesn't do is give you an idea how Joomla is organised and what you can do with it. In short it doesn't help you understand Joomla. It also contains a lot of material that should be in a different book - thus leaving more space for Joomla topics.
There are much better books on Joomla.