Author: Stephen Burge
Aimed at: New to intermediate users of Joomla!
Pros: Good introductory explanations
Cons: Not good on management issues
Reviewed by: Ian Elliot
A step-by-step guide to Joomla! 1.6 - does it succeed in explaining this popular CMS?
The full title of this book is: Joomla! Explained: Your Step-by-Step Guide and it does have elements of a step-by-step approach. I think that it would be a better book if it abandoned the step-by-step idea and concentrated on the "Explained" part of the title. Of Joomla! books this one is very good of its type, but with some small changes it could be even better - let's hope for a second edition.
But to tell you about this edition, the first thing I have to say is that this is about Joomla! 1.6 and it really doesn't have anything much to say about earlier versions apart from acknowledging that they exist. This is a problem because so many websites are stuck with Joomla! 1.5 and aren't going to upgrade anytime soon. So the book can really only hope to attract complete beginners looking to avoid the mistake of adopting Drupal or WordPress or worse. Less of a problem is the fact that, at the time of writing this review, the most up-to-date version of Joomla! is 1.7. As 1.7 is very similar to 1.6 and you really only need to take into account minor differences in menus etc.
It starts off with a look at where Joomla! came from, but quickly gets onto the more practical topic of installing 1.6 in Chapter 2. There isn't much discussion of why you might want to install 1.5 or how to upgrade. It assumes that you are new to Joomla! and want the latest version as a matter of course. Installing Joomla! is about the most difficult thing you can do. Not because Joomla! is difficult but because the range of situations that it can be installed in are varied and potentially difficult in their own right. It does discuss local versus hosted installations but it doesn't really go deep enough or cover enough variations. It also doesn't really emphasise the advantage of having a local installation you can use to try things out. However, it does concentrate on the ideas - the Joomla! files, the database and connecting the two.
After this the book focuses on the various aspects of getting a Joomla! site organized. Chapter 3 is a general intro to using Joomla! and it does a good job of making you see the general ideas. Chapter 4 deals with content creation and it introduces the CASh - Categorize, Add, Show - workflow idea. The author repeatedly introduces the idea of a workflow as a way of explaining how you should go about interacting with Joomla! and this is such a good idea that the only criticism is that there isn't more of it.
From here the book goes on to deal with editing content, menus, components, modules, plugins, templates and extensions. These are the main parts of Joomla! and in general the book explains what they are for and how to use them reasonably well. There is a small tendency to make complete lists of menu options, but the author tries hard to add some value to the descriptions and even apologizes when he feels forced to write the obvious just for completeness sake. This is what prompted my comment that abandoning the step-by-step approach would make the book better. The menu structure of Joomla! is mostly self explanatory and once you grasp how it all works you don't need detailed step-by-step instructions. This book does a good job of making you see how things work, or should work. In other words, the book makes the steps seem even more obvious than they are. The series of chapters on basic Joomla! culminates with Chapter 13 puts, which it all together with an example of a business web site.
The book then draws to a close with an examination of more specific Joomla! features - users, languages and finally site management. If there is a weak chapter in the book then it is probably the management chapter. This is because overall Joomla! management isn't easy. The problem is that Joomla! is a site where live changes are being made all the time and if something goes wrong it isn't obvious what to do. The chapter does deal with the idea of backup, but only to point out that you should do it and how to use an off-the-shelf tool. Part of the problem is that Joomla! doesn't have good management tools or procedures and it isn't fair to expect the book to invent them for you.
The final verdict is that this is one of the best introductory books on Joomla! I have encountered. It is suitable for the complete beginner to intermediate user but only if they are using 1.6 or are prepared to move to 1.6 - a problem not tackled in the book. It most certainly doesn't cover any programming aspects of using Joomla and hardly a line of PHP is presented an very little HTML for that matter. This really does concentrate on using Joomla! rather than custom extensions.
So if you are planning to build a Joomla! web site and don't want to dig into the internals of how it all works then this book is a very good place to start as it will attempt to get the bigger picture of how Joomla! operates into your head.
Not perfect but pretty good.