Joomla 1.5: A User’s Guide (Barry North)

By , July 24, 2009

July 24, 2009 — Last week, I researched a number of options for “content management systems” and decided to try Joomla.

Joomla is an “open source” community-supported system. In other words, it’s free but it’s made up of pieces created by many different people, and you can only get support from volunteers or from paid consultants (you can’t get reliable support). It didn’t take long before I realized that the online documentation and scattered tutorial sites were quite poorly written and organized, and much of the online information was inconsistent (sometimes due to differences between Joomla 1.0 and 1.5 — few writers mention which version they’re writing about — but often simply due to the competence and writing skill of each author).  In addition, I found countless web sites promising “tutorials” or even “video training” in Joomla 1.5, but none seemed credible and the few that offered samples demonstrated very poor quality.

So I went shopping for a book about Joomla (of course, I did my comparison shopping on Amazon.com). After reading a number of reviews, it seemed like the best option for me would be Joomla 1.5: A User’s Guide by Barrie North.

It’s extremely important to understand that Joomla 1.5 is not compatible with Joomla 1.0, and there is no easy upgrade path.  Of course, there is much similarity, but there are enough differences that a book on Joomla written before 2007 (when 1.5 was released) would be of limited use in implementing Joomla 1.5 (note that you can still install Joomla 1.0 instead, but since I’m just starting out that seemed silly).I’m glad I recognized this “version” issue before I visited two different Borders bookstores in my area, because Borders continues to display many Joomla titles that are several years out-of-date.  Eventually, I determined that my nearest Borders store had no books about Joomla 1.5 at all; the second-nearest store had just two (this book plus a hideous “Visual Quickstart Guide” which I quickly rejected).

Since Joomla 1.5: A User’s Guide has a list price of $44.99, I found Amazon’s pricing tempting: $29 for the print version, or $26 for the electronic “Kindle edition.”  Being impatient, I decided to try buying the Kindle edition, and read the book using “Kindle for the iPhone.” This was a terrible mistake.  Of course, I knew that the iPhone’s tiny screen could display only a few short lines of text at a time, but I didn’t consider the importance of the diagrams, tables, and screen images printed in the book. For some reason, these images were scanned at an unacceptably low resolution, so that most were simply illegible when viewed using Kindle for the iPhone. After trying for a day to make sense of the Kindle version of the book, I called Amazon to get a refund (you can’t “return” a Kindle book online, only via telephone).

I then drove 12 miles back to the “second-nearest” Borders bookstore, and bought the book for list price (plus sales tax, which doesn’t apply to an ebook).

Once I sat down with the paperback copy of Joomla 1.5: A User’s Guide, I made rapid progress in installing and understanding some aspects of Joomla.

Alas, certain aspects of Joomla’s structure are very confusing, which the author acknowledges.  Unfortunately, Barrie North was simply unable to effectively explain these issues — which must be understood before a user can effectively using Joomla. In addition, his online web site (offered to support the book) is outdated and even includes some problems arising from the poor upgrade path from Joomla 1.0 to 1.5. Eventually, after gaining some initial understanding from the book, I had to simply put it aside and “play with Joomla” for several hours, and read a number of other online explanations, before I finally “got it.”  (Now that I understand, I must acknowledge that I don’t think I could explain it well, either.)

Unfortunately, after the first couple of chapters, the book shifts from a fairly detailed account, to a more generalized summary of features and capabilities. At times, the author identifies an issue and promises a solution later in the book — but no solution ever follows. I followed up on one issue by searching the author’s web site, and found a solution that only worked for Joomla 1.0.

Three chapters of the book are devoted to specific example web sites built using Joomla; since I had no desire to build these sites, I found it hard to follow some of the discussion — and perhaps more important, as a former teacher, I quickly identified key requirements for one of the sites (a school web site) which North didn’t solve or even mention.

In the end, I must agree with a few other critics who posted reviews on Amazon.com: Joomla 1.5: A User’s Guide is not a “User’s Guide” at all, because it fails to provide the level of detail that is promised by the title.

However, it may still be the best book available on Joomla 1.5, and I’m confident that it accelerated my learning process.

Disclaimer: The book links to Amazon.com are affiliate links (paid advertising).

One Response to “Joomla 1.5: A User’s Guide (Barry North)”

  1. Mark Welch says:

    FYI, I have now completely abandoned the Joomla platform, in favor of WordPress.

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