January 14, 2013, 7:35 AM — With the recent release of Joomla 3.0, the open-source content management system is getting a lot of attention lately, as current Joomla users start thinking about upgrading their sites and potential users check it out to see if Joomla's right for them.
It's an opportune time to take a look at some of the more popular Joomla extensions and see how they perform. Specifically, I looked at how they run on Joomla 2.5, the current "stable" release of Joomla. Joomla 3.0, which was released on September 27, 2012, has a lot of great features going for it, but the module ecosystem will still need some time to catch up. If you have moved to version 3.0, check with each specific extension's website to make sure it's compatible.
What's popular in Joomla seems to cover a wide variety of criteria, but when you dig down a little beneath the differences, a couple of trends shine through.
First, the simple-to-configure tools are the ones that rise to the top. Make something previously complex into a simple no-brainer, and you've got yourself a winner.
Then there's the other extreme: tightly integrated, complex tools that deliver a lot of power and (more importantly) flexibility. The tool may have a lot of features on its own, but the real trick is to deliver something that can be adapted without too much trouble to a site administrator's needs.
One other note: You may notice that many of the extensions are priced in euros. (My assumption is that Joomla's ecosystem has become very Eurocentric.) For those, we've also included the price in U.S. dollars, but be aware that exchange rates are variable.
So here's a diverse collection of extensions designed to make your Joomla site administration a lot easier and extend your site's capabilities. Feel free to add your favorite tools via our comments area.
Like many extensions for the Joomla platform, Akeeba Backup fills a very specific niche: Backing up and (with a little extra script) restoring your Joomla website. I am happy to report that this is an extension that not only works as advertised, it will definitely be a part of my admin collection from now on.
Akeeba Backup is distributed under a freemium model. The Backup Core version is available free of charge; a subscription charge of 40 euros (about $52) per year gets you Akeeba Backup Professional, with extra features like enabling system restore points, automatic update, email notifications when there are updates or backups, and 128-bit cryptography. Not to mention some better support options.
Akeeba Backup is as easy to install as any other Joomla extension, and running the post-installation configuration is just a matter of clicking a single button and off you go. Backing up is just as simple; click the big blue button in the Akeeba control panel and in just a few minutes the site is backed up.
Things get a little less simple when you restore a site, but it's not too bad. All you need to do is download the Akeeba Kickstart package, then put all of the Kickstart files into your target restoration directory along with your backup files. Point your browser at kickstart.php, and it will walk you through a series of steps to restore your site, either on the original server or another server if you're moving it.
There is a nice bonus feature with the Kickstart/Backup combo: If you want, you can change several features like the database settings or admin user setting before the restoration, which makes it great for moving sites from one box to another.
Is Akeeba Backup Professional worth the money? I'm unsure. I was able to get a lot done with the Backup Core package, and was impressed with its features. If you have a lot of sites to manage, you will probably need the extra tools and features that come with the Pro version. The choice, though, is really up to you and your checkbook.
Video content is something that every website administrator would really like to have, but often the complexities can be too much to handle.
It's not just the layout problems -- getting the video to be the right size, making sure locally hosted videos have a player with which to view them -- there's also the bandwidth issue. If you are posting a lot of video content, pretty soon any website that's not sitting on a load-balanced rack in some cloud somewhere is going to be crushed by the streaming bandwidth. (And if you don't know what that techno-jargon meant, then yeah, I'm talking to you.)
Enter AllVideos, JoomlaWorks' impressive plugin that manages to circumvent many of these issues.
What AllVideos does is simple: It lets you tag videos -- whether they are locally hosted or posted on any one of a slew of sites like YouTube, Ustream or Vimeo -- so they are embedded with your site's content. This may not sound like a big deal, since you can cut and paste HTML code from many of these sites now. But such code is cumbersome, and requires some knowledge of HTML, especially if you want to get the video to display at a certain size.
With AllVideos, you just type an opening tag, the video's URL or unique code, then a closing tag. Whatever WYSIWYG editor you're using will suffice. For my test, I shamelessly stole this guy's video about biking across the country. In the Article Manager, all I did was type a fictitious introductory sentence and then:
This kind of functionality is great for small-site admins who don't want to hassle with bandwidth constraints. Just upload the video to your favorite shared video site (such as YouTube) and tag the video to display on your own site. If you want to host your videos locally, however, you can easily do so. The AllVideos documentation spells out exactly how to tag your content so it comes up properly.
The AllVideos configuration screen enables you to set the default parameters for local videos, such as where they are stored and in what format. You can also set the default size for any displayed videos or whether video should be played automatically. You can also set this in the tags for each individual video.
And, in case you were wondering, AllVideos supports audio files too.