Dee-Ann LeBlanc talks with Barrie North about his latest book and video on the Joomla! content-management system, and the three core things that people new to Joomla! need to know.

It used to be that (unless you wanted to edit the HTML yourself), you had to hire a web developer if you wanted to put up a complex website with user interaction, comments, dynamic content, and a back-end for adding material. These days, many people with almost no actual HTML skills are putting up complex, rich sites. How? By using an open source content-management system (CMS) and customizing it.

One open source CMS is Joomla!, popular with web developers and designers for its vast collection of extensions and its flexibility. I recently spoke with author and Joomla! expert Barrie North to learn more about his recent projects and the wild and woolly world of this popular CMS.

How long have you been using Joomla!?

I have a folder on my hard drive where I keep all of the extensions that I download. The name of the folder is actually "Mambo!" It totally surprises me—every time I go to install an extension I see that folder name.

I basically started doing web design at the beginning of 2005, and by the end of that year was using Mambo/Joomla! exclusively. It was at the end of 2005 that the new project Joomla! was created, so I suppose I have been using Joomla! for as long as it has been around. I think I actually have one of the oldest blogs about Joomla!; that started in the fall of that year.

What inspired Joomla! A User's Guide: Building a Successful Joomla! Powered Website? [Editor's Note: Joomla! 1.5: A User's Guide: Building a Successful Joomla! Powered Website, 2nd Edition and Fundamentals of Joomla! (Video Training) are now available.]

My background is actually teaching; I was a high school teacher for eight years. In 2006 and 2007, I had lots of opportunity to interact with Joomla! users as we were doing development work and helping them set up their sites. I started to discover that the same issues were experienced by virtually everybody as they tried to make Joomla! websites.

I happened to be volunteering at the Joomla! booth at Linux World in San Francisco when Mitch Pirtle (then a core team member) was asked by a Prentice Hall editor if he was interested in writing a book. Mitch was too busy at that time but gave the editor my name and suggested that I might be interested.

I had never written a book before, but I thought it would be a great opportunity to try and help people learn how to Joomla!.

How has Joomla! evolved since the first edition of the book, and where do you see it going?

Joomla! 1.5.0 was released over a year ago, and now is on version 1.5.10. Joomla! has a typically fast release cycle, something that you see in many open source applications. Over these series of releases, from 0 to 10, there have been many bug fixes and minor changes that were not hugely significant, but were enough to trip up new users—hence the second edition.

We are already seeing activity on some of the developer blogs about Joomla! 1.6. It will be really interesting to see how end users make the decision whether to stay with 1.5 or start the process of upgrading to 1.6. Many might have only just upgraded from 1.0!

What have you changed for the second edition of the book?

When the first edition came out, the screenshots and various text were accurate to the 1.5.0 version. The published second edition is updated to 1.5.9 with new screenshots throughout the book and any new features addressed (1.5.10 came out during postproduction!). This revision will help make it smoother for those who are learning to get to grips with Joomla! for the first time. The second edition also includes an updated chapter about search engine marketing, another topic that moves very quickly.

What are you expecting from Joomla! 1.6? How is it going to improve? What's going to change?

Joomla! 1.6 has a major feature that is lacking in Joomla! 1.5. It will have much better ACL (access control level), which lets Bob from Accounting only edit Bob's category articles. There are also a number of features that would improve Joomla! as a blogging platform.

What key things do users need to be aware of when deciding if they want to upgrade or stick with the version they have?

I think that everyone should be planning on migrating from 1.0 to 1.5 right now. Support for 1.0 ends in July 2009. I think there will be a much bigger window for 1.6. Considering [that] 1.5 was released more than a year ago, we might expect a similar window for 1.5 to 1.6.