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The ACCU passes on review copies of computer books to its members for them to review. The result is a large, high quality collection of book reviews by programmers, for programmers. Currently there are 1918 reviews in the database and more every month.
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Title:
Joomla! 3 explained: Your step-by-step guide
Author:
Stephen Burge
ISBN:
978-0-321-94322-4
Publisher:
Addison-Wesley (2012)
Pages:
401pp
Price:
£18.95
Reviewer:
Andrew Marlow
Subject:
Joomla content management system, CMS
Appeared in:
26-6

Reviewed: January 2015

The approach this book takes is a step-by­step guide to setting up a joomla site and exploring the functionality of joomla thereby. Explanations tend to be brief and in the context of the aspect of the evolving website. The book needs to be read and followed in conjunction with an environment that will allow joomla to be set up and used for a real website. I did it using the hosting facilities provided by my website provider. This approach makes it different from many books in that it is entirely practical with almost no theory. One has to follow the steps in order since each chapter is a stepping stone for the next. In the preface tha author compares learning joomla via a book to learning to ride a bike or drive a car. He says “A book will help and give some advice, but without actually riding a bike or driving a car, you’ll never really learn these skills”.

I rate this book as highly recommended. The lack of theory and lack of precision in some areas has caused some to give this book a negative review but I disagree. In the preface the author says that he wrote the book for his Dad and people like him, i.e. non-technical people. The idea is that everyone, even and indeed especially non-technical people, will be able to install and set up joomla and use it to create a website in such a way as to explore and use all the major facilities of joomla. I think this mission has been a total success. The book covers the following areas: planning your joomla site, installing and setting up joomla, navigation, the CASh (Categorise, Add, SHow) workflow, content, modules, components, modules, plugins, extensions, templates, users, site management. That is a lot to cover and the distinction between some of these areas is not always made very clear. However, the author is trying to keep the book concise, so some finer technical details are glossed over.

The author covers several different approaches for installing joomla, which will depend on your web hosting environment. This material is very clear and well laid out, with helpful screen snapshots. Indeed, the whole book has very helpful screen snapshots. They really do help, there are not too many of them and they are most certainly not padding, as screenshots in other books so often are.

Something that is crucial that I missed initially was how important it is to set the sample joomla site up as ‘Brochure English’. This is what sets the site up with the initial content and structure and the particular option used has to be chosen in the install because the initial content and structure has done some of the heavy lifting for you.

The book is very easy to follow throughout. The step by step guide with carefully selected screen snapshots and meticulous descriptions of exactly what to do, result in the website building up in a very steady way as the book progresses.

By the time we get to the components chapter things are getting more involved. However, the book still has the step by step approach. At this stage the book would benefit from a bit of an overview before it launches into the steps. It is hard for the newcomer to see where and how things are going.

The section on the news feed component says that RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. That is actually an unofficial abbreviation. RSS officially stands for Rich Site Summary.

Some part of the book were perhaps a bit too light on detail. For example, I couldn’t get the banner tracks statistics to show. This part could have done with a bit more detail to explain what banner tracks means. The description on adding a news feed shows you how to add an RSS feed that joomla provides but doesn’t give any details on how other RSS feeds are typically added.
Joomla currently has some problems parsing RDF feeds. I got this error when I tried to set up an RSS feed for slashdot:

No registered feed parser for type rdf:RDF

I tried to set up a feed for The Register and this worked even though it is an atom feed rather than RSS. So it would have been worthwhile for the book to mention that joomla does support atom feeds.

There were some aspects where I couldn’t quite get things to work. For example, I could not get the bit to work where you change the pages on which modules appear. Joomla has changed its behaviour a little when compared to the book description. Changes such as this are anticipated in the book and mostly make little difference but it looks like it makes a difference here.

As another example, I couldn’t get the gmail plugin to work. Perhaps this is because I have two factor authentication enabled. The book was silent on this aspect of login. I think that it ought to mention it, given how important and prevalent two factor authentication is.

Initially, I could not get the jevents calendar display to work properly. It displayed the same event for every day in the month for the months in the range. This turns out to be due to a change that has recently occurred in the implementation. Jevents 1.5 follows the ical method of specifying events (unlinke Jevents 1.4). The start and end date/time relate to a specific repeat so for a 1 day event you set the end date the same as the start date and then use the repeat section to specify the repetitions.

A more technically-minded reader might feel slightly disappointed in certain bits of the book that lack detail or extensive explanations. However, despite this and despite some minor criticisms and problems, the book does an excellent job of helping the reader set up a working joomla website, in a structured logical way that covers most of the functionality of joomla. It is especially good for non-technical readers.