Joomla! 1.5: Beginner's Guide

By Eric Tiggeler
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  1. Introduction: A New and Easy Way to Build Websites

About this book

Joomla! is one of the most popular open-source Content Management Systems, actively developed and supported by a world-wide user community. Although it's a fun and feature-rich tool, it can be challenging to get beyond the basics and build a site that meets your needs perfectly. Using this book you can create dynamic, interactive web sites that perfectly fit your needs.

This practical guide gives you a head start in using Joomla! 1.5, helping you to create professional and good-looking web sites, whether you want to create a full-featured company or club web site or build a personal blog site.

The Joomla! 1.5 Beginner's Guide helps beginners to get started quickly and to get beyond the basics to take full advantage of Joomla!'s powerful features. Real-life examples and tutorials will spark your imagination and show you what kind of professional, contemporary, feature-rich web sites any developer can achieve with Joomla!. It gives you a head start and explains what's good and useful about Joomla! features and what's not. The focus is on clear instructions and easy-to-understand tutorials, with minimum of jargon. This book provides clear definitions, thoroughly covering the concepts behind the software and creating a coherent picture of how the software works. This book is not about what Joomla! can do—it's about what you can do using Joomla!.

Publication date:
March 2010
Publisher
Packt
Pages
380
ISBN
9781847199904

 

Chapter 1. Introduction: A New and Easy Way to Build Websites

You want to build a website. It should look great, and it should be easy to use and maintain. Keeping it up-to-date should be effortless, not a lot of work. Changing the appearance of your site should take minutes, not hours. You don't want to manage it all by yourself, but you want to enable other people to log in and write new content without having to understand HTML or other coding languages. And when your site grows, it should be easy to extend it with new functionality—maybe adding a forum, or a newsletter.

If that's what you're looking for, welcome to Joomla!. When it comes to creating a great, professional looking website that's easy to use, you really can't beat the power of a Content Management System (CMS) such as Joomla!. Using Joomla!, you don't have to be a web professional to create a state-of-the-art website. Without writing a single line of code, you can create any kind of site, featuring a variety of cool and advanced features.

 

Join the CMS revolution


Maybe you have some experience building websites the traditional way. That basically meant creating HTML documents—web pages—one by one. As the site grew, you'd end up with a bunch of HTML documents, trying to keep all of them organized and making sure all menu links stayed up-to-date. You'd probably maintain the site by yourself because anyone else who added content would have to know their way around in the structure of your particular site, and be proficient in the web editing software you use.

Enter the Holy Grail of web building: the Content Management System! A CMS is an application that runs on a web server that allows you to develop and maintain a website online. It comes packed with tools and features, from basic features to add and modify content to advanced functionality such as user registration or site search capability. In short, a CMS makes it possible to build sites that would normally involve a full team of web professionals with a massive amount of time, money, and expertise at their disposal.

All that magic is made possible because a CMS is really an advanced set of scripts (written in a scripting language, such as PHP) that uses a database to store the content of your website. From that database, it retrieves bits and pieces of content and presents them as web pages.This dynamic way of storing and presenting content makes a CMS very flexible. Do you want to show only a selection of articles from a specific category on a page? Do you want to display only the intro texts and images of the most recent articles on the home page? Do you want to add a list of links to the most popular contents? Do you want to limit access to registered users? It's all possible—just pick the right settings. Additionally, a CMS allows you to integrate all sorts of extra features, such as contact forms, picture galleries, and much more.

The best part is that CMSes like these are yours to download and deploy today. You can pick your CMS of choice from a range of freely available open-source products. Your new CMS-powered site can be online tomorrow. Now how's that for a great deal?

Why would you choose Joomla!?

There are many open-source CMSes around. They're all great tools, each with its own typical uses and benefits. Why would you want to choose Joomla!?

  • People tend to choose Joomla! because they find it easy to use. It has a clear and friendly user interface. It makes it easy to manage content and easy to create and publish articles to keep your site current—anytime, anywhere—using a web browser.

  • Adding new features takes just a few clicks. There are thousands of extensions available, from menu systems to commenting systems and forums.

  • It's very easy to change the site's appearance—templates are abundant and can be installed within minutes, giving your site a fresh look and feel.

  • Joomla! is actively developed and it's well supported by a huge worldwide community of users and developers. It is updated frequently, adding new features, security enhancements, and other improvements.

Apart from these typical Joomla! benefits, it comes with all of the advantages of a state-of-the-art CMS. Just a few examples are:

  • It's really easy to add or edit content and to keep it organized (even if there's lots of it).

  • Keeping hyperlinks up-to-date is greatly automated. For example, if you add a new web page to a category a new link will automatically appear in pages pointing to that category.

  • You don't have to maintain the website all by yourself. Other users can add content, add new menu items, and much more.

The numbers seem to indicate that Joomla! is the open-source CMS of choice for web builders worldwide. It's the engine behind some 20 million websites worldwide and this number is still growing rapidly day by day. Joomla! is one of the biggest open-source software projects around, supported by a huge user community and constantly being developed further by an international team of volunteers.

What kind of sites can you build with Joomla!?

Let's have a look at some great real-world examples of sites built using Joomla!—if you're anything like me, that's what makes you want to get started right away, creating something equally cool (or preferably, something even better!). These are just a few examples from the Web and from the Joomla! site showcase (http://community.joomla.org/showcase). They are very diverse sites from very different organizations, each with their own goals and target groups. What they have in common is that they deploy Joomla! in a way that you could too. They all create a great Web appearance by adapting the CMS to their specific needs, making it perfectly suited for the content they present and the impression they want to make.

Here's an example from a non-profit organization: Green Energy Solutions (http://masteringgreen.com). It shows a clean corporate design, displaying a few highlights from the site's contents combined with simple and clear navigation.

The following example is a relatively small website of a specialized company (www.abbeyfloor.co.uk). The site offers a clear and attractive overview of the services and products. The design is a customization of a freely available Joomla! template.

Of course, Joomla! can handle much more content; complex sites with thousands of pages are no exception. Here's an illustration of a content-rich site with a made-to-measure design, offering its various target groups different ways to reach the site's contents: the University of Nebraska website (http://nebraska.edu):

One final example demonstrates that Joomla! sites don't have to look anything like a typical Joomla! site. If you want to take customization to the max, you can use an entirely different design—and still take advantage of Joomla!'s default functionality to power the site. The following is a site of a Dutch freelance cook (www.tijskookt.nl):

Note

If you're looking for some more inspiration, browse the official Joomla! showcase: http://community.joomla.org/showcase or go to www.bestofjoomla.com and look around the Best of Sites section.

 

Learning to use Joomla!


It may sound too good to be true. Does Joomla! really make creating state-of-the-art websites side splittingly easy? Let's be honest—it will make it reasonably easy, but of course it does require you to invest some time and effort. After all, working with Joomla! (or any CMS) is very different from building websites the traditional way. You'll notice this as soon as you start installing the system. Compared to setting up a simple static website consisting of a few HTML pages, building a Joomla!-powered site takes a bit more preparation. You'll need hosting space that meets specific requirements and you'll need to set up a database. It's very doable, and this book will run you through the process step by step. But it does take some commitment and isn't really the most exciting part of working with Joomla!

Once you've got Joomla! set up, you'll soon get the hang of creating a fine, basic site. However, it can be challenging to get things just right for your particular goals. After all, you don't want "just any Joomla!-powered site"—you want to build a specific site, aimed at your specific target audience. The Joomla! Beginner's Guide will help you to go beyond a basic site with default settings, and it will help you make the choices that fit your goals.

One last challenge you should be aware of; in some ways, Joomla! will make it almost too easy to add any functionality you like. There's nothing to stop you from adding dozens of extra functions to your site or stuffing your pages with eye candy. Of course, that's not really what makes a good site, nor is it what makes your visitors tick. Customizing a site to your needs while keeping an eye on user experience is something a CMS can't do for you. But if you're serious about creating an excellent website that your visitors will want to read and use, then this book will help you find your way.

In short, even with Joomla!, it will take a lot of time and effort to create and maintain great websites. The site won't run itself, but Joomla! will make it much easier and much more fun for you (and your web team members) to keep it evolving.

What you'll learn using this book

The Joomla! Beginner's Guide is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to get the most out of Joomla!. It's focused on learning by doing—the structure of the book reflects the process of building a website. First, you'll install Joomla!, take a tour of the system, and get a feel for what it's like. After that, you'll start building your own site step by step:

  • You master the fundamentals by creating a basic website with lightning speed.

  • You'll adapt and expand this basic site to meet your (and your visitors') growing needs. You'll set up a structure for the different sorts of content you want on your site, and you learn how to add different types of pages.

  • You'll learn how make that content easy to find through well-designed menus and design an attractive home page that directs people to the content they might be interested in.

  • You'll learn how to engage your web visitors and turn them into active users who can register and add content.

  • You'll extend Joomla!'s capabilities and add features (such as a picture gallery) to the site.

  • You'll change the site layout and make it more attractive.

  • You'll find out how to tweak the site to attract search engine traffic and to keep the site safe.

About the example site

The Joomla! Beginner's Guide focuses on building a realistic example site step-by-step. Instead of just learning about Joomla!'s capabilities in general terms, you'll meet real-world web building challenges. Throughout the book, you'll achieve all of your fictitious client's goals (that is 'I want a website that my web team members can update themselves' or 'I want a website that makes it easy to navigate through a large amount of content').

Now who's that client of yours? It's the Society for the Reappreciation of Ugly Paintings, also known as SRUP. They just love amateur paintings that mostly end up dumped in the trash heap or turn up in charity shops. You'll have to agree that it's a terrible waste. The SRUP think that bad painting is good. They argue it's creative, it's the ordinary peoples' artistic view on reality, and it can be valuable art—in its own, ugly way. The SRUP people need a website to inform the public about their goals, showing fine examples of ugly paintings, and encouraging people to join and participate.

You'll take the SRUP site through different stages of development. First you'll base the site on Joomla!'s default design and layout.

Later on, you'll add advanced features and shape the site's contents and design to meet the changing needs of your client.

The SRUP site is a good example of what you can do with Joomla! You start out with a basic website and add sophisticated features as you go. Of course, you can follow along in this book without having to actually perform all of the actions described—but you'll find it's a good and fun way to learn building a site and honing your skills as you go.

 

Summary


In this chapter, you've been introduced to the wonderful world of the Joomla! CMS. You've learned about:

  • The difference between building a website the traditional way and using a CMS. You don't have to create HTML documents (web pages) one by one, instead you use a web application to develop and maintain your site. Using the tools and features of the CMS, you can create more powerful sites that are easier to maintain.

  • The benefits of using Joomla!, such as its ease of use, the ability to add extra features, and the ability to change the look and feel of the site fast.

  • The structure of this book; step-by-step, you'll learn how to build a realistic example site with Joomla!.

That's enough theory for now—let's get started! In the next chapter, you'll install Joomla! and get it up and running. After that, you'll get familiar with the way Joomla! works and start building.

About the Author

  • Eric Tiggeler

    Eric Tiggeler has authored several books on Joomla!, such as the highly successful Joomla! 2.5 Beginner's Guide  and Joomla! 3 Beginner's Guide, both by Packt Publishing. He has also written several Joomla! guides in Dutch. His books have received excellent reader reviews. He also writes tutorials for several computer magazines and Joomla! community websites. Over the last ten years, he has developed numerous websites, big and small, using Joomla!.

    He is fascinated by the Web as a powerful, creative, and ever-changing means of communication, as well as by the revolutionary software Joomla!, which enables anybody to create beautiful and user-friendly websites.

    On a daily basis, he works as a consultant and copywriter at a communication consultancy company affiliated to the Free University of Amsterdam. Over the last few years, he has written more than 20 books in Dutch on writing and communication. His passion lies in making complex things easy to understand.

    He is married, has two daughters, and lives and works in Hilversum, the Netherlands. On the Web, you'll find him at www.joomla.erictiggeler.nl(in Dutch) and www.joomm.net(in English).

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