Joomla open source CMS prepares for prime time

It's been a hectic six months for the Joomla open-source CMS since its split from the Mambo project, but an even busier six weeks lie ahead.

It's been a hectic six months for the Joomla open-source CMS since its split from the Mambo project, but an even busier six weeks lie ahead.

Next week Joomla will make its debut at LinuxWorld Expo in Boston, with the milestone Joomla 1.1 release due towards the end of April.

It all means that Joomla chief Andrew Eddie will find little time to enjoy the sunshine at his home town in Toowoomba, Queensland.

As project director for Joomla, Eddie oversees the "core team" which is the driving force behind the Joomla engine. For an industry that remains decidedly United States-centric, the 22-strong team includes only four stateside programmers, which is equal to the number from Eddie's home country of Australia.

"Yeah, it's always nice to find other Aussies," Eddie acknowledges with a chuckle. "A lot of Australian regional councils have picked up Mambo, and this might have an influence in developers popping their heads up. But right around the world, people just come out of the woodwork."

While Eddie is well aware of the "tall poppy syndrome" where narrow-minded Australians too often delight in cutting down their outstanding peers, he says: "I look out for the tall poppies in the forums. We try to poach a lot of the people in the community as they rise above the rest of the people on the forums. You see this guy or girl has been around for a while, they're helping above and beyond the call and have a skill set we need, so we'll ask them on [the core team]."

More than half the core team hails from Europe, which Eddie describes as "very strong in open source. I think South America and Antarctica are the only two continents that aren't represented on the core team."

Making jam from Joomla
Having become involved in open-source CMS while doing development work with Toowoomba Council, Eddie is today a director of JamboWorks, a company he founded with fellow Joomla core team member Mitch Pirtle. He describes the work of JamboWorks (the name indicates the common codebase shared by Joomla and Mambo) as "consulting on Joomla development, working on commercial sites and components, ad hoc performance tuning and so forth."

Eddie is the first to admit that "it may seem strange having commercial and open source in the same melting pot" but believes the result is a healthy "symbiotic relationship".

"There are times when we'll do something for a client and then we'll think 'Hey, that's really cool' and we'll build that into the core. It also gives more credibility to the project in the commercial sector who are thinking of adopting Joomla but wondering 'Who do I call?'.

"The more of these small to medium sized shops are around, the more credibility it gives the project, and the more business there is behind Joomla the more popular it will become."

The jump to Joomla
Gaining that momentum is key to Joomla's success following its split from Mambo in August 2005 after a series of disputes over open source principles. Eddie believes that many users are still not confident enough in either platform to make the necessary commitment, despite the fact that most of the Mambo team moved across to Joomla.

"Everyone responsible for the project left, all the main third party developers walked, a heap of the community walked. But there are still people sitting on the fence waiting to see where they should invest their resources in either Joomla or Mambo. The next version of each application will be one of the defining moments when people get off that fence."

In fact, as each platform continues to evolve, users and developers will be forced to declare their colours.

While the common codebase of Joomla 1.0 and Mambo 4.5.2 provides a degree of cross-platform compatibility, the divergent Joomla is increasingly marching to the beat of its own drum.

"Anything that worked on Mambo 4.5.2 has a chance of working on Joomla 1.0," states Eddie, "but with each patch and point release the compatibility dwindles. There are also some goodies in Joomla's API that are exclusive to Joomla. If you've got people who know Joomla well and are building to all its features, there's no backward compatibility."

This will be most pronounced with Joomla 1.1, in which the framework has been overhauled and the API moved to "a more object-orientated approach," according to Eddie.