- Posted: April 27, 2009
A student asked me, "Why would someone use Joomla instead of just building a website with XHTML and CSS?" Great question!
Of course, there is no such thing as a PERFECT technology solution. You always make tradeoffs. However, I think this one lands pretty solidly in the Joomla camp... there just isn't a lot of reason to build Dreamweaver sites in 2009.
Dreamweaver (XHTML/CSS) sites POSITIVE:
- Quick to build
- Might not need to know much XHTML and CSS depending on complexity
- No special hosting required
- You can post a site and ignore it for years, and mostly assume that things are OK if you pay your hosting and domain name renewal fees. (OK, is that really a positive?)
- Product has been around over 10 years. Documentation within the software is excellent. There are thousands of courses out there at high schools and colleges that teach Dreamweaver, plus hundreds of books and training videos, plus tons of corporate training available. It is an industry standard.
- And even though I've been building Joomla sites for almost 4 years now, I still use Dreamweaver to format my content and build custom Joomla templates. It is an indispensible part of my developer toolbox.
Dreamweaver sites NEGATIVE:
- Changes to template happen client-side, all pages must be re-FTP'd
- Changing template is a huge deal -- effectively a ground-up redesign, since design is integrated with each page
- Difficult to add features/functionality: polls, calendar, forms, blogs, wiki, photo gallery, shopping cart, learning management system, discussion board, etc. Must find each item individually and try to integrate with the site. Frequently means a variety of looks, linking to sites rather than integrating directly into the site.
- DW software is $399 and up. New version every 18 months or so, costs more money for an upgrade. Consists of Adobe listening to what the users say and making decisions about where the software will go. If you don't like it, there's not much you can do.
- As you add more content to the site, upgrading/redesigning the site becomes progressively more intimidating. What happens when you have 100 pages? 1000 pages? 1,000,000 pages?
- Difficult/impossible to have areas for registered users, i.e. password protected areas.
- VERY HARD for clients without web knowledge and experience to make changes to their own sites. Yes, there's Contribute, but have you ever heard a web developer talk about how much they love Contribute? We tolerated it back in 2002 because there was no Joomla to solve the problem of an easy way for clients to make their own updates. Contribute is totally buggy and clients have no end of trouble with it. If a client says they want to edit their own site, they get Wordpress or Joomla in my world -- I don't do Contribute sites anymore.
- Since most designers build the navigation as locked down with the template and/or library items (as they should), adding a new menu link is a big deal for them, and it's impossible for the client to do with Contribute.
Joomla sites POSITIVE:
- Quick to build. With a canned (downloaded) template, might even be faster to build than a Dreamweaver site, as the template should have all cross-browser checking largely done for you.
- Software is free (mostly) or very low cost (some extensions are $5-$100, most in the $10-$30 range if they do charge)
- Templates are 100% completely separate from the content and function independently. Can change the look and feel of the site very easily.
- Easy to find/add new functionalities and get them to work immediately. Over 4600 extensions available at extensions.joomla.org and more out there that aren't listed.
- Thriving open source community is actively engaged and interested in Joomla and its promotion, so new innovation is constantly happening. New releases every 6 weeks or so. If you don't like what was done, you can change the code to what you do want.
- If you are not building your own template from scratch (i.e. using one of thousands of canned templates you can download free/low cost), you don't need to know a lot of XHTML/CSS to still get a decent site. (As always, the more you know, the better off you are.)
- Since everything lives in a database, you can "schlep" data around at will. You can port the content to another CMS if you wish, upgrade your Joomla site easily, etc. There is no need to re-enter all of the content again because you want a slightly different system, the way you'd have to do with a static site.
- Scalable system for all but the biggest sites.
- Easy to include a password protected area for your site.
- Clients can make their own changes to their sites without knowing HTML.
- Clients can even add their own new menu links! Easily!
Joomla sites NEGATIVE:
- You MUST stay up with the updates and upgrades to keep the site secure. Otherwise, you're likely to wake up hacked one day.
- Some specialized hosting required, relative to a DW site: need PHP 5, MySQL database as part of the hosting package. (However, this type of configuration is becoming more baseline for most hosting these days -- it's rare not to get some PHP and MySQL support with the average hosting package.)
- If you know nothing about databases, installing Joomla yourself can be a little intimidating the first time. (However, your host is frequently able to install Joomla for you for an extra charge.)
- Product has been around almost 4 years, with a major, major shift happening 2 years ago (Joomla 1.0 to 1.5). Documentation in the Joomla community is great if your an engineer or have an engineering background, but absolutely dismal if you're new to website design and development. Historically (until Barrie North's book), the books were awful for newbies but are now getting better... but there's very few of them available. Not many training videos out there, but we're starting to get some now. Very limited corporate training. Not a lot of integration into high school and college curricula, but starting to see some movement toward teaching some open source content management systems (largely Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla). So -- if you are not the kind of person who has the drive to figure a lot of this out on your own and ask questions in the appropriate forums, you will not do well learning Joomla.
So, when should I build a Dreamweaver site?
- Your client has next to no money.
- They want 20 pages of content or less. There will never be any additional content.
- They want an electronic brochure. No "Web 2.0" tools, nothing interactive.
- They do not want to make their own updates. Ever. This might be because they will never update the site, or it's because they have no interest in ever updating their own site and always want you to do it.
- You will not be updating the site very often, every 3 months or so at most.
- Even with this set of requirements, you could still build their site in Joomla, with an eye towards the future. If they do ever want to add something more, you'll be in a better position to add that shopping cart, discussion board, poll, etc. If a client's site is successful and they feel like it starts to bring them business, they typically want to do more with it as time goes along.
And when should I build a Joomla site?
- I really believe that, in the middle of 2009, there is no excuse not to build your website in some form of content management system. If it's a tiny dinky site, look at Wordpress. If it's enormous, there's plenty of commercial options with 6 figure price tags (and up) that will give you anything you want and do all of the support to boot. And for the rest of us that have a site that's not dinky or enormous, there's Joomla.