It's mid-May now and we're less than a month away from Joomla! 1.7's release. As you may have already heard, Joomla! 1.7 is more or less the same as Joomla! 1.6 with a few additions for developers. With Joomla! 1.8, the next Long Term Support release, closing in it is a good time to start considering the improvements in the new generation of the CMS and preparing yourself for a migration. What you need, as a site integrator and user, is a guided tour of Joomla! 1.6 and beyond.

Packt Publishing was kind enough to give me a copy of “Joomla! 1.6 First Look” by Eric Tiggeler about two months ago. Ever since, I've been reading it and, let me tell you, it's the ideal resource for Joomla! 1.5 users who want to migrate to Joomla! 1.6/1.7/1.8. Before going on, let me explain here that the Joomla! project is now releasing a new version every six months. Joomla! 1.6 and 1.7 are called “Short Term Support” (STS) releases and are only supported for six months. Joomla! 1.8 will be a Long Term Support release, supported for at least a year or a year and a half (this is not very clear to me, yet). Now, all three of these releases are the same feature- and UI-wise, so learning to use one is enough to learn how to use the other two as well. In this respect, “Joomla! 1.6 First Look” is going to be a good resource for Joomla! 1.6, 1.7 and 1.8 alike.

The book doesn't aim to teach you how to use Joomla!, i.e. it's not for beginners. Instead, it's written with existing Joomla! 1.5 users in mind. The first chapter deals with basic information regarding migration from Joomla! 1.5 and a quick outlook of the new features in 1.6. The second chapter is what I would call the “reference” chapter. It gives you a detailed overview of what has been removed and changed and where to find it. As you are using Joomla! 1.6, you will start wondering “where did that option go”? Well, you'll be referring back to this chapter to find out!

The third chapter is your guided tour to organizing and managing content, i.e. how the new Articles and Categories management works. Considering that Joomla! is, essentially, a CMS this is probably the most important chapter. As you'll find out, the new content management features are adequate for many sites where you'd use a CCK component in 1.5. The fourth chapter deals with menus and modules and how it is –finally!– possible to do advanced module assignments without the need to use a third party component.

The fifth chapter is the “big cannons” chapter. It deals with Access Control Lists, the almost-infamous ACL system of Joomla! 1.6. Just a friendly reminder: just because you can, it doesn't mean you should! ACLs are powerful, yes, but it takes the author no less than thirty pages to simply scratch the surface with an extremely simple example. Yes, ACLs are that hard. Read the chapter thoroughly but think twice before using them and, if you decide to use ACLs, be prepared for some serious investment in time to maintain them.

The sixth chapter deals with the improvements in the template management system and the awesome possibility to assign different styles of the same template to different menu items. For me, that is a serious reason to use Joomla! 1.6 over 1.5 – unless you're using a template framework which supports that in Joomla! 1.5. The seventh chapter deals with the new components in Joomla! 1.6 like the language switcher and the redirections component. The eight and final chapter deals with SEO improvements in Joomla! 1.6 and I'd suggest all less experienced site integrators to read it through as it contains important information regarding SEO.

Sooner or later we all have to switch away from Joomla! 1.5 and we have to be prepared. Having a good idea of how the new generation of the Joomla! CMS works is vital to your continuous success as a site builder. “Joomla! 1.6 First Look” is a very valuable book for site integrators who are already experienced with Joomla! 1.5 and certainly allows you to acquire that knowledge. I'd suggest reading through the book, then trying to rebuild an existing, small site to 1.6. In the process you can refer back to the book when you get stuck. This is the best way to learn Joomla! 1.6 and make the most out of the book. Well, it worked perfectly for me!

Disclaimer: Packt Publishing offered me a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. The review, however, is neither influenced nor edited by Packt Publishing. It is my honest opinion.

Clarification: Some of you might wonder why I recommend this book, despite my often negative comments about Joomla! 1.6. Even though I consider Joomla! 1.6 to be immature for use in large scale live projects, I do urge you to get used to it. Joomla! 1.7 and 1.8 are the natural evolution of 1.6 and I suppose will be more stable and apt for production environments. Remember, Joomla! 1.5.0 was abysmal (like 1.6.0 was!), but 1.5.10 was a diamond. Conceptually, 1.6, 1.7 and 1.8 share the same lineage, ergo 1.8 will be the same as saying “Joomla! 1.6.10”. Version numbers are irrelevant. What matters is code maturity which does take time to achieve. You now get the point about me complaining so much about Joomla! 1.6 but still supporting it, don't you? ;)

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