October 3, 2006

Mambo and Joomla: One year on

Author: Mayank Sharma

In August 2005 Mambo, one of open source's poster child content management systems (CMS), was involved in a bitter duel with its core developers, who forked the project to give birth to Joomla. Could the developers survive without the management? Could Mambo do without its developers? Surprisingly, both projects today are doing pretty well. Here's a look at the projects' history, developer relations, community-building, and future prospects.

Developer Mark Stewart, the editor of Mambotastic, which provides tutorials and news for users of both systems, believes the differences between Joomla and Mambo are still relatively hidden from view. "There have been a whole host of security fixes to Joomla, but as a third-party developer, I develop components on Mambo, and they always work on Joomla, and the same the other way around, without any modification. There may be particular Joomla-specific API changes, although I have not come across them at this point. Of course, the administration side of Joomla has undergone a facelift, and looks much slicker than its Mambo counterpart, and there appears to be significantly more activity around it at the moment."

The main difference between the two, Stewart thinks, is the community currently following Joomla. "They've succeeded on a grand scale and they have real support out there. Not least, they have the respect from their followers, peers and competitors alike, for their dedication to the community."

Hagen Graf, the author of Building Websites with Mambo and Building Websites with Joomla, says most of his clients have shifted to Joomla, for reasons that include "a mixture of reliable third-party developers, security, and good support, among other things. Joomla has released nearly every month a better version 1.0.0 - 1.0.11."

But most of these releases were security releases. Wouldn't users get weary of upgrading their installations every next week?

"The thing about this type of release is that you would only really notice the difference if you had been aware of a security breach in the first place. But these things generally come out from a project, such as Joomla, as the loopholes are discovered, so I'm just glad they are on the ball," Stewart says. At the end of the day, Stewart argues, the more regular the release policy, the more secure the end user should feel. "My one complaint about Mambo is the lack of activity on both the news and development sides."

How it all began

Australia's Miro Software Solutions developed Mambo as a closed source application. In April 2001, the company adopted a dual licensing policy, releasing Mambo under the GPL. Things went well until a legal threat in 2003. The incident led to the idea of Mambo being under the protection of a non-profit organization. But the developers were unhappy with the structure of the Mambo Foundation. Andrew Eddie, the lead developer, in a letter to the community, shared concerns about the Mambo Foundation and its relationship with the community. "We believe the future of Mambo should be controlled by the demands of its users and the abilities of its developers. The Mambo Foundation is designed to grant that control to Miro, a design that makes cooperation between the Foundation and the community impossible," Eddie wrote. So on August 17, 2005, the entire Mambo core development team quit while working on version 4.5.3.

The 20 ex-Mambo core team members, with the help of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) formed a not-for-profit organization, Open Source Matters, to provide organizational, legal, and financial support for their yet-to-be-named Open Source project. The team announced the name Joomla on September 1, 2005, and Joomla 1.0 was released on September 16.

Mambo, on the other hand, had to do damage control. The split created a lot of confusion, which led the project to write a FAQ about the fork, reaffirming that Mambo hadn't died or changed its name. Martin Brampton took over leadership of the Mambo Core team. In late October 2005, the Mambo Foundation announced the re-formation of the Mambo Steering Committee (MSC) and the filling of the empty seats that were vacated by ex-core team members Andrew Eddie and Brian Teeman.

It October 2005, Martin Brampton, the then lead developer of Mambo, sent an open letter of collaboration to his Joomla (then) counterpart Andrew Eddie in response to Eddie's suggestion "on sharing information about security issues that are liable to affect both projects." Brampton agreed adding that "there are other issues of common interest to our respective communities." His main area of concern was third-party developers, as he had noticed small interface changes in the Joomla release and wanted to know whether the two teams could "agree on some standards for the main interfaces that are used by third-party developers." There were discussions on both Mambo and Joomla communities, but eventually it was announced on the Mambo forum that Eddie had rejected Mambo's proposal through a private note to Brampton.

Stable and security releases

In early November 2005, the new Mambo Steering Committee and the core development team published a policy statement outlining future development plans. It listed areas of development that the team was focusing on, the policies it was following, and its short-term and long-term development goals. The new core team reviewed the code the old team was working on, dealt with the recorded bugs, and tackled security weaknesses. At the end of November the new development team released its first version since the split, Mambo 4.5.3. The software was well-received by the community, with more than 200,000 downloads in 10 days.

In May 2006, Mambo released the final version in the 4.5.x series, 4.5.4, and the team shifted its focus to the new 4.6 branch. In its yearly roundup, Team Mambo wrote, "Version 4.6 will see a comprehensive approach to internationalization, including the client side, the admin side, and the content. It will also include a completely new role-based access control scheme." Mambo 4.6 was released last week.

Meanwhile, Joomla had its hands full with several security releases. In its Joomla 1.1 roadmap, the team promised to deliver new features for third-party developers, internationalization support, the ability to work with databases other than MySQL, and lots more. After considering the scope of the planned changes in the new core, the developers decided to call the upcoming version Joomla 1.5.

Both projects have also been rocked by instability in the core leadership. Brampton resigned from the Mambo board and severed all ties with the Mambo project in April. He said he was troubled by the state of affairs of the Mambo Foundation, calling their activities "unlawful" in his resignation letter. Mambo installed Chad Auld as the core team lead, and work continues on Mambo.

Joomla too has faced rough weather. Core member Brain Teeman resigned from the board of Open Source Matters and left the project in April. He was followed by Mitch Pirtle and Arno Zijlstra, who quit the core team in July. That month also saw Andrew Eddie, who had led the core team away from Mambo and into Joomla, resign from the project, though he agreed to contribute to the project from within one of its working groups.

Building a community

In October 2005, barely a month after its first release, Joomla won the Best Linux/Open Source Project for 2005 award at the LinuxWorld show in London. Core team member Brian Teeman also won UK Individual Contribution to Open Source for 2005 award. Meanwhile, Mambo won the Best Open Source Software Solution award at LinuxWorld Australia in March 2006. It had earlier won the award twice in 2005 at LinuxWorld shows in Boston and San Francisco.

Finding users is all down to marketing, Stewart says. "Mambo, let's not forget, is on almost every Plesk install on the planet, which incidentally is where I discovered it, sitting in the list of default installations. That's quite a powerful position." On the other hand, he points out, Joomla is now being marketed as a powerful site-building solution by a number of larger hosting providers.

"I think when you look at older users, the fame of Mambo is gone," Graf says. "But brand Mambo is still very strong," he adds in the same breath. As he looks at things, "new users don't understand the differences, but they see that the buzz is in the Joomla community."

Stewart agrees. "I have to say, from what I can see, Joomla has all the activity right now. You just have to look at their Web site to see the volume of content being generated by third-party developers and service providers." He goes on to add that the quality of the content too is gaining momentum fast, and he wouldn't be surprised if Joomla led the way full force, in the months and years to come, probably to the detriment of Mambo. "In some ways that's a little sad, as Mambo is where most of the longstanding community members began."

Both projects have also hit the bookshelves. Apart from the books by Graf's titles, there's "Mambo Visual Blueprint from Wiley and Sons. Graf, whose book on Mambo was published six months before the split, gets more questions about the CMS and how to use it from the Mambo users, while Joomla users mostly give him feedback.

Stewart, at the moment, gets more queries from the Joomla sector. "Most users are on the hunt for the capabilities of the CMS, and the number of small but established commercial organizations using it to aid rapid development is certainly on the up," he says.

Both projects have plenty of online documentation and active forums boards, so new users wouldn't find it too difficult to roll out either system. Graf agrees that both systems are "very newbie-friendly thanks to their Web-based installers." Stewart, though, finds it difficult to compare both the systems in terms of being newbie-friendly. He believes "it kind of depends at what level the newbie is. I know, having coerced a fair number of individuals and organizations to turn their heads towards both CMSes, that non-techies still find it difficult to get their head around the concept, and seem reluctant to learn. I've had a number of formal training requests from some larger organizations."

When it first began, the Joomla project published a migration guide to help users who wanted to shift from Mambo 4.5.2 to Joomla 1.0. It also announced an advocacy forum to help understand the CMS needs of non-profit organizations. By December 2005, Joomla had more than 16,000 subscribers on its forums.

Keeping third-party developers happy

One of the things both The Mambo Foundation and Open Source Matters (OSM) have done is to create impressive showcase environments for third-party developers to gain publicity for their open source and commercial offerings and services.

In February 2006, the Mambo team, while re-launching its development and distribution Web site MamboXchange, also announced another site called The Source, designed to promote better interfacing with the community.

Joomla launched a categorized Extensions directory site in March in response to users having difficulty locating extensions from the plethora available on JoomlaForge. This followed the February launch of the Developer Network Portal for better interaction between the core developers and third-party developers.

"This is a real, free-of-charge opportunity, and is incredibly successful," Stewart says. "Of course, the whole thing is reciprocal -- the more third-party developers to provide offerings for the two CMSes, the more attractive the CMSes themselves become to the wider market, so each feeds the other, but it has to be one of the most successful models around. All this coupled with documentation, tutorials, APIs and a whole host of support offerings, makes both systems very attractive from a third-party developers perspective."

In the summer both systems had security problems with badly programmed extensions. "The Joomla team reacted quickly with security releases," Graf says. He says he believes that with the upcoming Joomla 1.5, the situation will get better, as the new Joomla is more of a framework than a CMS system, which is a good starting point for third-party developers.

Looking ahead

Both projects are steaming ahead as per their roadmaps, which also takes them further away from each other.

"Joomla has an aggressive plan to diverge significantly and head for a bigger value market sector with 1.5," Stewart says. Graf goes to the extent of saying that in his view 1.5 is the real beginning of the Joomla Project.

Having worked with both systems, what features would Graf and Stewart like to see in upcoming versions? Graf believes that the Web has changed in the last two years, with Web 2.0 being the buzzword and mashups of Web sites and blogs the big thing at the moment. "Templating is becoming more important. Video downloads and geo service are a must."

Stewart on the other hand, is looking out for something he can take to the enterprises, moving out of the MySQL box and into the commercial database sector. "I don't think MySQL is less worthy, I just think the corporate market thinks it is." He reasons that "with the movement of PHP into the larger commercial sector, and their new partnerships with companies like Oracle and IBM, the business community is comfortable with the language and the benefits of this type of development."

So can two similar systems survive and compete in the already over-crowded CMS-domain? "Some people drink Coke, some drink Pepsi," Stewart shrugs.

Category:

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