Tip: It's Really Time to Update to Joomla 3

Despite the lack of hoverboards in 2015, you really don't want to get trapped in the past.Despite reports of white screens and half-finished updates, which can and do lead to broken sites, I do recommend updating to Joomla 3 now. 

In addition to reams of good news, my impetus is this: by mid-Summer of 2015, Joomla 2.5 will see reduced community support, as the extension directory will stop listing add-ons for that version of the platform.

It's well-known that some will hesitate for whatever time, being nervous, or just stubborn, before the crucial step forward. With the forums for Joomla 1.5 still active today, it's clear, "end of life" has been an overstatement compared to reality in the wild.

Trent Reznor and Robert Frost both agreed, the way out is through. So, here's how we're going to get through this: I'm going to make you even more nervous, by giving you full immersion of the updated direction of the project. Thus shaken and stirred, you'll be ready for me to ease your mind, with the good news. As is so often necessary with Joomla upgrade decisions, it's time again to turn our attentions back to the dang future.

Fact: Magic 8-Balls Can't Be Trusted

Let me first qualify, as awkwardly as possible, that I wouldn't characterize things at the Joomla project these past several months as exactly chaotic -- at least, not far and away, beyond the usual. The results speak for themselves: Joomla 3 is not what the result of chaos, looks like. 

All that noise and dust and tape and bits? That's just another vibrant, open source project, iterating its life cycle, again. Those of you just joining, won't notice any of that -- those upgrading from 2.5, however, might want to watch their heads.

Since the release of Joomla 2.5, the project has continued to undergo phases of rebirth. The team has, in fact, unlocked deeper rebirth projects, in the form of fresh commitments to reform old code. Continuing research and introspection about the impact of programming techniques and quality, plus good community diligence in general, has put new aspects of the legacy code under the microscope. Major projects necessary to effect an ideal state, where parts of the whole are fully decoupled with no loss of functionality or efficiency, are underway -- projects which are, bluntly, huge pains in the aft, but which are also key to Joomla's flowering maturity.

Those new to web tech might ask: What in the above, is cause for concern? Nothing exactly, but the perception shift is tough to convey to non-tech readers. 

Adding new features, and working to purge legacy code, are each "measure 42 times, cut once" affairs. Both efforts also prompt interface questions -- what depth, and kinds of options should each component, or the platform, provide? In short, the fundamentals aren't done changing -- fundamental changes are likely to accelerate, gradually. And, while some of these changes will be implemented more-or-less fully and evenly, others will manifest one toe-dip at a time.

Now, the good news.

Renovating the core, means better functionality for everything.
Here comes an upgrade.

First, the extension community, and even other savvy volunteers, are in on these developments, to whatever degree they are willing and able to contribute. This has always been true -- and it remains a steadily-used step-up for any extension publisher with the resources to lead alongside the Joomla team. Extensions published by vital dev houses, will have less and less trouble keeping up, newcomer and legacy alike.

Second, this code renovation means we may not get the advances we want, but instead, we'll get the ones we need. For example, soon we will edit modules in our sites' front-ends; and a new, smarter Media Manager with drag-drop functionality is on the horizon.

Third is that attention to the core, moderates the speed of changes to each of Joomla's parts. Stable, core functionality such as the Content component, will remain an ideal place to hang plug-ins and modules to create custom features. Beyond stock Content, third party code will benefit from the core team's increased dependence on extension-installation faculties, as the Joomla bundle gets decoupled and sliced away for optional inclusion. 

Renovating the core, means better functionality for everything.

The next anxiety was the usual community drama that accompanies directional shifts. The missed projections for dates to complete renovation on the Joomla Extensions Directory (JED) and Joomla Resources Directory (JRD), for example, and discussions of changes in policies on the community of sites, are real causes of anxiety for business operators. 

Delays and uncertainty are no stranger to the land of web IT. Besides that, I believe the market respects those who prefer to release when ready, rather than release a pathetic joke on time. (Hey, give the new JED a chance - it's not perfect yet, but in many ways, it's better than the old.)

As for policy changes, there are two paths for those affected. For example, if the JED bans a not-uncommon practice among extension authors, will those extensions cease to exist? The answer is that those extensions' customers have a lot to say about it -- but moreso at each extension author's website, perhaps.

With growth spurts (and growing pains) being propelled by larger general upheavals, all of it spread nice and chunky over time, we have what appears to be a continued situation normal at the Joomla project.

And so, everyone hopefully understands how and why the voices of even simple bug reports, can become hyperbolic. To take these noises too seriously, is to forget that web communities always experience turbulence when features change, when service availability fluctuates, or when terms of engagement mutate or shift. 

It's understandable, it's normal, and it's productive. If you have something to say, get involved.

The general upheavals themselves, are not without some aftertaste of concern. However, the Joomla community has seen shifts in decision-making before, and with good effect. 

Many of us using Joomla to some degree or another in business, may prefer long term plans. However, any sensible businessperson knows plans are always mere guideposts. With the cancellation of the STS/LTS release schedule, the development roadmap is no longer chained to a marketer's or financier's vision of clearly marked stepwise launchpads into the future.  

Since that change, the freedom to resume basing Joomla's development solely on reality, has been a boon. Instead of racing to meet arbitrary, PR-friendly deadlines, decisions about the direction of the technology, are once again being made in probably the only feasible way for a project of Joomla's nature -- as they come. 

What's (Newly) Ahead

We're heading toward a leaner Joomla, with pre-packaged pieces even more optional than in today's or yesterday's "JOS" paradigm. This will mean more nimble progress around the core of Joomla, which is both good and bad for people outside Joomla's core court.

Since the release of Joomla 3, both under and after the regime of the STS/LTS paradigm, progress in Joomla has been very swift, in terms of successful, fundamental changes in a large volunteer project. Minor version numbers are no longer truly minor revisions, and I observe, if the team can sustain this pace, they'll be poised to mimic the claims made by the makers of web browsers -- that the major version number on such a big project, can legitimately go up more than once each year.

Or, they might remain more realistic, despite the upswing in success. For all the above reasons, it has been gutsy of the Joomla project leadership to announce that the JED will not host extensions for Joomla 2.5, any longer, beginning in summer of 2015. This doesn't hinder automatic updates of extensions already installed, but it does mean you'll have to go to numerous individual websites to keep up with those extensions which don't use the updater. It's clear, the goal is to hinder new installation of the dead platform, and remove community support to anyone considering writing new extensions for it.

And so, although we're only at Joomla 3.3 -- counting four minor versions of Joomla 3 (3.0, 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3) in the two years since the 3.X series was released -- since these minor version numbers now blur the line of minor vs major updates, it's arguable we've practically seen four new versions of Joomla, in only two years. 

It's easy to sympathize with those who aren't gripped by web tech.

From certain points of view, this can be the most controversial path forward, of all. The business world is traditionally the slowest to adopt to changing IT practices. If whole swaths of Joomla become obsolete before small non-tech businesses set aside time or money to care, and if inadequate efforts to stay current become hindered -- a stick to the carrot of marginally easier updates -- Joomla would position itself as less appealing, to those who expect that little budget or time expense should suffice, in an area of their business which they see not as exciting, but as just another operating cost. In light of the GNU GPL and the spirit of open source, imposing such difficulties does head off the erroneous flight of small organizations hoping to dodge the costs of upgrading, but could have increasingly brutal effects on nonprofits who consented to use Joomla, prior to their organizers having experienced their lives' first digital meltdowns.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room, inasmuch as forums have rooms. Something is causing the updater to crash. This may be a philosophical difference, but knowing as I do that these crashes are preventable (albeit, only via work some programmers consider pedantic), the spate of broken updates I know to exist, smacks to me of a very specific failure, to put either safeties or warning signs, on a powerful device with potentially permanent consequences. This isn't an 11th hour reversal to the article -- I'm not stamping the 3.X release a failure -- I love Joomla 3 and I'm glad to leave 2.5 behind. However, I don't accept as acceptable standard behavior, the destruction of user data due to a trappable user error. It's inappropriate to provide the simplicity of a one-click update button front-and-center without equally front-and-center cautions, and then place the fault for broken results squarely on the user, and merely wash hands.

As compelling as the case for users may be, however, the counter-argument to that, is even stronger, because it's impervious to all argument: the Joomla team is of limited size, and is made up of volunteers who rarely get paid for any of the hours they spend bringing us Joomla. They're already doing it better, faster, and cheaper, thereby violating all the thermodynamic laws of conservation of business. To ask total perfection and hand-holding, too, would require converting the devs into a marketing team, who specializes in building a very robust digital system for publishing Caution signs.

The thinner, leaner Joomla we're headed towards, will mean the ability to say yes, to a wider range of ideas. Meanwhile, these legitimate upheavals are the inevitable transition toward something good -- OSM has worked hard over the past few years to create both the perception, and reality, that Joomla should be taken seriously by developers with higher and higher levels of skill. As an open source project, this necessarily means letting those experienced dev houses, question and shape the way things are done. As that has begun to play out, we've moved toward a much better Joomla overall -- and considering that this is the internet, I think we can call any volunteer body which survives such complex and affecting growing pains, successful in its effort to grow. 

The upshot is that Joomla 3.X is far superior to all Joomlas before it, even though it is not the magic bullet we were once told, by now, to expect. Another important take-away is that groups of limited volunteers do grow weary at times, especially when user habits lead to an ever-widening spread of how those volunteers must spend their time. So, updating to Joomla 3 helps you twice -- it gets you a better Joomla overall, and helps the entire community by ensuring that the focus of support from all corners, can flood unhindered to the current version. 

Click here to evaluate hiring me to perform your Joomla update.

© 2018 Nathan Hawks

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