Changing Content Management Systems

Having long been an advocate of several open source content management systems, I’ve also done the difficult task several times of moving content from one system to another.   Given these systems rarely (if ever) have built in export and import abilities (WordPress being one of them however), you can expect to do much of such a conversion by hand, one article at a time.  If you have a large amount of content, obviously, this is a very time consuming and expensive endeavor.  Moving users and passwords would require several complex database queries and testing as one must also understand how the passwords are encrypted. It’s a painful process and often too expensive for many clients to consider doing.

CMS2CMS

Here’s a resource to make this no longer an issue. CMS2CMS.com can make the conversion from one CMS to another in a matter of minutes.  They’ve written the complex scripts needed to perform these tasks and appear to be adding to the list of what they can support all the time.   They even have a script that will spider a site and push the content into the CMS of your choosing — take a look at the HTML to CMS path.  Here is the full list of supported platforms.

I used their services to move a Joomla based website running on 1.x Joomla to the latest WordPress version and their tools captured all of the content and most importantly, moved all 138 members of the old site to the new.  This was done in about 10 minutes time, including the time for me to put their “bridge” script on the client’s server.  This allowed me to get the conversion done in an amazingly fast way — my client could not be happier.  Me, too.

Securing Older Versions of Joomla

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One reason I’ve begun to prefer WordPress over Joomla is that WordPress has made the upgrade process so much easier than Joomla. To upgrade Joomla 1.x to 1.5, you have to use special tools and again if you go from 1.5 to 2 or version 3, be prepared for a different toolset and migration path.  Ugh!  Worse still, Joomla Extensions have become very version specific due to a lack of backwards compatibility. WordPress on the other hand allows one to simply put the new code in place, and so long as there is not a conflict with a Plugin, the code takes care of everything else for you, including updating the database.

Perhaps it is only because I haven’t tried to migrate a very customized WordPress site that I feel this way, or that my more complicated older sites are nearly all in Joomla.  So long as I keep a copy of the changes I’ve made to styles or any core files, I’m able to keep things up to date really quite easily with WordPress. As noted above, sometimes an entire system isn’t easy to replace though.  There are times a client has invested heavily into very specific Joomla module or tool — only to have these items not become readily available to the newest versions of Joomla. (I am not finding this to be true of WordPress Plugins — another reason to go with WordPress today.)  So the problem to deal with is securing older versions of Joomla that have known security issues.  What exactly can one do to make an older Joomla site more secure? Let’s take a look at securing Joomla.

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Dealing with Hacked Websites

hackers-suckSimply put, hackers suck.  Over the past six to eight months, I’ve had to deal with the hacking of many former (and a few current) client websites.  All but one of the exploits came through older versions of Joomla, and the exception being an older WordPress site.  Version 1.0 of Joomla is ancient by Internet terms, and there were several security exploits discovered with it.  Add to this that there are often third party extensions with additional exploit possibilities. This environment makes it so any jackass who can write a script that searches source code on pages for specific components or Joomla references can then upload files to your server.  Ugly.  Really ugly.

The compromised websites in all cases continued to function, at least somewhat.  One hacker injected a file into the site that would in turn alter the htaccess file adding mod_rewrite rules that would redirect anyone coming from Facebook, Google and just about any other search engine or social networking site.  If one were to type the URL in directly, nothing happened.  No URLs in the search engines were altered either; the redirects in the htaccess file hijacked only people who had headers from one of these sources.  A couple of sites had files that were posting text on pages and adding new links.  One hack destroyed the ability of using the administrator section of Joomla causing a 500 error upon login.

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DocMan – Joomla Download and Document Manager

dashboard-smallAnyone new to Joomla will likely not know of this excellent Extension, but for newcomers, it’s really almost a most have in my view.  I’m talking about DocMan, a download and document management tool from Joomlatools.

DocMan is nearly as old as Joomla itself and quite mature; it has many features and an intuitive interface.  There a permission levels, categories and subcategories, obfuscation of the download path and an “anti-leeching” feature preventing others from linking to your downloads.

There are some nice add-ons, some from Joomlatools, others from third parties.  One add on I’ve used is AutoPopulate.  Having several hundred files that I needed to be inserted into the management system and have titles and categories was far simpler using this add on.  There are many others, including ones for charging for downloads via PayPal and more.

Over the years I have tried several other Joomla document management tools, but always regret not sticking with DocMan.  It works well and has more resources than any other that I’ve found.  If you’re building a website that needs a document management section, consider DocMan the answer to your needs.

RocketTheme – Templates for Developers

I’m not a web designer, I’m a web developer.  Sometimes one can be both a designer and a developer, but while I know I understand design and know design sensibilities, I’m simply never going to be a designer.  It’s just not my skill set.  My efforts at design tend to be utilitarian and spartan, at best.  (For those of you in a similar boat, check out The Non-Designer’s Design Book.)

Thankfully, there is a resource available to me at a very reasonable cost to fill the need I have for high quality designs; RocketTheme.  The founders of RocketTheme are some of the original team that worked on Joomla! and have been building templates for it for several years.  In the past year or so, they’ve also expanded their template offerings to include WordPress, Magento, phpBB3 and Drupal.

What started out as nice looking, varied styled templates has now become highly customizable, extendable, full featured nice looking templates.  Their designs are now built on their own open source template platform called  the Gantry Framework.  Gantry allows for a great deal of customization including a custom view for mobile browsers.  For $50, you get three months of access to the templates of one of these platforms, support, and the ability to use a template on a business site.  (Please check their licensing agreement for full details.)  Even more generous is the offer to use these templates on any number of non-profit websites.  Note, you still must purchase access to the templates even if you are using it on a non-profit’s site.  The offer is extremely generous, especially given the number of templates and styles within these templates that are available to you.  They also provide the source art files for you to use to customize the look and feel to your needs.  I know of no other template service or offer that matches this for quality and features.

This website has had a RocketTheme based design for the past 5 years.  This is the fourth template, and the first from their WordPress work.  (For more on why I have switched from the extremely versatile Joomla! platform to WordPress, read this early post.)  While still finding my way about the Gantry Framework’s features for WordPress, I’m quite thrilled with the capabilities and features.

BasicsOfJoomla.com

Basics of Joomla!, by Frank NilsenI have done a fair amount of training and instruction of late on Jooma! (that exclamation point is part of the official name – damn annoying really). I continue to find it a very worthwhile content management system (CMS) with great extensions and flexibility. While I find it easy to use, teaching new users how to work with it always highlights for me the things that are not consistent in the UI and what concepts are tough to grasp for people unfamiliar with dynamic websites.

Frank Nilsen has done the Joomla community a huge favor by writing his “Basics of Joomla” book.  It’s worth the small donation fee he requests many times over.  The writing is pared down to be only what is needed to manage content, not build your own CMS, program Joomla or do any other gazillions of things that web developers would dive into but their clients would run from.  So many of the help books are written for developers and not the “average” user who is someone with absolutely no web development skills.  If you’re looking for a way of learning Joomla or need to teach your clients how to work with this tool, I suggest you point them to Frank’s website first.

Joomla! 1.7 – Needs Versioning Still

Joomla!The Design Mission has long been a supporter and advocate of Joomla!, an open source content management platform that is highly extendable.  But with the latest version, the Joomla development team has finally provided some much sought after functionality; the ability to do updates within the admin panel, integrated CAPTCHA, and the ability to connect to other types of databases.  An even cooler features is the ability to create a clone or child of a ‘master template’ allowing administrators to make modifications to the template that won’t be written over with an update.

One missing feature still is versioning of content.  WordPress has this feature and it would be a huge help to content managers.  Hopefully in the coming year this will be a feature added to the core.

UPDATED: Joomla has quickly jumped from versoin 1.7 to 2.5 in version numbers.  However, 1.7 is the still currently the keystone version from which all auto-updating comes.