At recent Joomla! User Group (JUG) Brisbane on July 7th, Joomla! Core Team member Andrew Eddie lifted the lid off Joomla! 1.6 and allowed Joomla! community to have a peek into this upcoming new version of Joomla! The presentation was broadcast as a live stream on the Web. If you missed the meeting and live broadcast, you can view the video or read the PDF file of Andrew's presentation notes. Here we summarize some important points that might interest you.
Just like everything else went through major changes, the result usually brings both good and bad news to current users. While we are glad to see some great new features implemented, there are things you should be aware of.
Will Your Host Support It?
The first on the bad news list is a significant one. Joomla! 1.6 will require PHP 5.2+ and MySQL 5.0.4+ to operate or even to install. There are tons of servers at hosting sites out there are still running older versions of PHP and/or MySQL. If your servers are one of them, maybe it's time to switch or demand your host to start upgrading.
No More Legacy Extensions
The legacy mode in Joomla! 1.5.x series to ensure backward compatibility with 1.0.x extensions will not exist in Joomla! 1.6. All extensions must be modified to get in sync with the new version. The new ACL isn't fully backward compatible. If you are an extension developer, you will have to make some changes to use the new ACL.
Will They Be Missed?
Besides the legacy mode, there are other noticeable removed from Joomla! 1.6. The Poll component will be no more because there exists better alternatives. The PDF support never works very well, so it will be dropped as well. I don't know if anyone is using XStandard Editor, but it will be gone. And, a few API's, such as DOMIT, PEAR and phputf8 among others, will also disappear.
Some Major Changes
One of the most significant changes introduced in Joomla! 1.6 is the multilevel category tree. We will say goodbye to the section in the old two-level section-category structure. Because of this, many URL will differ to the ones Joomla! 1.5.x produces. More details about this will be discussed later.
One thing concerns multilingual site developers is the changes in language files. The language files will have to conform INI standard. That includes no spaces and punctuations in the key strings as well as namespaces for better organization.
Upgrade from 1.5
So far what the impact will be of upgrading from Joomla! 1.5 to 1.6 is a total unknown. The development team is hoping to work out an upgrade path for current Joomla! 1.5.x users.
With each version upgrade, users inevitably expect to see significant improvements over the previous version. There are new and improved features and processes that will make many users happy in this coming Joomla! 1.6.
One immediate difference you will see after log into the administrator back end is its new look. Ron Severdia has redesigned the administrator template, and given us a refreshed back end. Aside from the design change, the development team is experimenting various menu structures and new toolbar buttons to improve productivity.
Where to Find the Trash?
Just as in Joomla! 1.5.x an item must be put into Trash before it can be wiped from the system. However, while in Joomla! 1.5.x you must use Trash Manager to handle the trash, in Joomla! 1.6 the whole process has been integrated into the item lists. The Trash has become one of the states, just like Publised and Unpublised, an item can be in.
Improved User Manager
A better user management that allows multiple user groups and greater access control is one of the most requested features. Finally we will definitely get it in Joomla! 1.6.
Users will be allowed to be placed into more than one user groups. Those groups can be either built-in ones or custom made ones. Each group can be configured to allow certain types of actions on the site. (These are called Type 1 ACL Rules.) All the groups are organized into an Is-A hierachy with the root at Public group.
The new ACL in Joomla! 1.6 also has somethings called Type 3 Rules. These rules define what a user can see. For instance, the system will allow only groups in access level "Confidential" to see contents marked with access level "Confidential." To set this up, you will have to create access levels and assign groups into them.
Now you have seen Type 1 and Type 3 Rules, so you must be asking what Type 2 Rules may be. While it's a little murky in regard of Type 2 Rules, they appear used to govern permissions toward particular items. The development team is working to express them in a clear and intuitive interface.
As mentioned earlier, Joomla! 1.5.x restricts content structure to a simple section-category organization. Experiences show this type of structure is adequate for most small sites, yet becomes a severe limitation for some more complex cases. To address this issue, Joomla! development team now presents us with a multiple level categories hierarchy.
Section will be a thing of the past. You will structure your Joomla! 1.6 site with levels of categories. All core extensions support nested categories. Theoretically you have unlimited levels of categories, but they may become unwieldy with more than 4 or 5 levels. Third party extensions will need to be updated to take advantage of this improved feature.
An article can still only be assigned to a single category. A tagging system may be used to emulate multiple categories for an article.
What's on the Menu?
Menus are important to your Web site because they provide navigation to visitors. Whiile the new Menu Manager is mostly similar to the one in Joomla! 1.5, there are some changes and additions to it. One welcome addition is the batch processing for menu items that allows selecting multiple items to perform an action, e.g. move and change access.
Another potential helpful addition is the Rebuild button for menus. By choosing a menu and hitting the Rebuild button, the system will recreate the menu and thus fix any corruptions.
The development team is currently experimenting different interfaces and processes for menu management, so you can expect to see more changes in that aspect.
Joomla's popularity can largely be credited to its easy-to-install and simple-to-use. Yet Joomla's true power, from a user's perspective, should be in its vast extensibility. For any features you may want to have on your site there are possibly a few extensions already developed by third parties. Joomla! 1.6 is going to keep this tradition, and provides us a better extension management tool.
The new Extension Manager will unify all types of extensions on one page. Filters can be used to restrict the list to specific extension type. Two tabs on the page show interesting new features in Joomla! 1.6. The first is the Update tab. It is supposed to be the place that will show and make available new updates for extensions installed on the system.
Occasionally you have a collection of extensions you want to install onto a newly created site. Wouldn't it be easier to upload them in one shot, and then have them properly installed individually. The Discover tab on the Extension Manager will help you with that. You can first upload those extensions to your site, then use the new Discover feature to let Joomla! find and install them. This may prove to be a neat feature.
There is a good chance you have received 404 Page Not Found errors when visiting Joomla! built sites. They occur when modifications are made to the site that change or delete URL's of certain links. Even Joomla! official site can't avoid this problem.
A partial solution is introduced into Joomla! 1.6. Redirect includes a new plugin and a new component which automatically detect and collect 404 errors, and lets you assgin redirections for those missing links.
Beta 1, 2, 3, ...
There are other features being developed at the present time, but many of them are still in an early and/or uncertain stage. We will have to wait until the first beta version to see a more complete picture. But when will the beta be released?
According to Andrew, the target date for Beta 1 release is August 3rd, 2009. When the beta stage starts, the feature set is also frozen. Joomla! 1.6 will go through as many beta releases as needed to stablize the code base. However, the development team is hoping there will be only 3 or 4 betas with 3 or 4 weeks in between. With some calculations, you may realize that Joomla! community probably will have a wonderful Christmas gift this year if everything goes smoothly.
This coming Joomla! 1.6 may further push Joomla's maturity and popularity to a new high. Its vastly improved user management and access control will give extension developers better control over permissions and access, which will result better and safer extensions. Combining with the new nested categories, it gives site developers much anticipated flexibility.
To help with the development of Joomla! 1.6, you can join Joomla! CMS Development group on Google Group for discussions and suggestions. You can also download, install and play with the alpha version on your test machine, and report any problems and questions to development team. And, when the beta version is out, please start testing it as soon as possible so that we can weed out most of bugs in a short time.