Joomla 2.5 Stable Released

Joomla! 2.5 - Extra Features! Easy Updates! Too many exclamation marks!As of January 24th 2012 Joomla 2.5 was made generally available, in line with Joomla’s six-month release cycle which  started with the delivery of Joomla 1.6 in January 2011 and Joomla 1.7 in July, 2011.

At first glance it seems very similar to the previous version, but “under the hood” there are a number of key enhancements and new features, including:

Automatic notification when a Joomla or extension update is available. This extends on the update functionality already present in previous versions. As a Joomla developer I find this particularly welcome.

A better natural language search engine to the Joomla core, faster and more versatile than the standard search, and offering better functionality such as auto-completion and stemming (for example if you type “running” in a search field you also see run).

Multi-database support, which should make Joomla more attractive to a corporate user-base and improve scalability. Joomla 2.5 offers support for Microsoft SQL Server, with Oracle support promised in the near future. Previous versions of Joomla supported MySQL exclusively. Again, from the perspective of a Joomla developer this is a particularly welcome feature in raising the profile of Joomla amongst prospective clients. Generation X already offer a choice of Linux or Windows-based hosting to our clients, and can now offer Joomla on either platform. However, as an advocate of Open Source software my default setup will remain MySQL-focused.

Joomla 2.5 demonstrates what a truly collaborative community-driven software project Joola is, having been developed with the feedback gathered from more than 2.5 million Joomla forum posts, 540,000 Joomla forum members and data from more than 8,800 Joomla extensions.

However, before widespread adoption can take place wider support for Joomla extensions such as Virtuemart and Community Builder will be needed for Joomla 2.5. I had been hoping to use Joomla 2.5 on a new eCommerce project today, but Virtuemart 2.0 does not yet support this latest version of Joomla, and while support is promised within the next fortnight it seems prudent to develop the site using the Joomla 1.7.4 version, and upgrade to Joomla 2.5 when Virtuemart support becomes available (and stable).

 

Our new Shropshire holiday cottage

Shropshire Holiday Cottage: The Inglenook, with the newly serviced Rayburn oven.We have just completed the purchase of a pretty 2-bedroom cottage in the market town of Ellesmere, Shropshire.  It is full of character and charm, with an Inglenook fireplace, a Rayburn oven, and lots of original features including wooden floorboards, open beams and wall timbers. We’re currently adding a luxurious new kitchen, upgrading the bathroom, redecorating throughout and adding a decking area to enhance the already pretty back garden. It should be available as a holiday let from March 1st, 2012.

Tentatively named Apple Tree Cottage, we think it will make an ideal self-catering holiday cottage. Shropshire is a beautiful county, and the holiday cottage is ideally located just 200 metres from Ellesmere’s pretty town centre, but equally close to the lovely Shropshire countryside and the Shropshire Union Canal. It is also conveniently located for Ellesmere College, which is just a mile away along country lanes.

I’m currently in the process of developing a website at the imaginatively named Shropshire Holiday Cottage website

In the meantime contact me on 01691 624903 for further details, or to make a booking.

A(nother) blog is born

I’ve just added a new blog to the website I created for Martin Digby, a friend who runs an outdoor activities company based in North Shropshire. The blog is built upon the latest version of WordPress and utilises a theme based upon the one this site uses. In the case of the Martin Digby blog I’ve increased the width of the page, added a custom background image and incorporated the same Flash header that is used on the main site – all in order to give the new blog the same look and feel as the main website (which is built using the Joomla! platform).

In the course of his work Martin undertakes lots of the kind of activities that I’d love to do for fun, which gives him a rich vein of experiences to blog about. Read more about his adventures at www.martindigby.co.uk/blog

Joomla 1.5 SEO Checklist

Joomla 1.5 SEO Check List

Here’s a simple SEO check list for Joomla 1.5.x, added for my own reference, and based on the checklist at the excellent Red Evolution website:  http://www.redevolution.com/joomla-seo-checklist/

I’ll blog further on my experience of implementing these seo tactics on my own sites, to develop my own personal list.

  • Use SEF URL’s.
    Our preferred solution is SEF Advance.  It’s not perfect but it works very well. It’s also fast and simple to set up.
    If you are using SEF Advance you can set it to hide the section and category in the URL. This can make the URL’s simpler and shorter.
  • Page Title settings
    Set the page title to HIDE in the parameters, you can do this globally. This allows the page Title box to be used for a well crafted page TITLE element, very important for SEO, and then simply use a normal H1 element for the on page title. For content items use the title alias for your SEF URL.
  • H1 on-page header
    With the page title set to HIDE create an H1 on-page header, assuming the page content needs a header. You may need to style your CSS to make this look OK.
  • META DESCRIPTION
    Create a unique META DESCRIPTION for each page. Google uses these in the SERPs.
  • META KEYWORDS
    Create unique META KEYWORDS for each page. They are no longer important but it’s better to be safe than sorry. May still have some impact on legacy search engines?
  • Global Configuration Settings
    Empty the global META TAGS in Global Config.
    Empty the Site Name in the Global Config.
  • Fix Canonical Issues
    To fix the so called canonical issues and make sure you only have one version of your homepage add the following lines to your .htaccess file AFTER replacing ‘yourdomain.com’ with your own domain.
    #Red Evo index.php fix
    RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} ^[A-Z]{3,9}\ /index\.php\ HTTP/
    RewriteRule ^index\.php$ http://www.yourdomain.com/ [R=301,L]
    #Red Evo Homepage fix
    Redirect 301 /home http://www.yourdomain.com
  • Install the Joomap extension
    Install the Joomap extension and tell Google, Live, Yahoo etc about your site!
  • Install Google Analytics
    Install Google Analytics and/or Clicky into your template’s index.php file using the in built Joomla! Template Manager.

I heard this poem today at a funeral

Today I attended the funeral of the husband of a friend/client of mine. He killed himself last week, while she was at a business meeting with me. She read the following touchingly apt poem, The Station by Robert J. Hastings, as her eulogy to her husband:

“Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there, so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering – waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.

“When we reach the station, that will be it!” we cry. “When I’m 18.” “When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz!” “When I put the last kid through college.” “When I have paid off the mortgage!” “When I get a promotion.” “When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after!”

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Palm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.

So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough. “

The Station is included in Robert Hastings’ The Station: A Reminder to Cherish the Journey. It can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Day 4 – look and feel, baby

Yesterday, after everyone else was sensibly in bed, I burnt the midnight oil working on the new design of the Mummywear maternity site. I’ve taken what I feel to be the better aspects of the major retail sites in the industry and put them together in a fresh original design. Family feedback this morning was positive, so the next stage is to take my mockup design and convert it into a Joomla template.

I also need to give some thought to the best format for my blog which brings me back to the Joomla vs. WordPress conundrum. I’ll do some final research on this tonight and then make a decision. Certainly the sooner I can start adding copy the better, even if the site is still in development.

Hasta manana.

Day 3 – slowly but surely builds the site

Today was mainly spent on routine work for Generation X – confirming a new client order, chasing up payment from existing customers and catching up on some development work. It was a productive day and I felt that I’d achieved a lot. However, this has left little time to work on Mummywear Maternity. It was only after Jude went to bed that I thought I’d spend an hour on the project, and now almost four have passed.

Yesterday I created a Statcounter account and added the code onto the Mummywear site, to run alongside the Google Analytics code. I hadn’t been sure which of these two stats package to use – I am familiar with the information provided by Statcounter and feel it will be more helpful (and interesting) in the early stages of the development of the site. I anticipate that Google Analytics will come into it’s own when the site begins to generate significant traffic.

I also captured some screenshots of the websites of the major maternitywear retailers I hope to partner with, to get an idea of how they present their products, and to seek some design inspiration. I looked at the main page of each site and the appropriate maternity and product pages in each case. Jude and I then agreed on a shortlist of  four which I’ll look at again later today. In addition to site layout I also need to consider the structure and navigation elements that need to be incorporated into the design. 

Tonight I’ve installed the latest version of Joomla, and then put the holding page back at the public front-end. I had also installed Virtuemart 1.1.3 but then discovered that it appears to have serious compatibility issues with versions of Internet Explorer prior to IE8. In fact the whole Virtuemart project shows few signs of activity in recent months, which is a little worrying. In the meantime I’ve uninstalled 1.1.3 and am in the process of installing 1.1.2. The upgrade was a maintenance rather than a security one, and I intend to upgrade to 1.1.4 when (if) it becomes available. In any case as an affiliate site security issues have less impact on me than if I were developing a full ecommerce solution.

I’ve also installed the Internet Explorer Collection, which contains multiple standalone versions of IE which can be used at the same time to enable me to test cross-browser compatibilty in earlier versions of Internet Explorer.

Just going to finish installing Virtuemart now and then bed. Tasks for later today are to work on the site design and putting together some relevant content. Only when I have done this can I start to establish the affiliate relationships that will lead to that all-important dollar one.