Mambo: Power in Simplicity?

This article predates another Mambo complication: the fork into Mambo (backed by Miro; maybe somewhat corporate) and the - apparently more open source - version that's now called Joomla!

The Mambo homepage has a nifty slogan: "Power in Simplicity". But is this valid? After more than a year using Mambo, I think there's truth in Power in Simplicity; yet at the same time, there is also Weakness in Complexity.

Some of the power stems from being able to make sitewide changes with little more than the press of a (virtual) button. Suppose you want to turn off Google ads for all pages, and soon afterwards switch them back on (as I've recently done). It's a cinch with Mambo. You can just as easily change the look of the site throughout. Or add a forum, a shop, a photo gallery. Contributors can write and edit web pages.

And yet, as so often with computing, the "simplicity" depends on doing things right. Make what can seem a small error, and you can have problems; at worst, these can result in the whole site ceasing to work, with nothing on each page but a short error message (happily, when you fix the error, the site springs back to life). Then even if do things perfectly, Mambo includes complexity; the worst I'm so far aware of is in the latest version, which is prone to creating unwanted, search engine unfriendly, duplicate URLs.

Mambo Simplicity

I'm writing this in the window of a web browser, using a WYSIWYG editor (TMEdit), which even includes smilies like the one I've just added to the heading, allowed me to use <h1> tags for the heading, enables me to include, position and resize photos. When I save the text, along with assigned title and the section and categories I want it in, Mambo will put it in a database, ready to retrieve to create a webpage. That page will have various other elements - like random photos, menus, Google ads - but I don't need to worry about them now; already told Mambo what elements I want for this and other pages in this category, and Mambo will duly put them together (content managing) when the page is requested.

This indeed helps make for power in simplicity.

Also, instead of text (perhaps with photos) like this, the main element of a page could be from a "component" - like a photo gallery, a forum, a shop... Again, this would be part and parcel of the Mambo site, complete with required elements.

Mambo tracks the website items, creates links between them, and generates URLs.

As I was told by Shri, master of many a website including GeoExpat.Com, once you've started using a content management system, you won't go back to building pages in the basic, Dreamweaver etc fashion - ie making individual pages on your computer, then uploading to server, and having to update links etc as well.

 Mambo Complexity

But unless you're a software hotshot, or very lucky, you'll find the course of true Mambo love does not run smooth.

Even installing Mambo can be troublesome if you're new to concepts like how to use php, and how to change file permissions (I was). Shouldn't be too bad - and you can find hosts who'll pre-install for you.

Then, you have to figure the terminology, and learn just how to set about creating pages and so on. Here, you might wonder - if Mambo's so simple, why is the (very worthwhile) list of Mambo Documentation Resources so long? But soon, you should have some basic items, and a frontpage, a menu module or two, perhaps using a template you've chosen; and you perhaps won't have worried too much about all the possible settings and choices, especially those presented when you choose how to link to an item, for instance (is there a page class suffix, should this show or hide the back button or use global choices, show or hide the category link or the section link etc etc etc etc).

Then, you might want some of the extra goodies people have developed for Mambo. Here, the complexity can start - for they don't always mesh perfectly with Mambo, or with each other.

You may also want to make some minor enhancements, which depend on hacks (edited versions of software files) you might find on forums. Care needed here, especially for php duffer like me. I've at times made changes - usually just cutting and pasting code - then uploaded files, only to find myself testing pages and confronted only with error messages, often referring to "parse error" and something awry on a line or two or three of php code. Yikes - looks terrible! (In worst case, even my administrator pages wouldn't show.) But, going back to original file should restore the site; and can then perhaps check forums for answers.

I had one problem that seemed weird, till read post in forum by someone with same error message; reply to this suggested that they'd used cPanel to edit, and this adds three blank lines at end of php code. I checked; there were indeed three blank lines, which I removed, and things were then ok.

Latest Mambo has itself got what I consider a major complexity problem built in: those duplicate URLs. For identical or near identical content, Mambo can generate several URLs, differing in id numbers that Mambo appears to add each time you create a link (from a menu, or via a category listing and so on). As discussed in another article here, Xaneon Extensions helps with this - plus uses words instead of numbers in URLs - but you still need care to try and tame the URLs

And with Mambo being an open source project, you might find you choose a certain component, only to find a once enthusiastic developer loses interest, no longer has time, or vanishes to work on something new. I had this happen with a photo gallery, RSGallery. Xaneon Extensions seems to have stalled. Check MamboForge - where most projects in progress are found - and you can even find projects people supposedly started months ago, without posting even a file.

Likewise, I have fingers crossed Mambo will keep on evolving, with support maintained. After all, I may grouch n grumble about those URLs (especially), but it's a tremendous piece of work, especially as a volunteer effort. 

SmileyHelp!

Happily, thanks to a strong user community, there's heaps of help available for Mambo. As Mambo evolves, the documentation is a continual work in progress. There are various forums - especially the official Mambo forum, and Mambers.com, which appears to be a sort of rival cum sibling. Then, there are websites with forums dedicated to several of the key Mambo components, again with lots of info.

Rather than visit each individually, perhaps the best way to find potentially helpful threads/posts is to use Google (say) with selection of words and phrases related to your problem. If you don't find an answer, try posting a forum message.
 

If you have comments, questions, tips, please email me, or post in the Mambo forum here.

Martin

Comments

Mambo has always been FOSS and is certified as such by the OSI.

I started using Mambo about the same time as you evidently, but at that time I had been installing and using PHP, Java, and Perl-based webpublishing apps since 2001-02. Believe me, Mambo was and still is waaaaay easier than most alternatives that might be considered peers or substantially similar tools.

To complain this stuff is "not simple" because you have to learn a little PHP, use FTP, and CHMOD (but not use any *nix shell) is like a young person complaining that they can't just get in a car and drive it without taking a class, a test, etc.

The entrance barriers to owning and operating a complex website are virtually negligible which is why the web is a cracker's paradise.