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Is it time to upgrade your Joomla! 1.5x site?

If you currently have a Joomla!2.5x site, please click here for an updated version of this article.

If your current Joomla! website was built between about 2008 and early 2011, chances are it was created using Joomla! 1.5x, which was the latest stable version available at the time.

However, software is always being improved and updated, and in recent months Joomla! has announced an official release cycle which includes Long Term Support (LTS) releases that are officially supported for about 4 years, and Short Term Support (STS) releases which are only supported for a matter of months. I've always tried to build websites using LTS releases where possible, to enable longer-term stability for my clients, but sometimes there are compelling reasons to do otherwise and sometimes your site creation may fall towards the end of a current LTS so you would not necessarily get a full 4 years. Four years!! It's worse than buying a car! :)

Important Dates

Potential Issues

While many websites are still happily running J!1.5x, there are a number of potential issues which I thought were important to highlight:

1. Web servers. Problems may arise over time as underlying hardware, operating systems and software are upgraded to newer versions. For instance, most decent webhosts nowadays run at least PHP5.3, which is the underlying code that Joomla! runs on, as it is more secure than previous versions (all websites currently hosted by WebSolutionZ are running on a PHP5.3x platform). But "old Joomla" was written for earlier PHP versions, and those older sites won't work 100% effectively on a server running newer PHP. Sometimes it's possible to perform minor hacks to force a site to keep functioning, but it isn't a happy relationship. So when a webhost installs a new, faster, bigger hosting server and moves all of the hosting accounts across to this new server, sometimes older websites will break and sometimes, they can't be fixed.

2. Browsers. Every web browser renders (displays) websites slightly differently, and newer browser versions are designed to read websites coded in a particular way. Older websites couldn't be tested in browsers that hadn't been invented yet, so sometimes a new browser version will render your older website incorrectly. It may be difficult to find a fix when your older website's code is no longer supported.

3. Security. Websites and web servers are constantly being probed for potential security exploits. The goal is generally not to hack your website, but to gain access to the server. In order to hack a website, there actually needs to be a security problem on both the website AND the server. If the server is properly secured, security holes in your website will not allow access. However, if a security hole is discovered on any web server, anywhere in the world, word gets out quickly on hacker websites and there is a good chance that if any of the components installed in your website will allow access, your website will be hacked in the attempt to take control of the server. And if you are running a J!1.5x website, chances are the developer of the rogue component will no longer be developing/maintaining their J!1.5x version of the software. Additionally, many webhosts do not look kindly upon old software that is full of security holes on their servers.

4. Smartphones and tablets. Websites don't magically just work on a smartphone or a tablet. For instance, many older websites (although none I created!) utilised Flash, which Apple and Android no longer like, so anything Flash won't even be visible on these devices. If your website is more than a couple of years old, there won't be any code within that tells it to display in a smartphone or tablet-friendly way, it will just display what it can of your "normal" website in a very, very small way and ignore the parts it cannot handle.

5. Social media connectivity. Really, you're not doing yourself any favours in 2013 if you don't at least have a Facebook Page for your business, or Twitter, or Google+, or Pinterest, or YouTube, or whatever platform is best suited to driving traffic back to your business website. You may want to add all those fancy buttons and feeds to your existing website, to show how social-media-savvy you are. Problem is, a lot of the time nobody had written nice modules to do that, back when your website was created.

So... you will probably want/need to upgrade eventually. But...

Things to consider

1. Unfortunately there is no simple upgrade path from J!1.5x. This is due to a number of factors:

  • A couple of years ago the Joomla! code was rewritten from the ground up, to incorporate new technology and new features that users were asking for. Today's Joomla! (2.5x up) is much more stable and has built-in ACL (access control lists, ie. security) and a bunch of other features including one-click security updates, support for all apps and the core, and it will work in all of the latest browsers. However, new code means it is mostly not directly compatible with the old code.
  • New Joomla! code meant that Joomla! application developers were required to rewrite their own code to work in J!2.5x. Some didn't bother, so some J1.5x applications are no longer available.
  • New Joomla! code also meant that J!1.5x templates (the "look and feel" of the site) needed to be rewritten. Again, some developers didn't bother. Additionally, templates today have changed significantly and many of the most recent templates are created with frameworks and using Responsive Design, which means they resize according to whatever device they're viewed on - ie. smartphone and tablet friendly. (As an example, please visit www.WebSolutionZ.com.au, which I've recently upgraded to a Responsive template. Try resizing the browser window across to make it as narrow as a smartphone, or view the site on a smartphone, to see what I mean.)

So rather than being a simple upgrade, moving your site from J!1.5x is actually a full migration, which involves creating a new site and migrating content.  There are some tools available which allow us to migrate existing content that is within the core components, but these tools don't always recognise all content for all third-party components (as there are thousands!) and it doesn't migrate the site template. So migrating a site is something that needs to be considered and planned on a site-by-site basis.

On some sites we could just create a new site/template and migrate the content. On others it may be simpler to create the new site/template and copy-paste the content, depending on what third-party component it is currently sitting in and how much content there actually is.

2. Many of the images used in 2008-version websites were much smaller and lower-resolution than those used on today's websites because bandwidth and screens were smaller back then, so often it is better to source new, higher-res images rather than re-using 2008 ones. And as previously noted, in some instances components were used that are no longer available in J!2.5x, so we would need to source a new component and recreate the content.

3. If you have had specialist Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) work done on your J!1.5x site, depending on how it was done, this may not be migrated and may need to be re-done.

4. Timing. As noted above, J!3.5x LTS is due for release in March 2014. You may decide to wait and jump straight to that. However, this may be more complex if there are no 1.5x -> 3.5x migrators available.

Next steps

The Joomla! developers have indicated that future versions would be either mini-migrations or one-click upgrades. Ultimately the decision as to whether you want to keep your existing site going until something breaks (and perhaps by then J!3.5x will be the current LTS), or whether you prefer to migrate now, is entirely up to you.  As a rule of thumb, I would suggest:

  • If you are happy with the site as it currently is and nothing is breaking, there may be less immediate urgency, although an upgrade will be required eventually.
  • If, however, you want to add new things or change the look of your existing J!1.5x site in ways which you can't do yourself, it's worth considering whether your money is best spent further developing a platform that is no longer officially supported, or directing your money towards a new site.

If you are interested in discussing this further, please don't hesitate to contact me. :)

 
Oh.. and please don't forget to visit whichever social media platform you prefer and "Like"/"Follow" WebSolutionZ (see below for links)!
 
Follow us on: Facebook | Twitter | Google+

 

Why you shouldn't put all your online eggs into one basket YOU DON'T OWN

Last Friday, Posterous announced on their blog that they were closing down on 30th April 2013. Many of you may not have even heard of Posterous, but as a quick explanation - it was a blogging social network that was positioned somewhere between Twitter (a 160 character micro-blog service) and a full-blown blog such as this one. It was most similar as a platform to Tumblr, although Tumblr is far more popular. Posterous was purchased by Twitter in March 2012 and at the time of purchase had 15 million registered users.

A social network closing down or fading away isn't new - think MySpace and Google Buzz. However, this does highlight a very important point:

As social network users, we do not own our own content. 


Occasionally I'm asked by some of the small business operators I meet "Do I really need my own website? Can't I just set up a Facebook Page?"

The answer is YES, you do need a website. AND yes, you need a Facebook Page. But if you spend time and money just creating a magnificent social media presence, and that particular social network "does a MySpace", then your time and money is wasted, and your web presence may disappear quite rapidly.

I'm not saying you shouldn't utilise social media - you absolutely should. But it should be set up as part of an overall web presence, in conjunction with a personalised website, with links pointing back to that website. Imagine that the website is the centre of a spider web, and all other social media points back to it.

If you need assistance with your web presence or website, please contact me.

How to find your Twitter RSS feed URL (for now)

Recently I discovered that a feed module I had running on my Joomla! website to display my latest Twitter posts had stopped working, and was instead displaying an "Error loading feed" message.

Twitter decided a while ago to cut off all access to RSS, and recently angered third party app developers by cutting off their access too. I'm not sure when my RSS feed actually stopped working because I don't visit my own website very often, but I wanted to fix it.

Happily, despite Twitter removing all references to RSS, there is still currently a way to configure an RSS feed for your site. Simply replace the "WebSolutionZ" with your own username below.

          http://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.rss?screen_name=WebSolutionZ

Unhappily, it appears that this method too will disappear in March 2013. C'mon Twitter, stop making things difficult for us! 

Social media cover images

I've just spent a couple of hours fixing up the cover images on my Facebook, Twitter and Google+ business Pages. Of course, they wouldn't make it simple and have them all the same size...

For anybody about to embark on the same exercise, here are the optimum image sizes for each platform:

Facebook:  851px x 315px
Twitter: 1252px x 626px
Google+: 480px x 270px**

(Click on the social media name above to see my end results).

If you need any assistance with your social media requirements, please don't hesitate to contact me.

**Updated 8th March 2013  

What is Responsive Web Design?

Good question! Several of the Joomla! template clubs I use have recently introduced Responsive Design templates. What does that mean?

Well, to save me having to explain it all, here's an article that explains it all very nicely.

Basically, a Responsive Design website is one that will display nicely on all platforms - PC, mobile, tablet and anything else that comes along. 

Why should small business owners read this blog?

Nowadays, a website is pretty much essential for any business but as I said last week, today's business operators need more than just a website if they're going to successfully reach their customers AND beat their competition - they're going to need knowledge. Some of the variety of options to consider as part of a complete online web presence include:

If the Internet is not your core business, you could be forgiven for finding all of this quite overwhelming. Where do you start, and what do you do next?

If your company is large, you could probably afford to hire someone like me, full-time, to handle all this online stuff for you, but small business operators usually don't have the budget for that. That leaves small business operators with a few choices:

  1. Do It Yourself (which can take hours away from your core business if you don't know where to begin).
  2. Get your 16 year old nephew to do it for you (chances are he may understand the technology but probably not the business perspective).
  3. Pay a consultant (quite likely to get done properly, but may end up costing a lot if you don't understand what's required in the first place).
  4. Pretend that this whole "Internet" thing just doesn't exist, and ignore it (not recommended).

Provided you're considering one of the first three options, it never hurts to come to the table armed with some basic knowledge. Unfortunately there's just too much information on the Internet now, and sometimes one page directly contradicts another, so how do you know who or what to believe? Who has the time or the inclination to sit there scouring through all that information anyway?!

Well, as it happens... I do. :-) During my years on the Internet, and in IT management, and setting up and running my own small business, and studying Internet Communications, I've picked up lots of interesting ideas and learned many tips and tricks on the best ways to get things done. So please consider this blog my gift to you. :-) 

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