Manigong Bagong Taon – Let’s Mambo!

Some of you might have noticed the new footer line on the website. Yes, for the past week, chette.com has been running on Mambo, an open source Content Management System (CMS).

Chette.com has been formerly using pMachine as its main engine. I had some reservations since the beginning — the developers have released a commercial version of pMachine, a big sign that support for the free version will be affected. Sure enough, months after I have downloaded it, pMachine is still stuck on version 2.3.

The decision to finally make the switch came in late 2004, when comment spams started invading this website. Manually deleting each spam was becoming a chore, as there is no comment moderation in pMachine (nor were there any patches or fixes released, for that matter). This made me realize the importance of a stable support system and community, especially with the continuous emergence of new spam techniques and website viruses.

The Shortlist

There were two packages left in the shortlist: Tikiwiki, and of course, Mambo.

It is a personal choice not to include Nuke packages (no offense to the users of PostNuke and PHP-Nuke):

  • I have this (maybe unfounded) fear that Nuke sites are a security risk waiting to happen,
  • I am very uncomfortable with their administrative interfaces, and
  • Sad to say, I have not been exposed to Nuke sites which have impressed me. Call me unreasonable, but this is one of my personal ways of really determining the ease of customization of a CMS package.

Why not Tikiwiki

For those who are not aware of Tikiwiki, it is an engine with enough features to make any website owner drool — polls, wiki, blog, image gallery, banner ads, etc.

The main caveat, aside from its clunky frontend and backend interface, is that this particular version Tikiwiki seems to disregard the basic functionalities of articles management — for instance, in the lack of flexibility in the display of category headers.

It does, however, have a lot of options for their blog and wiki. This may be attributed to the general direction of the development, which I found disturbing. For one thing, a lot of people (this writer included) already conceive that there is a very thin line between a blog entry and an article entry.

I actually believe that “blog” and “wiki” are mere methods of manipulating or displaying articles, and that article management, display, and categorization should be given priority by any CMS system.

Why Mambo

Mambo, winner of the Linux User & Developer Award 2004, gained extreme popularity last year. We ran a test during the 2nd quarter of 2004 on PhilMusic.com. However, this test did not produce any satisfactory results. Mambo was, at that time, a diamond in the rough.

However, this particular version, Mambo 4.5.1a Stable, was enough to bowl me over.

Ever heard of the expression “love at first sight?” In evaluating a website package, it is usually “love at first sight of the admin interface.”

Even in my full-time job as a software project manager, I emphasize usability each project, and make sure that usability tests are included in all test cases. I have learned the hard way that usability is the primary thing a Customer wants, yet ironically rarely stated in Requirements Specifications.

As a website manager of a personal CMS-based website in my spare time, the first impression is on the organization and labeling of the administration. Mambo’s usability might not yet meet the standards of Jakob Nielsen, but it is enough to merit the over 100,000 downloads of its current release alone.

As with most website managers, a big concern is the speed of maintenance and incorporation of templates. Mambo is living up to its “Power in simplicity” slogan, with an easy-to-use article management interface. Articles, or items, are classified into Categories, and Categories are classified into Sections.

Adding an article is pretty straightforward — all the pertinent fields are displayed on one page, and merely involved copying and pasting the articles. It also features the capability to include images in the body of the article by simply selecting the desired image from a list, and specifying the desired position.

Adding an image can be done on the same page, or thru Media Manager. I personally use the Media Manager to be able to control the folder structure of the images.

Customizing the templates was the ticket. The template basically involves two files (index.php and template_css.css), and there are numerous tutorials available on the internet. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) plays a major role on the templates, and the CSS guide found in Visual Density is sufficient to determine what needs to be modified.

One of the biggest strength of Mambo, though, is on its strong support community. Mambo’s forum is a wealth of information, as long as you use the search feature wisely. The people in this community have an amazing knowledge on the Mambo code structure and an admirable sense of altruism.

There are still some features I would like to see in Mambo, though:

  • Commenting feature. Although there are downloadable commenting modules for Mambo, I would still like to see this feature as part of the package’s core components.

    The Mambo website explained that the lack of commenting support is due to the fact that Mambo is concentrating on its CMS features. However, I beg to disagree. There is already a paradigm shift on the definition of an article. Comments are now being seen as integral content, as they are being used by authors to update information about an article, and also by the readers to contribute to the article.

  • Capability to display a unique thumbnail for each content item.
  • Capability to display a unique category image (or header) for the article listing and viewing of the article.
  • User permissions. This particular release only supports two kinds of users: registered, and public (or anonymous).
  • A more usable menu and module interface . There are some menu display configurations that I have not yet figured out, which are located both in the menu and module interfaces.
  • A community to develop stronger integration with other open source applications such as phpBB and Coppermine.

And to conclude

As of this writing, chette.com is now proudly powered by Mambo.

This doesn’t mean though that I am closing my doors on the other CMS engines. As what we have learned thru our Mambo experience, what we have despised before may be what we might end up using in the future.

There is a steady growth in the open source development community, and as long as this community is around, I shall watch with baited breath on discovering the magic that they continue to perform.

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