An Infrastructure SysAdmin Gets Tangled in the Webs or “Why I’m Hating Joomla Right About Now”

My latest projects have pushed me out of a traditional infrastructure role of managing physical servers and LAN based applications on secured networks and onto the big scary webernet. Specifically, managing and tweaking some Joomla installations.

It’s been quite a shift for me. Previously my administration tasks were based on large, fat-client applications and even larger server-side monolithic applications. Thrust into this new realm, I feel like the tin man at a gymnastic competition. The inflexibility of the heavy applications and systems that I’m accustomed to is painfully obvious as I deal with the ductile PHP applications and Apache.

As a side note, I’m not sure if I want to propose to mod_rewrite or bludgeon it with an axe, but I’d digress too far with that thought.

As I manage my applications, it feels like I’m changing clothes in a crowd. Everything exposed; no privacy. No longer can I kick back in the relative security of a private network with only a handful of entry points. The sites that I’m managing aren’t big-time enough yet to have dedicated servers with front-facing firewalls, so I’m forced to manage security and access out in the open.

What application am I managing specifically? Joomla. And yes, I know that it’s full name is “Joomla!” with an exclamation point, but I rebel at obnoxious punctuation being included in trademarks. Dear Joomla!, You are hereafter to be known as Joomla. Here’s a tissue box.

The shift in thought to systems management is something that I can handle. I’m a sysadmin. It’s what I do. However, there’s a shift that I’m having trouble with. Like, hair-pulling, face-palming, what-LSD-fueled-nightmare-made-someone-think-this-would-be-a-good-idea kind of trouble. It’s called… Joomla. It’s also called scenario-based-training. Let me explain.

First, I cast a reproachful glance at Joomla’s way of describing websites. It’s not as easy as managing pages with individual portals to content along with some navigation elements. No, there is a thing in Joomla known as a “menu” that is not merely a menu, but is an object that describes how the pages that are individually linked to will be formatted. Want to edit how a page is formatted? Don’t edit the page, edit the link that you took to get to that page. A link in the form of a category list will format the resulting page as a list. A list of all categories? No! A list of articles. To make a list of categories, you make a section list link item. Nice.

Oh, and I’d like to add that the home page on a Joomla site is merely a menu item, within a menu, that has been flagged as “Default”. Uh huh. Sure.

Second I cast a reproachful glance at the mass of learning out there that is only geared toward a scenario and not describing concepts. This is a heavily conceptualized CMS, it needs to put those concepts into context. It does not need four million “This is how you place a module” tutorials. I know how to place a module on a page. Piece of cake. Would someone like to describe what a module’s relationship is in this crazy world of Joomla? It took some bloodshed, but I was finally able to track down a document that described a module as the front end to a plugin. A plug-in generates content, a module is what displays it on the website. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

Tutorials galore show how to create sections and categories. But very few described practical relationships between those concepts and menu links. Why should I care about sections and categories? Because modules sometimes only take sections or categories to display content in the form of articles associated with those sections and categories. Thanks for letting me strangle the feathers out of only two pillows before I squeezed blood from that rock of a concept.

Now I’m left wondering if I should scrap Joomla and use a different CMS altogether. I need SEO friendliness, easy management and a distinct lack of a byzantine content structure. All this after I’ve spent a few hundred hours on the cursed thing.

I’m a SysAdmin. I can handle major shifts in workflow, expectations and technology. I can not, however, handle things that suck.

What’s your experience? Both in the larger topic of changing what you work with but also in how you handle things that suck? Do you resist change? Do you change as soon as you realize something is bad or do you feel committed and stick it out?

If you’ll excuse me, I have to go flirt with Drupal and see if it can work better for me…


  1. cybersylum

    September 10, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Hope to hear how your time with Drupal goes. I cannot decide between the two…


    • Wesley.Nonapeptide

      September 10, 2010 at 8:48 am

      My problem with Drupal is that it doesn’t seem to have near the amount of beautiful templates as Joomla and WordPress. Also, Joomla seems to have a more vibrant plug-in community. Or are they called “extensions”? *insert angry face here*


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