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Thursday, 08 October 2009 15:01

Joomla CCK Showdown - Open Source Design F2C

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Back in May I decided I was going to look in to the various Joomla CCK offerings and write some reviews. My quest started with checking out the major players and getting a copy of the component for testing. Most are either free, or have a free version, but Open Source Design's Form2Content did not at the time. Within days of my blog post going up, Patrick Faasse from OSD contacted me and offered a full version of their Form2Content component for testing. I must apologize to Patrick though because I was so impressed with K2 that I had not tested F2C.

Fast forward a few months, I get a follow up email from Patrick. F2C has expanded their offerings. Now they have a free Lite version as well as the more robust Pro version. Again, he included a copy of the free version, the upgrade to Pro, and the full Pro version of their component. At this point, it really doesn’t matter how good or bad F2C is, I would recommend them simply on their excellent customer service.

Enough with the jibber jabber, let’s talk about F2C. Like the other components I’ve looked at, I just jumped in, no sample data, no instructions. This of course makes things a little harder, but then who really reads the instructions before trying out a new toy? Not me.

Installation

Since I wanted to get a real sense of what a typical user would experience, I restrained myself and installed lite version. I would imagine that most users would try it before they buy, so I’ll do the same. The component installs through the typical Joomla install, 10 seconds later it’s asking if I wanted sample content. I decline like a fool. That was it for the install. No content conversion, no other modules or plugins. That simple.

Administration

I start poking around and I am greeted with a clean and simple control panel page with only 5 options, one of them being About. I head straight for the configuration first. Pretty basic, not much to it. I do LOVE that I get to pick how I display my dates. No offense to my Euro buddies, but they do dates wrong. Seriously.

With so little in the config options, I moved on to make some content. Since Content Type was the first option I went ahead and started there. Making a new content type is pretty simple as well. Not many options to fill in at all. I chose to make a Job Listing content type since this really lends itself to filling in some standardized fields for every article. When I tried to pick a template the window was empty, presumably since I hadn’t made any yet even though one of the options was to generate default templates. Rather than waste a bunch of time I moved right on to making an article. F2C still calls their content articles like Joomla does, so it might be easier for a Joomla user to figure this out.

The article manager looks very familiar, obviously taking cues from Joomla here. The first thing that I notice is that F2C uses Joomla Sections/Categories. No nested category love, but that might be an advantage when 1.6 is released since nested categories will be built in. Next thing I noticed is that I had a few Joomla default fields and nothing else to fill in. Obviously I had missed something.

Back out to content type and noticed the fields link. Not sure how I missed it since this is really the whole point of CCK – creating new fields. Anyhow, clicking on the fields link opens the field manager for that content type. Just like you would expect, you click new, select from the various field types available and fill in a few parameters and you’ve created a new custom field. I really like that one of the field types is a text area with editor. This seems to be overlooked by other CCKs. Save the field type and add a few more fields for good measure. Now my article had stuff. Still no template, but I had content.

At this point I figure I better F2C section and a couple of categories for testing. I also made a menu item to make a blog list of my new Job Listing category. I anxiously jump to the front end and click the link. No content.

I went in to look around and realized I need to publish everything. When I got to the article I got an error that the template wasn’t found. I figured this would be an issue eventually, so it was time to read the instructions. At first glance the docs look to be very good with details. It didn’t take long to find out that a new template should have been made. I looked and it wasn’t there. Double checked permissions and tried to get it to generate it again, still no luck. So far the only real issue, but it was causing a pretty big problem. Figured I’d make my own template so I could see what the templating system could do and I really wanted to see some results.

Another look at the documentation revealed that the template would be pretty simple. I followed the instructions and made an intro and main template, made some adjustments to the menu component parameters and uploaded my templates. Now when I clicked the select template link I had options. Now I was sure I had it.

A refresh of the page and voilà! I had a content blog item and a read more link as expected. I clicked on the link and I was pleasantly surprised at how good the quickie template looked. Since F2C piggybacks heavily on the Joomla Section-Category-Article system, I could see that this could be a very powerful tool. The learning curve was extremely short, start to finish, I had an article with a custom template done in under 30 minutes. More than that, I had a brand new job listing component created that would be very easy to administer. Since F2C also supports Joomla plugins, it could be easily combined with other powerful tools to really expand the possibilities.

I had to reign in the excitement because I still had a Pro version to upgrade to. According to the docs, it’s a simple upgrade that preserves your content. I crossed my fingers and loaded up the Pro upgrade. I started to get a little nervous as it took about 30 seconds, but I got a success message. I poked around a little and immediately noticed a new Translations tab, more config options, and a truckload more field type options, including some that I thought would be pretty handy when using the Lite version. A quick peek at the front end and everything still worked. Upgrade went flawlessly. The last test for this session was back to the default template. I made another content type, added a field and looked to see if the template was there. No such luck. It’s probably something I am overlooking, but it’s not working at this time. I will check with Patrick and see if we can figure it out.

Conclusion

I must admit that I was very surprised by F2C. After using K2 for the last couple of months for this very blog and the issues with the last CCK component I looked at, I thought I had a winner. Now, F2C doesn’t have some of the fancy features K2 has like the built in commenting and tight integration with AllVideos and Image Galley Pro, but you could feasibly tweak F2C to work with those as well all from the admin without hacking any code. The default template thing is really a minor annoyance since in all likelihood you’d be making your own template for each content type. The templates are a breeze to make and you get the added benefit of many existing extensions working in harmony due to the way F2C piggybacks on the existing Article system. Overall, the simplicity is its most powerful feature. The implementation is elegant and clean. Open Source Design has a fantastic component that is extremely powerful and easy to use.

Installation – 10/10
Admin – 9/10
Front End – 9/10

BNR Branding Support

Brent Friar is the owner and chief web developer for BNR Branding Solutions. His development experience dates back to 1994 when he was a founding partner of Internextion Web Development in Orange County, CA.

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