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BNR Branding Solutions is based in Huntersville, N.C., and is a full-service web development and digital marketing company.

Saturday, 30 May 2009 13:39

Joomla CCK Showdown - JoomlaWorks K2

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I am a big fan of JoomlaWorks, so I figured I would start with K2. I will try to keep my bias to a minimum, but I did expect K2 to dazzle me from what I had already seen. The component is in beta at this time and available for free download. I got a copy and jumped right in.

Installation

Installation was pretty straightforward. In the package is a component, a module, and a plugin. All 3 installed without a hitch using the Joomla installer. Once I had all three installed and the plugin published I started poking around the admin interface. As I expected, the admin was beautiful and laid out in typical Joomla fashion. Anyone with experience managing a Joomla site would feel right at home in K2. Since everything looked good, I took a leap of faith and decided to convert all of my articles to K2. My buddy Jeremy Wilken (@gnomeontherun) had written a script to convert Joomla articles to K2 so I went ahead and gave it a shot. After backing up my database - ALWAYS back up your database before making major changes!! - I ran the script and took a look at the results. Sure enough, all of my articles had been copied over to K2 and I had a bunch of items and categories listed in my K2. So far so good.

Next up, I added the K2 module so I could take a look at what everything looked like. The K2 module is sort of an all in one module for everything K2. It allows you to select from 10 different functionalities such as Archive, Tag Cloud, and Latest Items to name a few. There are also parameters for each of the different functions. This was the first thing I saw that I didn't like. All of the parameters for all of the functions are listed. This is a little confusing because you really only need to set the parameters for the function you select. It's not a big deal since this is still in beta and I would hope that this is cleaned up before release. Other than that minor gripe, the module was easy enough to set up.

Off to the site front end to take a look at my handy work. The module displayed the items I had set up to display so I went ahead and clicked a link to see what the out of the box item looked like. For me, it looked like a blank page. I went back and tried another link, blank page again. I went back to the admin and tried to load up one of the items in the admin to make sure everything had transferred properly and blank page again. Things had taken a turn for the worse.

Now, I won't go in to a lot of detail about the problem, but it is related to the JSON libraries that are no longer included in the newer versions of PHP5. It didn't take long to construct a patch for the problem that fixed the item display and edit pages. The fix is a simple one and again, this is a beta release and finding issues like this is the whole point of releasing the code. I will be sending my patch to JoomlaWorks to prevent the problem in the future.

Back to the front end of the site to check out a published item. Wow! There are a ton of items that make up an item! In addition to the usual title, intro text, and main text, there was also an image with caption and image credits, a place for a video, attachments, author information, social media/bookmarks, and comments. This is all right out of the box, I hadn't even looked at the extra fields yet. I also noticed that all of these elements displayed even though my items did not have any content in them yet.

In all, the install and initial impressions were good. The issue with the JSON libraries will likely not be a problem for a stable release and the additional functionality added as a default is impressive.

Administration


Now for the real nitty gritty. I kicked the tires, now it was time to really check out under the hood to see what K2 can really do. As mentioned before, the K2 admin dashboard is very well laid out and has the Joomla field. It gives some hints to the power of K2 with the options in the dashboard including Items, Categories, Tags, Comments, and Extra Fields among the list.

K2's article equivalent is called an Item. The Item edit screen is very well put together. They have separated the intro text and full text a la J1.0, which I personally prefer since it is easier to explain to a client. There are item parameters as you would expect on the right, with the ability to add tags to the item. In addition to the content fields there are tabs for Image, Image Gallery, Video, Extra Fields, and Attachments. The image tab was pretty self explanatory, pick an image, give it a caption and credit. The Image Gallery and Video tabs needed additional extensions to functions. This would have been nice to know in advance, but again not a big deal. The JoomlaWorks extensions AllVideos and Simple Image Gallery are needed for full functionality. The extra fields tab was empty, but I hadn't added any fields yet. Last, the attachment tab allowed you to add multiple files with descriptions to attach to your item. In all, some very welcome additions.

Categories in K2 are sweet. Yup, you can nest categories as deep as you like which is the way categories should work to begin with. My only complaint here is that you can only assign a single category to an item. Tags add another dimension to the organization of items. You can assign as many tags as you want to an item, but unfortunately there is no way to make a menu item based on a tag at this point. Adding extra fields is a little confusing at first. Rather than add the field group first then add fields, you have to add a field and create a group from the add a field screen. Not sure the thinking there, it seems like it would make sense to make groups in the group admin. One other limitation is that you can only add one field group to a category. It would be nice to be able to pick and choose which field groups to add rather than having to duplicate some fields that may be used a lot. Another minor oversight is that items display every field associated with their category regardless of whether it is populated or not. Again, not a major issues but it would be easy enough to test is the field is populated before displaying it. The last of my gripes is that the fields cannot be ordered from within the admin. Presumably it will take a template change to reorder the fields. Hopefully these minor annoyances will be addressed before the stable release.

Conclusion


Overall, K2 has the right idea and looks very promising. It is in beta still so there will surely be some changes coming before it's ready for live use. The installation is very good, the only issue being the additional extensions needed. All Videos and Simple Image Gallery should be part of the package. The admin is very good. Some minor changes to extra fields and field group admin are really the only changes I can see right now. The front end presentation, while impressive, needs the most work. The ability to order fields and not display unpopulated fields are pretty important for a component of this caliber.

Installation - 8/10
Admin - 8/10
Front end - 7/10

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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