Joomla! Template Tools Part Three

Written by | 01 September 2010 | Published in 2010 September
This is the final part of our current Template Tools series and we evaluate Joomlashack, Rumi, Shape5 and YooTheme together with two great articles. The first explains the various techniques of minification and compression (CSS & Javascript) used by Developers and the second examines those very important files - the robots.txt and .htaccess.

Less is More

One of the most notable things we’ve learned during our assessment of template tools is that there is a strong shared view among developers that “less is more”. As we had written in our lead article in this magazine’s first issue, minification and compression of static resources (CSS and Javascript files) can lead to a big positive impact on website performance. There are a handful of techniques used to accomplish that.
For starters, we have combination. This is the most rudimentary technique. All it does is take individual files and combine them into a single, big file. The only performance gain arises from your browser having to perform a single HTTP request in order to load the combined resource, versus the numerous requests required to load all of the individual resources.

A slightly more advanced technique is minification. This is a fancy word which refers to post-processing the resources to cut down their size. Most usually it is a simple process which removes comments and whitespace not necessary for the browser to parse the CSS and Javascript files. Some template tools might go even deeper, optimizing for example the CSS by combining several properties into one. The main speed gain comes from reducing the overall size of the files which have to be transferred to your browser.

One very important technique for modern browsers is compression (GZip). Instead of transferring the CSS and Javascript files as-is, some template tools will first try to compress them using the GZip algorithm, supported by all modern browsers, further reducing the amount of transferred data by a whooping 50% or more. The decompression takes place transparently as soon as the browser downloads the resource. On the down side, this technique won’t work with older browsers (like Internet Explorer 6) or some mobile browsers found in low-end cell phones.

One of the most intriguing techniques - and one sparingly used - is the use of Data URLs. This technique applies only to CSS files and its premise is that small image files can be “embedded” in the CSS file itself instead of being referenced by URL. The major benefit is that your browser no longer needs to perform HTTP requests in order to load several small files, such as gradient backgrounds, rounded corners and icons. On the downside, not only this processing takes more time and results in slightly bigger CSS files, but not all browsers support them. Most notably, Internet Explorer 6 and 7 do not understand them, which can impact a large proportion of your web visitors.

All modern template tools seem to embrace the “less is more” principle and provide quality off-the-shelf solutions for the minification and compressions of your static files. Some template frameworks, like T3, Morph and Warp, have taken this to a whole new level by supplying a generic solution which acts on all of your site’s files, not just their own core files. This makes us very optimistic that all template tools developers will eventually go there, letting our sites load even faster.

Template Tool Assessments:

Check out Issue 3 Comparison Spreadsheet .pdf below

Joomlashack

joomlashacktemplate iconFresh is a free GPL licensed template distributed by JoomlaShack, the adept development team behind University; a Joomla learning space. As well developers of Wordpress and  Drupal themes.

True to it's name, Fresh is a clean and crisp theme loaded with all the goodies needed to launch a practical website. Among the goodies under the hood are output overrides for all core Joomla components, for a complete tableless and standards compliant layout. The 960 grid system for clean and consistent content flow. 30 Module positions with the ability to publish upwards of 6 modules in a number of user positions. Module styles and source graphic files for total customization, makes Fresh a great base theme to power any web design project.

Features

  • A selection of 6 light colored themes;
  • 3 column layout built on the 960 grid system for modular layout management;
  • 30 Module positions and 5 mod chrome color styles;
  • CSS suckerfish menu;
  • SEO friendly and valid XHTML markup;
  • Completely tableless layout with output overrides for all core Joomla! components;
  • Source graphic files for complete template customization;
  • GPL licensed and freely available for download with submission of your name and email address;
  • Thorough documentation and support forum.

Team EaSE Podcast: 'TJ' Baker interviewed by Neri Valentin-Macias

Links & Further Information:

Summary

For the past 3 issues of the JCM, team EaSE has looked under the hood of some of the most powerful templates and toolsets available to the Joomla community. Our goal is not to sell one framework or manufacturer over the other, but to provide insight into the plethora of resources available for Joomla template development. In our journey through the world of Joomla template development, we found that not all templates and/or toolsets are built the same, but they all strive to achieve some common goals. A simplified method or workflow for developing powerful, accessible, seo friendly, and unique front-end user experiences.

Team EaSE sincerely thanks all the Template Devs who took part in this first series and looks forward to revisiting this topic in the future.

Issue 4 - October 2010

In Issue 4 we will be assessing e-Commerce for Joomla! - just in time for you to set up your Christmas store! This will cover the three main free GPL Joomla! e-Commerce solutions in the first of this two-part series. Team EaSE is looking forward to this - we hope you are too.

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Team EaSE

Team EaSE

Current Team EaSE Members: Bo Astrup, Babs Gösgens, Brian 'Sully' Sullivan (Team Lead), Miljan Vujosevic

Grateful thanks also to Steve Burge

Past Members: Hilary Cheyne, Amy Stephen, Nicholas K. Dionysopoulos, Neri Valentin-Macias