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Nine Questions When Preparing Clients for Joomla 2.5

Written by | Monday, 01 August 2011 00:00 | Published in 2011 August
*On August 9, the name for the January 2012 Joomla release changed from Joomla 1.8 to 2.5. Joomla's release schedule has been described in its development strategy, and much analysis has been put forth as to whether one should upgrade websites or not to the next version of software.

This article has been translated to Russian, courtesy of Eugene Sivokon. Thank you!

The conventional wisdom, since the release of Joomla 1.7, has been as follows:

  • If your website is running in Joomla 1.5, and it's working well, keep it running in 1.5 for now. Move the site to Joomla 2.5 next year.
  • If you're building a new website, build it in 1.7 if possible, so you'll have an easy migration to 2.5 next year.

The reason Joomla 2.5 is so important is because it's a long-term release. By moving your website to this version of Joomla, you can keep Joomla's version constant for 18 months, without moving to new versions every 6 months or so. This long-term stability is important for most client businesses, who don't want to undergo a major upgrade and testing every 6 months. Since Joomla 1.5 will reach its end of life in April 2012, and since Joomla 2.5 is released in January 2012, it makes sense to move Joomla 1.5 sites directly to Joomla 2.5.

But what about moving those websites to Joomla 2.5? Have you stopped to consider a process for doing this, outside of the technical issues?

My company, 4Web, Inc., has roughly 80 sites we maintain which are currently running in Joomla 1.5. Most of these sites are quite complex, defined by several characteristics including third party extensions, custom templates, hundreds or thousands of pages, and custom extension development. We've recently discussed how we will manage moving these sites to Joomla 2.5 next year, and we've started to think about how the process might happen from a business perspective. Here are some of the questions we've been considering.

1. Why do I have to move my clients from Joomla 1.5?

The short answer is you don't. You can keep running your sites in Joomla 1.5, and they will continue to work as they do now.

The longer answer is you probably really want to move your sites. In my opinion, the sooner you move them, the less pain and risk you'll feel in the long run.

Joomla 1.5 reaches its end of life in April 2012. After this point, no more security releases for Joomla 1.5 will be available. If a security issue is found in Joomla 1.5, it will not be patched by the project.

There's also an issue of support. Shortly after Joomla 1.0 reached its end of life in July 2009, we saw many 3rd party developers stopped supporting extensions for Joomla 1.0. I expect we will see this same trend after Joomla 1.5 reaches its end of life, with most 3rd party developers dropping Joomla 1.5 support for their extensions within a year, probably by April 2013. This means if you need to add new functionality to your Joomla 1.5 website, you'll find that pretty difficult if you don't upgrade.

Security issues may be discovered in extensions, which can provide an entrance to your website for a hacker. If the extensions aren't supported, the security issues won't be addressed.

2. Will the client have to pay for this?

You'll have to answer this question for your own clients. In 4Web’s case, our clients will need to pay for moving their sites from 1.5 to 2.5. We simply can't migrate all sites for free.

But if you're going to charge clients to move their sites to 2.5, now is the time to tell them to plan for a site migration next year. January is still 6 months away, so there is time for them to budget for the work. If you can provide a rough estimate for moving the site, that would be ideal for your client. Be sure to provide a disclaimer that this is a rough estimate, not the final figure, and the actual cost may vary once Joomla 2.5 and the migration process is better defined.

3. How hard will it be to move a site?

We can make a few educated guesses based on what we've seen with Joomla 1.6 and 1.7.

  • Some kind of method will be available to move from 1.5 to 2.5. For 1.6 and 1.7, there is a third party extension available for this process. However, this migration method works only for Joomla's core functionality (i.e. what you see when Joomla is first installed). It does not move data for any 3rd party extensions.
  • We know that Joomla's core HTML output changed significantly from Joomla 1.5 to 1.6. For example, there are no more table-based layouts in com_content (YAY!). This can potentially impact custom templates when moving them from Joomla 1.5 to 1.6 or 1.7. CSS styles, and specifically names of classes and IDs, have changed, HTML tags have changed, and consequently, your CSS selectors in your custom style sheet will also need to change to preserve the look of your site.
  • For custom templates, you may need to re-evaluate which browsers you're supporting for your template. We have templates we built in 2008, before the rise of Chrome and IE 9, so this is an opportunity to update templates to take advantage of features of modern browsers.
  • If you are running 3rd party extensions containing lots of data — CCK's like K2, Zoo, and Mighty Resources; shopping carts like VirtueMart, Tienda, and redSHOP; or social media extensions like JomSocial and Community Builder come to mind immediately — you will need to be sure you can migrate your data quickly and easily from Joomla 1.5 to 2.5. Frequently, a migration tool, similar to the tool that moves data between versions of Joomla, will be required to make this move easily.
  • Some parts of the site may need to be rebuilt, despite your best attempts to move the site between versions. It's possible other 3rd party extensions will not be developed for Joomla 2.5, so you will need to find replacement extensions and configure them according to your client's needs. For example, the poll component/module that was available in Joomla 1.5 is no longer include in Joomla 1.6 and higher. You may need to find a poll component to replace this.

In general, if you're moving core Joomla data (that means standard Joomla content plus extensions that come with Joomla), you should be just fine and find the move to be straightforward.

If you're moving lots of data, lots of 3rd party extensions, or anything custom, expect a longer process and much more work along the way.

If you are working with a commercially available template, check with the template provider to find out if the template has been moved to the next version of Joomla. Most of the major template providers have been moving their templates from 1.5 to 1.6 and 1.7. If you have an older template, you may want to check to find out if there are plans to move it to 2.5. If not, you may need to find a new template for your client.

If you're working with a free template, you may not find a new version of it, and it's possible you won't find any support to move the template either. In this case, you'd have to replace the template with a new one.

4. How much will it cost to move a site?

If you know me, you know my favorite consulting answer... It Depends. Is it a simple 10 page site with nothing outside of core Joomla functionality? Or is the site over 2000 pages in size, running a CCK, a custom template, and custom extensions?

Cost is directly related to the difficulty of making the move. It's likely the first site you move will be very difficult, because you are learning the process. However, as you get to your 10th or 20th or 100th site, the process should become more straightforward, and you have fewer new problems to solve. Therefore, you might lose money on your first site move, but you might make up for it on the last move.

Cost is always tricky to estimate, but if you track hours spent to complete each site move, you will get better at estimating moving costs of future sites. It may seem odd to track time spent for a fixed-rate project, but it's worth doing to improve your ability to estimate costs of future projects.

Alternatively, you could price the site move on an hourly basis. My experience is that clients like this less, because they aren't sure how much something will cost in the end. Typically, we estimate a task at "up to X hours for a cost of $XYZ", so that they will have an idea of a top end of the range.

5. What if my client wants to redesign as part of the migration process?

It's highly likely that many clients will want to redesign their sites as they are moved to new versions of Joomla. This is particularly true if the client must pick a new template for their site, due to lack of support of that template in Joomla 2.5. The move should also present an opportunity for clients to review the content on their sites and make updates. (I find when clients view old content in a new template, they will read it and want to update it.)

However, keep in mind any redesign work may slow you down if you're trying to move many clients to a new version of Joomla, on a schedule. How will you handle clients who are late in delivering their content?

6. How do I sell my client on this move?

If you tell your client that a big move is coming next year, and you provide them with a rough estimate of the cost, the client may wish to look around for other alternatives to moving their website to Joomla 2.5. This makes business sense for the client. They need to prove to themselves that they are spending their money in the most cost-effective way possible.

Your job is to keep your client. Hopefully, you've been providing great service to them since you launched their site. If you have, they might just choose to stay with you, because they like you and they don't want to work with anyone else.

However, it's likely some clients will want to explore their options. You need to have a response ready for these clients, when they ask, why should I move my site, and why should I move it with you? I could spend an entire article on this question alone, and I hope the Joomla Project will prepare some good arguments for this as part of the Joomla 2.5 release as well.

I really urge you not to cave, and say, "OK, I'll do it for half price then!" Charge what you're worth and stick to it! The only clients you lose are the ones who ask for everything for nothing, and do you really want them as clients in the first place?

7. How long do I have to move all of my client's sites?

The correct technical answer is April, 2012, when Joomla 1.5 reaches end of life.

My company, 4Web, Inc., has 5 employees and 80 websites to move. That's a really tall order to accomplish in 4 months, in addition to carrying out any new work. (Quick math says that's one site per employee per week in that 4 month timeline!)

For our timeline, we are planning to move all sites by October 2012. That is after the death of Joomla 1.5, but hopefully it's quickly enough that we move sites before security problems occur, and before much support is discontinued for 3rd party extensions. You'll have to do the math for your organization to figure out what timeline will work best for you.

8. What if my clients don't want to move or if they can't afford to move?

This is a tough question, and one you'll have to consider carefully. From your perspective:

  • Do you want to continue to support Joomla 1.5, potentially past its end of life? (I know how cranky I get when I log into a Joomla 1.0 site and feel like I have one hand tied behind my back!)
  • If a client calls you saying their site has been hacked, what will your response be? (Keep in mind if they didn't have money to move, will they have money to fix a hacked site?)
  • If you are hosting this client, do you want to keep potentially insecure sites on your server?

If the client doesn't want to move, you could push their site move out a bit further in the migration process, rather than addressing them first. Give them time to get used to the idea, and give them a demo of how Joomla 2.5 works. Some clients resist change because they don't want to learn new ways of doing things now that they've mastered Joomla 1.5. You might also mention key functionalities that are possible in Joomla 2.5 which are not possible in 1.5 (like ACL, nested categories, or the redirect component). They may also be struck by similarities between the admin templates. (Or the admin template could change entirely in 2.5! Unfortunately, we don't know what will be in 2.5 at this time.)

If the client still does not want to move, you'll need to consider your own questions above about whether you'll want to continue to support this client or not.

If your client can't afford to move, there are ways to address this. In some cases, it may be appropriate to move the site for free, such as if the site is for a non-profit you particularly admire. You could also explore putting your client on a payment plan, having them make smaller monthly payments to you over time. This evens your cash flow a bit, and it gives your client the ability to fit the site move in their budget.

9. Which templates and extensions will be ready for Joomla 2.5?

When you finally plan the timeline for migrating your client’s sites, knowing approximately when templates and extensions will be ready for Joomla 2.5 is very important. There are some well-known and heavily used extensions which do not discuss any plans for the future on their websites, beyond Joomla 1.5. It’s time to push extension and template developers along, so they will say more about their plans for Joomla 2.5 and so you can plan appropriately for your clients.

Extension developers are encouraged to post plans for Joomla 2.5 support in an easy-to-locate area on their website. Will a migration tool be available for moving data? Do you have an expected timeline for releasing your 2.5-compatible extension? You can always change dates later, if needed, but if you commit to a 2.5 version, people will be relying on you to deliver.

Likewise, template developers should also post their plans for Joomla 2.5 support. If there are Joomla 1.5 templates which will definitely not be moved to 2.5, it would be nice to know which of those are affected.

What other suggestions do you have for making our Joomla 1.5 to 2.5 migrations go more smoothly for your clients?

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