The Joomla! Community Magazine™

Distributions - When One Flavour is Not Enough

Written by | Friday, 01 November 2013 00:00 | Published in 2013 November
Anyone who knows me knows I have a bit of a sweet tooth and I'm a sucker for chocolate, cheesecake and ice cream. It's extremely hard for me to walk past the local gelato shop. As I yield to temptation, I'm affronted with an assortment of flavours and mix-ins. I can choose between standard or sugar cones or have it in a cup. I can tailor my order for the likes and dislikes of my family, and get serving sizes that are realistic for their appetite (or my budget). Decisions, decisions ...

But when it comes to getting a copy of the Joomla CMS, it's a bit like walking into the ice-cream shop and only being able to order two-scoops of vanilla in a standard cone. The attendant behind the counter says to me, "I'm sorry sir, if you'd like other flavours and sprinkles on top, there's a grocery store down the road." Hrm ...

What if there was another way to download a fresh copy of Joomla, but pre-installed with just the extensions I want to suit the site I need to build today just like I can order different types of ice cream.

Earlier this year, the Joomla project published a roadmap for the Joomla CMS. Part of that roadmap was to look at different ways that the Joomla CMS could be distributed, tailored in a way that suited what users might actually need rather than having a one-size-fits-all (two scoops of vanilla thank you very much) approach. Last month, the first steps were taken towards realising that goal. The Distributions Working Group was formed.

The purpose of this working group is to look at how distributions could work from the software engineering requirements at one end, to the download and compilation experience for users at the other.

How could distributions work?

Obviously this is a point of discussion, but let me cast a vision for how it could work.

Distributions could simply be a variable set of the core extensions (Articles, Weblinks, Banners and so on). There could be a "classic" distribution which is much like the CMS we are used to today. There could be a "light" version that only includes articles support and is your pick for blogging. There could be a "developer" version that includes utilities such as a JED Checker extensions.

This sounds great, and would be helpful for people that are new to Joomla aren't quite sure where to start. It would be a step in the right direction, but I think we can offer our customers more.

Imagine if the download page for Joomla included the "house suggestions" as I've mentioned above. But now imagine there is a "choose your own CMS" button that you can click. A panel rolls down to reveal a list of extension packages that I can "check off". I can select just the extensions I need for my current project and download the site ready to go. Not only that, popular free extensions like Akeeba Backup and others are in the list too, and I can search the JED for more.

Now imagine that you've gone to all the trouble of selecting a custom distribution of the CMS, and I have another client that needs a similar stack but with a few changes. Wouldn't it be great if I could save my custom distributions just like I'd save a playlist of music, and how about letting me share that with my friends? Imagine you could search all of the custom distributions that have been saved by other people to find something suitable for a small business site, a bed-and-breakfast, a music band?

What if distributions even preconfigure themselves based on what other extensions are installed?

What if I could buy support or "pro" upgrades directly through an in-site purchasing system?

What if ... ?

All these things are possible – all we need is your time and effort.

How can you help?

There are many ways to help. The first thing to do is check out the Distributions Working Group home page on Github. This is central command for all of the major discussions that we need to have to realise the distribution vision.

We need developers and engineers to help with the technical details of how to refactor our software into building blocks that can be made into distributions.

We need user experience people to help design the new ways users will interact with the variety that distributions will offer.

We need planners and thinkers to help work through the logistics and new workflows that we are going to need, not to mention the myriad of new problems we are going to have to solve.

We need marketers and communicators to help keep the teams and the spectators informed.

To be a part of the team of people that reinvents Joomla is a very exciting prospect. If you are attending the Joomla World conference, you might like to join the conference session for the Distribution Working Group on the Sunday.

When will distributions be available?

Let's be realistic - this is a huge and new undertaking for the project and it will take many months to plan and probably years to perfect. But an initial goal could be for Joomla 4.0 to be built on the distribution architecture, even if the ability to build different types of distributions is still some way down the track.

The first steps have been taken so now it's over to you to get involved if this is something you feel you might be interested in. If you have any questions leave a comment below or join the conversation on Github.

Thanks in advance!

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Andrew Eddie

Andrew Eddie

Andrew is a co-founder and long term contributor to the Joomla project (currently serving a term on the PLT - the Production Leadership Team - and is a Platform Maintainer).  He works for eBay as a software engineer working on a large Joomla intranet project within the company called DataHub. Andrew speaks about Joomla development regularly at Joomla events and ICT conferences all around the world.

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