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The community behind the open source content management system Joomla released version 1.6 earlier this week.

Along with WordPress and Drupal, Joomla helps make up the group of “big three” open source CMS applications. According to statistics from W3Techs, Joomla powers 2% of the web and holds 11% of the CMS market.

Joomla is used for front facing and internal sites for companies like eBay, Citibank, General Electric, IHOP and more. With Joomla 1.6, the goal was to make the package more user-friendly and powerful.

Joomla 1.5 was released almost three years ago and a lot of work has gone into this most recent release. In the future, the Joomla team will be adopting a six-month release strategy, meaning users won’t have to wait as long between updates.

We’ve spent some time playing with Joomla 1.6 and exploring some of the new features and improvements offered with this version.

Here are some of the big new features of Joomla 1.6:

  • New Access Control System — The user manager from older versions of Joomla has been replaced with a new Access Control List (ACL) that will let administrators have more granular control when creating user groups and offering user permissions to various aspects of a site. This is a big deal, especially since Joomla is so frequently used in intranet environments.

    The fact that Joomla now builds a solid ACL into the system, rather than relying on third-party extensions, is a great step for the platform.

  • One-Click Extension Updates — Just as WordPress has a built-in plugin manager and auto-update tool, Joomla now does, too. This is great for administrators who have multiple sites with lots of extensions to manage.
  • Template Styles — This is one of my favorite new features of Joomla 1.6. In the past, making changes to a template for just one aspect of a site meant basically creating a new template and changing the options you wanted to change manually. That works, of course, but it presents a lot of problems when trying to update a template or design as a whole. With template styles, designers can make variations of the same template that can be applied to specific sections or pages of a site.
  • Template and Layout Overrides –Like template styles, I really like the ability to do layout overrides to change very minute aspects of a site — for things like menus or modules.
  • Better Media Manager — For end users, the content manager is better than before, now supporting multiple-file uploads.
  • Package Installation Feature — For developers who offer a number of different extensions or solutions that are interconnected, this is extremely cool. Basically this lets a developer create a single package that will install multiple extensions at the same time.
  • Sections Be Gone — Say goodbye to sections and hello to categories! You can create unlimited sub-categories (with unlimited depth) for ultimate hierarchy and taxonomy control.

Joomla still hasn’t caught up with WordPress in the ease-of-use department, but as a CMS, it can be considerably more powerful. The new ACL feature is great for large scale sites with lots of users. For designers, we think the addition of template styles and layout overrides will make customizing and changing smaller aspects of a page or site faster.

For end users, there aren’t a lot of dramatic differences, but on our localhost, the software seemed faster and snappier than an identical Joomla 1.5 instance.

Have you ever used Joomla when designing or developing a website? What do you think of this CMS? Let us know in the comments.

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