Review: Mambo Open Source CMS

A review of the Mambo Open Source Content Management System — one of the brightest technologies on the web today. After months of development and testing, what I feel is one of the most exciting projects on the Internet has reached final public release: Mambo Open Source. Mambo is a website framework that enables anyone with basic coding knowledge to build highly complex and functional websites, complete with a wide variety of features. Mambo does a lot of things, but what attracts most people is the powerful suite of content management tools. Mambo includes a browser-based content editor that lets you maintain your website content without having to do any coding in HTML, DHTML, or XML. It’s all done through a simple WYSIWYG interface (What You See Is What You Get). You just type your content, format it as you like, add images if you like, and click publish. Start and stop dates, author information, archiving, versioning, and article metadata are all supported as well. Other built in content tools include RSS feeds (Mambo comes loaded with links to over 300 RSS sources and it is very simple to add more), syndication of your content, polls (surveys), a news section, and banner ad and web link management. Mambo was originally built as a tool for creating portals, and as a result retains a wide variety of functional components suitable for multi-tier, multi-user sites. User management options allow you to create a variety of users with different permissions and privileges for both the front end and the back end administration system. These tools allow you to create “members only” sections of a site with unique navigation and private content. (You could also use these features to set up a complete extranet solution.) User management includes automatic email alerts or instant messaging for your users and the ability to block the access of problem members, should the need arise. Back end administration is also web-based and managed through your browser. The admin tools provide monitoring of select traffic statistics, a back up system for your database, and processes for managing system information and site hierarchies. It is all done through a very friendly interface and the learning curve is not steep. I have followed the Mambo system’s development across beta builds over the last several months and in the process built three very different sites using the system. Installation is well within the grasp of anyone with a bit of knowledge of PHP, HTML, and server set up. To install the system on your server, simply download the zip file from then extract to your local drive. Once you have all the files in hand, FTP them to your server and run the installation file. You will be prompted for some basic information about your database and your server, but assuming you know this info, total installation time is about 15 minutes. It simply could not be easier. One of the most attractive features of Mambo is the ability to customize the front end as you please. A variety of templates are available through the Mambo community but you can also re-skin the site yourself, given again some knowledge of PHP and HTML. While in theory that may sound daunting, in reality it is not. Install it, play with it, learn by trial and error. If you break it, delete it, and set it up again. It’s free, go crazy! Mambo documentation is limited and support is community-based, meaning if you have a problem, you may need to go to the online forums and post a question. My experiences with the Mambo community have been very good. A lot of people are involved in this initiative and the responsiveness to questions I have posted has been great. Similarly, development cycles are unbelievably fast. The system is both modular and open, and as a result new features or enhancements appear literally on a daily basis. New modules and system enhancements range from high end functionality, like moderated discussion boards or file exchanges, to fun little things like guestbooks and flash greeting cards. Installation of new modules and components is automated by the admin system which reduces installation to merely uploading a zip file to the server and then letting Mambo do the rest. I find this aspect of the system very attractive as it gives me the ability to experiment with new modules and components without messing about with the code. System requirements are very basic, allowing Mambo to be installed in most environments. You will need a Linux, UNIX, or Windows system with Apache, PHP, and mySQL installed. That’s it. To learn more about this product, visit the home page referenced above or check out one of the many Mambo fan sites. Next week we’ll take a look at some other mature open source content management systems and the implications this movement has for software developers. Article originally published in the Bangkok Post, December 2003.

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