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09Nov2020

“Uh, Joomla! … I think we have a problem …”

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1356 hits Updated: 11 August 2021 Blog
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The two most important questions people ask about Joomla! 4

A concise history of the Joomla! 4 project

When should people be preparing themselves for J! 4

Ever since the Joomla! project announced that J! 3.x would be retired as J! 4 “comes to life”https://developer.joomla.org/news/676-joomla-3-retiring-as-joomla-4-comes-to-life.html in March 2017, the Joomla community has been waiting for news about this historic milestone.  To better prepare people for what has been promised, a number of commentators have written articles—most of them written in ways that people would probably interpret as marketing hype—over the past few years but still leaving a couple of very important questions unanswered.

The two most important—unanswered—questions are

  1. When will the first version of J! 4 be released that will be reliable enough for website owners to implement it?
  2. When will J! 4 overtake J! 3.x as the focus of the J! community for people who seeking a secure, robust, well-maintained and supported, open source solution with which to build their websites?

These questions are important because of the expectations promised nearly four years ago that J! 3.x was on its way out and therefore people have put their website redevelopment plans on hold waiting for when J! 4 is born.  After all, if a completely new, major software release is only a short time away, why spend your time using a technology that's at the end of its useful life?

This article will discuss these questions and provide you with background information—as best as I have been able to find it—to help you make your strategic plans regarding as to whether to (a) wait until J! 4 has been released, (b) continue to use J! 3.x for the foreseeable future (and possibly migrate to J! 4 later), or (c) abandon J! 4 altogether and go with something else.

When will Joomla! 4 be released?

According to the Joomla Roadmap, we don't have a rough timeframe for the release of J! 4.0.0; the current expectation is “yet to be determined”.

In my previous article I wrote that I had not been able to locate from any primary sources how proposals for a new upgrade to J! 3.x came into being and concluded that J! 4 probably originated some time around 2016.  I have discovered more information on the history of the project that shows these plans started much earlierhttps://developer.joomla.org/news/620-joomla-4-working-group.html.  Regardless of when the project started, the question now is not about when will Joomla! 4 be released but rather if J! 4 will ever be released.

The following infographic shows the trend in searches for Joomla 4 between January 2017 and todayThe infographic uses data obtained before the release of J! 4 beta 5 on 27 October but the additional data since then has not significantly altered the current trend.  See https://trends.google.com.au/trends/explore?date=2017-01-01%202020-11-07&q=%22joomla%204%22.

Google Trends:  Joomla 4

Although the data points themselves have bounced around a little (as you would expect when updates are announced), the overall trend has flat-lined.  Further, when one factors the trend in searching for information about Joomla (without drilling into any specific version)Data source: https://trends.google.com.au/trends/explore?date=2017-01-01%202020-10-20&q=%22joomla%22 the trend has fallen markedly over the past three years.

The following two tables show the significant dates in the establishment of the Joomla 4 project and a timeline J! 4 releases to dateSource: https://github.com/joomla/joomla-cms/releases:

Date
Release name
17-Nov-2017
J! 4 alpha 1
20-Nov-2017
J! 4 alpha 2
13-May-2018
J! 4 alpha 3
23-Jul-2018
J! 4 alpha 4
5-Nov-2018
J! 4 alpha 5
28-Dec-2018
J! 4 alpha 6
9-Mar-2019
J! 4 alpha 7
18-Apr-2019
J! 4 alpha 8
17-May-2019
J! 4 alpha 9
29-Jul-2019
J! 4 alpha 10
18-Aug-2019
J! 4 alpha 11
18-Oct-2019
J! 4 alpha 12
31-May-2020
J! 4 beta 1
30-Jun-2020
J! 4 beta 2
30-Jul-2020
J! 4 beta 3
16-Sep-2020
J! 4 beta 4
27-Oct-2020
J! 4 beta 5
7-Jan-2021
J! 4 beta 6
2-Feb-2021
J! 4 beta 7
1-Jun-2021
J! 4 RC 1
15-Jun-2021
J! 4 RC 2
29-Jun-2021
J! 4 RC 3
13-Jul-2021
J! 4 RC 4
27-Jul-2021
J! 4 RC 5
10-Aug-2021
J! 4 RC 6

Set against this background—an open-source project that has been running for over 5½ yearsAs of 15-Jun-2021 it is now over 6 years., a set of undefined targets and what seems to be an unending series of pre-production releases—the answer to the question is that it unlikely J! 4.0.0 will appear at any time in the near future.

When should people be preparing themselves for J! 4

Let's assume that J! 4.0.0 will be released; perhaps a more positive outlook it look at the proposition of when J! 4.0.0 is released.  What next?  What should people be considering as their next step?

The most important consideration to keep in mind is that there is still a future for J! 3.x.  People will not need to make any immediate change in the existing website operational plans. According to the Joomla Roadmap, at around the same time as the release of J! 4.0.0, Joomla! version 3.10 will be released.

The importance of J! 3.10

J! 3.10 is intended is expected to be the last release in the J! 3.x series.  Its purpose is to (a) provide continuity of support and operability for people relying on J! 3 for their websites and (b) to provide a basis for people who are considering migrating to J! 4.  J! 3.10 will include some features backported from the J! 4 project—not all of them but some, at least—because, without it (according to the developers) it will not be viable to migrate from J! 3.x to J! 4.0 without going through J! 3.10 first.  So J! 3.10 is a prerequisite for migrating from J! 3.x to J! 4.x.

The second point to make is that J! 3.10 will continue to be maintained and supported by the J! developers for at least two years after the release of J! 4.0  This will provide at least two years of “breathing space” for J! users and third-party developers of J! extensions.  In other words, there will be no great hurry to abandon J! 3.x in favour of J! 4.x.

The J! 4 “tipping point”

We don't know how consumers will take up J! 4.  Certainly there will be a number of early adopters—there always are when new products are released on the market—while the rest of the market will look on to see how well the product performs.  As with any “dot-zero” release, it is expected that J! 4.0.0 will have its defects, uncompleted or broken features, and the usual set of “bugs” and it may not be before J! 4.1 emerges before those areas are addressed … and we don’t know when that’s likely to happen, either.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point makes that point that, to be successful with an idea, we need to reframe the way we think about the world.  We have trouble estimating dramatic, exponential change.  The world—much as we want to—does not accord with our intuition.

Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right.  They deliberately test their intuitions.Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, Abacus Books, 2000, p.258

Returning to our earlier observations about the falling trend in the numbers of searches people make about Joomla, the tipping point may have already been passed and no amount of intuition—faith, hope or belief by the J! project development team—can arrest that decline and turn it around.  Joomla! 4’s success is unlikely to change because of better marketing; one can only “market” a dream for a certain amount of time and the hard reality is that dreaming doesn’t put food on the table.  Market acceptance will determine Joomla! 4’s success.  We know that J! 4.0.0 will not be perfect and, depending on whatever energy remains in the J! project, it will probably not be reliable enough for production usage for a very long time.

What will it take for me to use J! 4?

It doesn’t matter how big a stick may be used to corral people into migrating to whatever-is-the-latest version of J!, people will remain content to stay with whatever version of J! they choose to use.  Here we are, eight years after the release of what is the latest version of J!, and people continue to ask questions on—and expect help from—various forums that discuss J! 1.x, J! 2.5  People—our colleagues, friends, clients—will use whatever they want to use (or can afford to use given their budgetary/time constraints) and that’s just a fact of life. For those people—those bleeding-edge, early adopters of new technology—who are prepared to venture into unchartered territory, there are adventurers among us.  For those people who remain anchored to and reliant upon outdated technology, we could (unkindly) refer to them as dinosaurs.

Sometimes one is forced to adapt. For example, it’s impossible to use telephones designed in the mid-20th century with today’s telephone infrastructure or, as another example, to use a TV (or VHS recorder) to receive analogue TV broadcasts. These devices may have their use … perhaps in a museum or in a display case … but they may have little practical use without significant modifications to them.  Is it worth it to modify some antique for everyday practical purposes?

I build websites using technology that I’m comfortable with, using technology that’s in mainstream, widespread, general usage, using techniques that I’m familiar using and using techniques and technologies that deliver reliability, durability, flexibility at the same time as affording me security.  When one ventures into a kind of unknown future, by employing something that hasn’t been proven against these benchmarks, it’s all a bit of an experiment.  One does not want to live in the worst house on the street, and perhaps it not a good idea to over-capitalise on your property to have the best house in the street, but we try to keep up with the neighbours.  When it comes time to sell the house, you’ll realise whether you invested the “right amount”, enough to deliver a good ROI.  And, in my opinion, I think that’s what it all boils down to.

We don't know how consumers will take up J! 4.  Certainly there will be a number of early adopters—there always are when new products are released on the market—while the rest of the market will look on to see how well the product performs.  As with any “dot-zero” release, it is expected that J! 4.0.0 will have its defects, uncompleted or broken features, and the usual set of “bugs” and it may not be before J! 4.1 emerges before those areas are addressed … and we don’t know when that’s likely to happen, either.  I don’t expect to see a stable release of J! 4.0 until early next year and I’m happy to wait and see how things pan out when J! 4 is proven stable enough for general, widespread use. In the meantime I think that discussions about J! 4 continue … perhaps if only to fill the empty spaces between official announcements.

I have not seen any features in J! 4 that motivate me to create my next website in it or to migrate any of my existing J!-based websites to J! 4.  It’s the uncertainty about the future of Joomla!, not only when viewed through the lens of the J! 4 project but on the broader landscape, that is unsettling and, for that reason, I will conclude with a reminder to the Joomla! development team to understand that it’s not idle water-cooler gossip when I say “Uh, Joomla! … I think we have a problem …”

Summary

  J! 4 is currently unsupportedJooma! 4 is still being tested by a small team of enthusiasts; its usage accounts for less than one percent of all versions of Joomla!:  the website owner is responsible for all problems they may encounter.

  The list of currently-available features may change; some features may be removed (or not implemented until a later time) and some new features may be added before the product is released to the public.

 The frontend Cassiopeia template is undergoing a re-think in design.  So, however people may use Cassiopeia today, their websites may not necessarily operate similarly in future.  Who knows what third-party template developers will make of further changes occurring between J! 4 beta and J! 4 stable?

  Nothing is guaranteed.

  When the time comes—when J! 4.0.0 is released in a stable form—we’ll see what we’ll see. J! 4 may be really good or it may be a total lemon; that’s for the market to decide.

I encourage people to road-test J! 4 now and play with it; that’s what I’m doing.  Form your own impressions of whether J! 4 will deliver what you want from it. By the same token, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, either: we don’t know whether it’ll be "safe" to upgrade your test sites (using beta/RC versions of J! 4) to J! 4.0.0 stable and any discussion today—based on public announcements that promise this kind of agility—is like using a crystal ball to predict the future.  Therefore, in any road-testing, keep in mind that you’re only driving a demonstration vehicle not the car you’ll be driving out of the showroom.

About the author:

is a website hobbyist specialising in Joomla, a former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years, and an active contributor on The Joomla Forum™. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.


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