About (Joomla!) distributions and how you’re already using them.

Yesterday, Amy Stephen posted a blog post on ATAAW, explaining that Molajo isn’t a Joomla fork, but a distribution.  Most of you probably heard of Molajo, and I know some of you have been wondering about something.

What the hell is a distribution?

Some seem to think that a distribution is an “evil” thing.   That Joomla distributions will be the very end of Joomla! Well, it’s not.  Because I couldn’t find a proper Wikipedia article (the most reliable source of information on the web, right?) my explanation will have to do.

To quote myself:  “A distribution uses the original code, makes changes where needed and adds the required features, and then publishes the complete package.”

Now, let’s translate that to Molajo.  What will they do?  They’ll be using Joomla 1.6 and they’ll be adding features which didn’t make it to J!1.6 (yet).  They’ll also be tweaking Joomla 1.6 to make it a more pleasant CMS to use.  From what I’ve heard, they’ll add comments, ratings, and WordPress like URL’s.  They’re also trying to improve the ACL so it will be easier to use.  On top of that, they’ll be replacing the existing templates with new templates.  This will all be bundled in a package, which will be known as “Molajo”.  You can install this package like you would install Joomla.

The good news? Your “old” templates and extensions will all be 100% compatible.  Because deep down, it’s still Joomla 1.6. 

Famous “distributions” you might have used.

If you’re a site builder, you might have spent a lot of time building sites on your own computer.  Odds are that you’ve been using Mamp (Mac), Wamp (Windows), Xamp (?) or set up Lamp with a few commands (Linux). 

When you installed M/W/X/L amp, did you also worry about it being a distribution?  No.  You thought “hey, this is neat,” and installed it.  You installed a distribution of Apache, Mysql and PHP with a few clicks, because someone else created the distribution.  A distribution of Apache, MySQL and PHP targeting the users of your OS. 

I could now point into the direction of Drupal and explain how they’re offering hundreds of distributions on their site, and how that’s a good thing.  But some people seem to be Drupal biased as well, so let’s look at some distributions of Joomla!

Have you ever played around with Virtuemart? Chances are that you have.  How did you install Virtuemart?  If you started from scratch, there’s a big chance that you used the Virtuemart e-commerce bundle – a distribution of Joomla 1.5 which includes Virtuemart from the start.  That’s a distribution, all right, because it’s built on top of Joomla 1.5.x. 

Judging on the blog stats, many of you are non-English speaking.  If you’re building a Joomla! site, how do you start?  Do you start with the “English” version of Joomla and install your languages files later on?  Personally, I don’t.  The people at Joomlacommunity.eu offer a great Dutch version of Joomla! 1.5 , which I use.  When I use their distribution, I don’t have to worry about installing language files.  This specific distribution is aimed at Dutch site builders, like myself.  I’m sure that similar versions exist for other languages (and if they don’t – what are you waiting for? Get started!) 

You’re making distributions yourself, too!

If, at this point, you want to send me an angry e-mail saying “Never, I’m staying loyal to Joomla!” you haven’t read the rest of the post.  I can’t blame you, this headline is rather attention grabbing.  But if you were to send me such a mail, I’d send you a nice reply:

“Good luck with your stock Joomla site, I’m sure it’ll be very useful…’”

Hey, it’s nothing to be ashamed off.  I admit.  I’m guilty of creating a distribution of Joomla which I’ve labelled the “QuickInstaller”, myself.  What lead me down this dark, treacherous path?  Laziness.  The healthy kind. 

When you’re building Joomla sites for a living, you’ll often be installing the very same components.  A few I can think of are Akeeba Backup / Admin Tools, Xmap, SH404SEF, JCE editor, Phoca Downloads, ALFContact… and I’m sure there are more out there.  Technically, that’s “creating your own distribution”.  You’ve figured out that you’ve got specific needs for your sites, and started adding tools that addressed those needs, by adding components, plug-ins and templates.   Congratulations, you’re using your own distribution. 

One way to install this distribution of yours, is by installing all these components, every time you build a new website.  But that’s boring. Very, very boring.  Instead, I have created a “standard package” with the following:  Joomla 1.5, the components I need and even some configuration changes I always make.  I create a nice package of this “site” and when I build a new site, I use my “own distribution” and save quite some time.   I could publish this package on my website right now, and it would be a “distribution” just as much as Molajo will be a distribution.

I’m not going to do that because some of these components are “commercial”, but you get the point. I created a distribution.  So did you.  You have specific needs, and built on top of Joomla to meet those needs.  Would you say that YOU are damaging Joomla by doing this? 


  • Molajo is a distribution
  • Distributions aren’t evil, or a threat to Joomla as a whole.
  • Distributions aim to meet specific needs, and are built on top of a “base solution”.
  • I build distributions.  You do, too.  Because it makes our work easier / more fun.


Note:  Are you interested in building “your own distribution” to speed up the boring part of site building?  Leave a comment and we’ll write a follow-up article

Disclaimer:  I’m not affiliated with Molajo.  Nor did they bribe me to write this post.  It’s just an interesting project, you should keep an eye on.  Hmm, WordPress-like URL’s…

Another disclaimer:  I’m just sharing my personal opinions.  If I said anything about Molajo that isn’t correct: don’t hurt me!

20 thoughts on “About (Joomla!) distributions and how you’re already using them.”

  1. Some food for thought. The GPL was designed to make distributions not just easy to make, but legal as well. Every time you are creating a site for one of your clients you, in fact, create a distribution of Joomla!; one that’s very specific to that client. Proprietary software, like (remember that one?) FrontPage Extensions, don’t allow distributions of any kind. That’s why you can install Joomla! on as many sites as you want, but for proprietary software you have to spend lots of dough per domain.

    Distributions are a vital aspect for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The “Free” part comes from “freedom”. Distributions augment your freedom because you are now free to choose between the stock CMS, a template developer’s artsy distribution of the month (e.g. what RocketTheme does each month), Molajo, Nooku Server or any other of the hundred -but less vocal- Joomla! distributions. All legal, all equal to the GPL.

    As a result of the above, I don’t get why there’s suddenly so much hype about distributions. We have been using them practically forever, albeit they were never labelled as such. Let’s not demonize the term, or flood the “intertubes” with FUD regarding Joomla! distributions. As you said, Steven, distributions are 100% compatible with the core product. Let’s not confuse distributions with forks and let’s go on doing what we do best: build kick-ass sites with Joomla!, be it stock, our roll-your-own distribution or one of the new distros which have suddenly gotten in the limelight.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Nicholas. I think it’s important that site builders understand what a “distribution” is – they seem to have the wrong impression of what it means. And because of that, they might miss out on the benefits it offers them.

      Of course, everyone is still free to start with a “stock” Joomla but I’d love to see more “distributions”. It would only make Joomla more popular if, for example, people could download a “blog distribution” or a “News portal” distrowith all the tools you need, in one handy package.

      Being pessimistic as usual, though, I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, seing as how they react to a “general” distro like Molajo…

  2. I’ve never heard of anyone being against distributions, the Virtue Mart bundled with Joomla! eCommerce distro has been around since Joomla! started and I actually wrote this FAQ http://docs.joomla.org/Installation_FAQs_Version_1.0#How_do_you_pre-install_extensions.3F about how to do this on your own way back in 1.0.

    As long as you have clear indications that you are not distributing a standard Joomla! package , don’t modify any core files and state clearly that you and not the Joomla! project are responsible for support of the distribution I’ve never heard of anyone being against that. In fact I’ve heard many people be in support of that over the years. I kind of assume most people who build sites for a living have more or less done this already for their standard suites. Every developer I’ve talked to understands why the Joomla! name can’t be associated with specific extensions over which the project has no control. They don’t want people doing that to their exentsions either.

    A fork is if you modify core files. I’m not really following what’s happening with Molajo (i’m happy with my standard set up of core+extensions) but as long as they don’t touch the core it’s great to have a distribution people find useful. And if it’s a fork, that’s great too, since that’s the power that the GPL gives everyone.

    1. Elin, thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to understand what a distribution is. I’m *hoping* to help them in understanding that distributions are something “natural”.

      You should know that most of my visitors are site builders, who usually just download Joomla and build a site. And for some reason, some of them are upset because they don’t understand what Molajo is all about. So here’s me, trying to convince them that they ARE familiar with distributions.

      But apparently my post attracts the wrong crowd 😉

  3. Distributions are nothing new in Joomla land, we just haven’t really used that language much so it can be a bit foreign to some people. We certainly all make “informal” distributions whether that’s for a client or our local sports club, whatever. As Joomla gets bigger it’s only natural that we see more and more joins the ranks of Soapbox and Jentla, and the new comers Molajo and Nooku Server.

    Distributions can be very good for verticals (e-commerce, publishing, etc) when they build on the stock Joomla distributions (the official one). The danger comes when distributions start changing things and site builders are not immediately aware of those changes. For example, Nooku Server drops out a lot of legacy code and some features (like com_wrapper, et al). Now that’s not bad in itself (and gosh it felt good to kick legacy mode from Joomla 1.6 – can’t recall who had the pleasure of doing that commit), but it does have consequences for some people.

    Molajo is experimenting with different things, which is great (I certainly did when I was with JXtended, and continue to do so to this day), but what happens when you get to a point where *any* distribution wants to take core features in a different direction (could be a technical difference of opinion, or their ‘vertical’ doesn’t align with the line of best fit the main project has to maintain, whatever), potentially leading to compatibility issues. We’ve seen in recent days how some in the developer community are rather animated about the thought of supporting both Joomla 1.5 and 1.6. Would our developer community look any more favourably on having to also support a version for Nooku Server X.Y, and Molajo W.Z just as in the Linux world you need to support Debian packages, Red Hat RPM’s and so on? Time will tell. Commercial or social distribution communities also need to be mindful of “biting the hand that feeds them” when it comes to marketing (for example, if you are at a Joomla Day, don’t harp on the fact Joomla core is crap and your distro is superior – that’s just bad manners).

    The new short release cycle also throws an interesting ingredient into the mix. Will distributions be able to, or even want to, keep up? Interesting times ahead.

    All up, 100% agree this is nothing to be overly concerned about (in the short term) but my hope is that each distribution that is released makes it very clear what it is, and what it isn’t, and has a very comprehensive and accurate compatibility statement. It’s not so much going to affect the main Joomla project if they don’t, but they’ll get a heck of a lot of resource-intensive support calls if they don’t make it clear so it’s in their best interests to do so.

  4. Andrew –

    If something is “dangerous” simply on the basis that it is different and therefore produces results not clearly understood by the site builder, then by your very definition Joomla! 1.6 would also be labeled dangerous. That’s very close to fear mongering, it’s certainly on the heavy side for someone of your leadership level to be saying in a public post.

    Word choice is so important and it goes to your point of showing so that the collaboration and cooperation are fostered, not hindered. But, you only speak of showing support for the project – and the respect must mutual, not just for “the project.”

    As you know, this past week, I have posted here, here and here to show support for Joomla! 1.6 and the project’s efforts. There is more than a small amount of frustration in the community right and I’ve done the opposite of ‘biting the hand that feeds you.’ So, encourage that please by acknowledging support given.

    Further, don’t separate things like us and then. For five years, I’ve been a feeding hand in Joomla — a contributor. I’m not taking without giving — in fact – Molajo is still giving. There is no charge for this work. It is shared back to the project. It is for the Joomla community. Some of the other examples you mention are commercial and by companies I have not seen around working — but I have worked hard and for many years.

    You are right about the importance of direction. What you seem to be implying that I hope is wrong is that you do not believe creative ideas that are born of different people can be reconciled. This next phase as these distributions begin is where the project’s leadership of it’s community will be so crucial — can the project engage the creative minds of it’s community and adapt all of these visions and code produced into a more powerful whole?

    In a sense, Andrew, you are fortunate to have had “the badge” so that there was a clear outlet for your creative work while at JXtended. Nearly all of 1.6 comes from that experimentation: JForms, JQueryDatabase, the MVC Parent Classes, and the ACL. I thank you for that work but I also ask you to think — what if you were unable to create and share? What would you do? Just sit and wait?

    There is a danger, as you say, for a development team to invest in innovation and explore areas that they find interesting — scratch their itch, as it were – and then to not be able to share that work with their community.

    But, the danger is not in the exploration or the creating of work — the danger is in whether or not the project can adapt to the creative drive of it’s community and let the communities work fuel future releases.

    I will continue to go out of my way to assure everyone that our intentions are good and that we will continue to share our code with the project. But, I don’t get to choose if it received, or not. The same is true of nooku, even more, since Johan would have continued had he been allowed to stay.

    What would be very unfair would be for the project to hold the creative direction to a small handful of minds and then vilify creative work of it’s community simply because the project is not willing to adapt or receive that work.

    You are right – time will tell. My code will be shared with the project. What happens next is not up to me. The same has been true of Nooku. All it takes is for the project to turn outward to it’s community and focus on how to make it work, and it will be.

    We’ve known one another a long time, Andrew. There are good times ahead. I’m not worried as long as I am learning and growing and sharing and focused on making sure I do what’s right. I’m going to do my very best to help people feel positive about the growth and the work of this community. Life is to short for fear and waiting for someone to do it for you.


  5. The spirit of Open Source is you have the freedom to hold your own opinions about things, as do I. I mentioned no less than four distributions and was talking about “distributions” in general. Please don’t apply specificity where it was obviously not intended. For the record, the presentation I’ve seen of Molajo have been conducted in a professional manner. Again, remember this topic is about “distributions” (plural), not a critique of your particular brand. My comments stand as relevant in the wider debate of pros and cons of custom distributions.

  6. Andrew –

    I would never deny you your opinion. You certainly have earned the right to speak your mind and you have earned my respect, many times over.

    My comments stand, too, and I hope some of what I said might help you see things just a little differently and perhaps understand the positive motivations and potential you might not have recognized before.

    Of course, not everyone is going to – or should – stay. Sometimes, their work will take them away, and others with them. If we can even learn to support that change and help make that transition as positive as possible, we will encourage the same in return and end up with good allies, partners. I definitely believe it is never too late to reach out, either.

    Anytime you have questions or concerns about Molajo, Andrew, please reach out and contact anyone on the team, myself included. Your ideas and advise, your wisdom and support, involvement or warnings, are not only welcome, but desired.

    Thank you, Steven, for this opportunity to talk.

  7. Just a little something:
    You compare your own joomla-with-preinstalled-extensions to molajo (and others).
    However, there is the difference that Molajo changes core files.
    And that is an important difference!

    That means that Molajo can act differently to something than core Joomla and that Molajo (and other distributions) can’t guarantee that ‘your “old” templates and extensions will all be 100% compatible’.

    PS: I am not saying that I am against Molajo or any other distributions, just stating the difference.

  8. What about distributions of 3rd party components, modules and plug-ins. Could one take, for example, DOCman or JCal or Akeeba Backup and create a newly named distribution based on these? Seems a bit dodgy, but is that what GPL allows for?

    1. You mean, combining Joomla 1.x with a component pre-installed and offering it as a distribution? Like installing Akeeba Backup Core and Admin Tools Core; calling the result “Joomla for Admins” and offering the package?

      I’m pretty sure it’s allowed as long as the third party component / module / plug-in is GPL. In practice, every site builder does this. They just don’t publish their distribution online 🙂

    2. Hayden, it’s not dodgy at all (unless the distribution builder is claiming someone else’s work as their own). The GPL certainly allows for that, in fact, encourages it. That’s the point 🙂

  9. Thanks for your replies Steven and Andrew. I guess the grey area for me is in understanding point 2b from GPL v2 that states “b) You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License. ” … Building in a developer’s software (or membership) charge into your ‘service’ is probably fine … but we like to also encourage our customers to see that there is a software cost as well. So we buy and mark up the components that we recommend and implement … and then offer training/other services … but the GPL makes this marking up of software illegal then … doesn’t it? If we’re purchasing software on behalf of our customers (in the process of assembling their site) and mark up and on-sell this combined, derivative work … are we breaking the law? Thanks again in advanced!! 🙂

    1. Hayden, you’d only run into trouble if you actually charged your client a “license fee” for GPL software. You can put whatever other markup you like (limited only by what the market will accept). In other words, while you paid for the software, you got the license for no-charge. You must pass the software license on in the same way (for free).

  10. There’s no loophole – the intention of the GPL is not to preclude people from deriving an income from software if they so choose. But the “catch” is that anything you receive under the GPL, you must pass on under the GPL including all the source code. You can’t, for example, change the license to stipulate that you require your client to pay $X if they pass it on to someone else. They are free to give it away if they want, or pass it on commercially. The key you have to solve is demonstrating you add value to the product by marking it up to get your conversion vs someone downloading the “product” themselves from the same source you get it from.

  11. Okay yes your last sentence puts it into perspective; thanks Andrew. We could take, for example, JCal Pro … modify the source and call it something else and sell it on another portal, and include the same GPL unmodified and it would be up to the purchaser to discern which was the better offering. We’re not going to do that, of course … it’s just worrying (to me) that someone could do that!! But if that’s the licence then so be it! 🙂

    1. Yes, that is a risk, but you won’t get listed in the JED is you do that (not for 3 months anyway and even then you have to justify that you’ve made enough changes/improvements to earn the listing). The project does offer a “fair go” policy like that, and those that list in the JED know how much of a positive influence it has on traffic. It’s a great playing-field leveller though – it means you are competing on service which means the little guys can compete with the big guys 🙂 (most of the time).

Comments are closed.

Discover more from PowerUser Guide

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading