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Top 5 Essential Extensions for Joomla!

Joomla!If you are planning to install Joomla! or already have, there is a lot of functionality that comes with the core installation.  However, there are thousands of great extensions that are available to download for free and for a fee.  Today we are going to take a look at the top 5 must have extensions that are not installed with Joomla!, but can greatly improve your website.  All of these extensions are compatible with Joomla! 1.5 & 1.6.

Akeeba Backup

http://www.akeebabackup.com

It is safe to say that with any website a backup is an essential piece of the puzzle.  Many hosting providers provide a backup service, for a fee of course.  Maybe you don’t want to pay the fee, or perhaps you would like to have control of when you backup your site, and where the backup files are stored.  Well look no further!  Akeeba Backup can do all of this!  The software provides one click backup with the option to exclude files, and will allow you to download your site backups to your computer.  Keep in mind, that larger website backups should be downloaded through FTP instead.

Make sure that after you have installed Akeeba Backup, that you enable the Lazy Scheduling plug-in.  This plug-in allows you to set a schedule at a regular interval of when your site will be backed up!  This is very convenient for website administrators who don’t have the time to back up the website themselves!  The website will do this by itself (you do not have to be logged in), and the Administrator can download the files at their leisure.

When on Akeeba’s website, don’t forget to download the Kickstart application as well.  This is essential if you ever have to restore your website! The little PHP application (along with its language file) will be uploaded to the root directory of your Joomla! installation.  After that, you just run the kickstart.php, and follow the instructions!  Please keep in mind that you must have your database username and password in order to provide the PHP file access to your database.  After you have restored your website, it is always good practice to remove the kickstart files from your web server, so as not to provide an access point for would be hackers.

GCalendar

http://g4j.laoneo.net/content/extensions/gcalendar.html

This component is by far the most powerful calendar/event software available for the Joomla! content management system.  GCalendar is an application that integrates Google Calendar with your Joomla! website.  Backed up by all the functionality power Google Calendar has to offer, website administrators can integrate multiple calendars into one, add events with links, provide Google Maps directions, and even invite people to specific events!

You have to have a Google ID in order to create the calendar, but anybody with a Google account themselves can sync any of your calendars to their calendar with a click of a button!  In this day and age where cell phones are as much PDA’s as they are phones, this capability is essential for public events and keeping your clients/users informed of what is happening.   Don’t worry though, as long as your calendar is set to public, anyone can see your events, regardless if they have a Google account or not.   For those of the old tech persuasion, GCalendar also had a print button so users can print the page, and take it with them, straight from your website.  The available views are monthly, weekly, and agenda (daily), so people will be able to view your calendar to whatever specificity they want.  Now tell me, what other calendar for Joomla! can do all that?

Also worthy of mentioning, the GCalendar suite comes with many modules and plug-ins to enhance your website.

  • Google Calendar Module – This allows you to display your calendar in a module position.
  • Next Event Module/Plug-in – This comes in both module and plug-in form, and allows you to show your next event in a countdown style format.
  • Upcoming Events Module – This module a list of your upcoming events, with how many being specified in the module parameters.
  • Search Plug-in – This plug-in allows people to receive search results from Gcalendar in their searches.  Integrates seamlessly with Joomla!’s search function.

Lastly, the GCalendar comes with 2 views, Google View, and GCal view.

  • Google View – This is the classic Google Calendar view.  Recommended for websites that want to let their users know that their calendar is a Google calendar, and can be synched with as such.  Also, the Google Calendar has better Print Formatting
  • GCal View – This view’s appearance is determined by your Joomla! template.  Great for seamless integration into your website.  As it is not created by Google, minor problems have been known to occur when using this view.

RS Form Pro

http://www.rsjoomla.com/joomla-components/rsform.html

Whether you need a contact form or a capture form, this is the best software out there to create all the forms your website will ever need.   With the free version,  you can create forms and add them to any page on your website!  As well as the form creation capability, the free version also comes with Captcha, Thank you page redirect, user & administrator auto responders, and a submission manager in the backend which can be exported into .csv.

That seems like a lot of functionality for free, but there is so much more capability available to RS Form Pro with plug-ins, that the price tag of 19 Euro (roughly $27 dollars to us across the pond) for a year membership seems like a small price to pay.  Web Developers, there is a unlimited domain price available for 6 months at 59 Euros (approximately $83) or for a year at 99 Euros (approximately $140) available.

First let’s take a look at the capabilities RS Form Pro has to offer without the plug-ins.

There are many, but the few essential ones are:

  • Component Preview in Backend – Want to see what the form looks like before you publish?  Of course you do!  That makes this option a must.
  • Flat and Popup Calendar Field – Being able to let users specify dates through the form is very handy indeed when it comes to time sensitive applications.
  • Automatic layout generation – The countless hours you can save when you don’t have to write all the form code yourself!  After the layout generation, you can always tweak the form yourself, but this definitely saves time on creating the initial structure.
  • Attach files to e-mails – This option pretty much speaks for itself.  If you need to send files to your form submitters, then this is essential.
  • Ability to filter submissions – After you get a lot of responses, this becomes mandatory in order to find the submissions you are looking for, without wasting lots of time scrolling .

If you are still not convinced, RS Form Pro has many plug-ins to add extra capability to your forms, making the component even more essential to your website’s repertoire.

Some of the best plug-ins are:

  • Joomla! User Registration – This allows you to add the registration options to your form for websites with members only secure areas.
  • Constant Contact – This allows the user to sign up to your Constant Contact newsletter.
  • PayPal – A great plug-in for forms that need an online payment option.  Combines with the user registration, you have a one stop shop form to allow users to pay for membership to your website.
  • Akismet – This is a non-invasive way to achieve spam detection.
  • Mail Chimp – This allows the user to sign up to your Mail Chimp newsletter.
  • Google Analytics – This allows you to add Google Analytics code to your form, so you can keep track of how many visitors viewed the form, and how many actually submitted it.
  • ReCaptcha – A much more secure anti-spam method than their standard Captcha, this takes the detection to a whole new level of security.

With all of this available in one package, there really is not a better form component available for Joomla!  So whether you are trying to capture leads, having a paid members only area, or trying to get people to sign up for an event, this is a must for your Joomla! website.

RokTabs

http://www.rockettheme.com/extensions-joomla/roktabs

If you are looking for a spectacular front page banner module to display pictures/articles in an organized format, then this module will be at the top of your list.  There are many extension available in the Joomla! directory, but most of them are Flash based.  With iPhones, iPods, and iPads selling like hot cakes around the world, using flash and alienating the Apple users will really put your website at a disadvantage, especially when this module will usually sit on your home page’s “above the fold” prime website real estate!

The beauty of RokTabs over other simple image rotators, is that the module displays articles instead of pictures.  With a background image, and some relative positioned divs, you can have multiple linked sections of your banner.  Image rotators just offer a single link on the image.  Also, the text is actually text and not part of the picture, so web crawlers can see the text and index your page accordingly.

RokTabs comes with many different transition animations, like Fade in/out and scroll up/down or left/right etc.  This makes it easy to use in different places, with many different effects.  When it comes to overall appearance, RokTabs comes with a light or dark theme, which can be modified through css to look however you want.  Keep in mind; this should only be done by Web Designers/Developers with proficient knowledge of CSS, and access to the module directory on your web server.

When it comes to functionality, RokTabs works very well as a tabbed panel or a banner rotator.  Using the dark theme, let’s take a look at the differences between the two.

Tabbed Panel

Example: http://www.mma-az.org/

This tabbed panel uses the scroll left to right transition, with clickable tabs at the top.  The tabs can be set to the bottom as well, and the animation can be changed or removed.  The tabbed panel is reminiscent of the “tabbed spry” capability that Adobe’s Dreamweaver has, but with a lot more transition power.  Articles just need to be added to a single category, and then the category ID inserted into the RokTabs module parameters.  Icons can also be put into the tabs.

Banner Rotator

Example: http://www.diamondsarizona.com/

This is an example of a banner rotator, which uses images in the background, with text on top of the images, linking to specific pages on the website.   This example uses the fade in/out transition effect. Using RokTabs this way is a little bit more complicated, involving CSS to put the image in the background of the article, and positioning the divs with the text in the appropriate places.  The difficulty is well worth it, when sacrificing users for Flash is your other alternative.  .  Articles just need to be added to a single category, and then the category ID inserted into the RokTabs module parameters.  Tabs need to be turned off as well, in order to achieve the desired effect.

Phoca Gallery

http://www.phoca.cz/phocagallery

Phoca Gallery is the most extensive photo gallery software available for Joomla!.  Coming from a long line of top quality extensions for Joomla!, it is not a surprise that at least one Phoca extension makes the top 5 essentials for Joomla!

This easy to install application allows for galleries within galleries, so even the most organized gallery aficionados can have as many levels to their galleries as they wish.  The Administration panel for the component is very easy to use, and allows the administrator to upload a folder of images at a time to a specific category, or the category will be created based on the folder title.  Another great capability in Phoca Gallery is the different pop up effects.  Whether it be in a lightbox, or a shadowbox, there are many different full size image pop styles available, albeit not all of them are free for commercial use.

The auto creation thumbnail generator comes in very handy for those who want to save time and keep the site uniform.  In the settings panel, a global width and height can be set for the thumbnail.  For any of the readers who have had to do the creating of thumbnails manually, you are aware of what a boon this capability is.  For those of you who haven’t had to do this manually, simply be glad you don’t have to.

For those who would like users to add their own photos, galleries can be given ownership to a specific user, who can then login and upload their photos.  From the back end side, all photos from that user will be put into a specified folder (specified in the category settings) for easy administration.  For those administrators worried about spammers, the category can be set to require admin approval before the photos are published, thus saving the headache of inappropriate photos accidentally or intentionally finding their way onto the site.

One of the really cool features worth mentioning is Phoca Gallery’s compatibility with Joomla’s most extensive shopping cart, Virtuemart.  Virtuemart comes with a very basic set of Browse Page Templates, which more often than not have to be manually code tweaked to layout the way you want it to.  With Phoca Gallery, you can assign a Virtuemart product ID to every photo, thus giving you a very beautiful gallery to display your images in, with perfect linking back to the shopping cart product page.  It may take more work, but is worth it.

Aside from the core component, the Phoca Gallery website offers additional Modules and plug-ins to bring your website to life.

Modules

  • Image Module – Adds a simple image or multiple images into a module on your website.
  • Tree Module – Shows a menu tree of all your categories in a module position.
  • Menu Module – Shows the categories list in a menu.
  • Noob, Floom, & Nivo Slideshow Modules – Great banner style gallery display modules, with a wide variety of transitions, and the option for text overlay.

Plug-ins

  • Gallery Plug-in – Allows you to add galleries within an article on your website.
  • Slideshow Plug-in – Allows you to add a slideshows within an article.
  • Search Plug-in – This allows users to search the text within your galleries.  Integrates seamlessly with Joomla! search module.
  • Gallery Button Plug-in – This button gets added to your editor, allowing you to insert galleries into your article with ease.  Should be used in conjunction with the Gallery plug-in.

So there are the top 5 essential add-on extensions for Joomla!  With the addition of backup protection, calendar integration, form capability, front page banner impressiveness, and Photo Gallery glamour, on top of the many options that already are offered in the Joomla! core framework, your website will be techno savvy and attracting users in no time at all.  Just make sure you have rich content to back up the technology!

If you think that there is a component/module/plug-in that has been overlooked and should have made it to this list, I would love to hear your comments on the subject.

About Duncan

Duncan Harmsworth has written 66 post in this blog.

I’m a Web Designer/Social Media Manager/Blog Writer. If it happens on the web, I probably have heard of it.

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