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November 2010

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The Open Source Solution to Browser/Platform Incompatibility Issues

by Glen Emerson Morris
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In October 2010, MS Internet Explorer's share of the market fell to less than 50%, down from a one time high somewhere north of 95%. While this may be good news for consumers wanting a wider choice in browsers, it represents a growing problem for online advertisers. The public is logging into business Websites with an increasingly diverse combination, or matrix, of browsers and platforms, and that is placeing additional demands on Website development and QA.

Even in good economic times, the increased cost of keeping a company's Website looking and performing good on everything from a 30” LCD display to an iPad or smaller device would be hard to manage economically. Unfortunately, bad as the problem is now, it's likely to get even worse as rival iPad/Kindle clones begin to flood the market in 2011 with portrait oriented formats. The solution is going to take a lot of computer programming over the next few years, and who is going to pay for it will be a major issue for the advertising industry, and every SMB with a Website.

Given the current economic climate, the most viable solution for many advertisers may lie in adopting some kind of open source solution. After all, Microsoft, the world's largest software company just lost the browser war to an open source browser. In some ways though, it wasn't a fair fight. Microsoft was outnumbered from the beginning. The success of Firefox has much to do with its support of add-on extensions from volunteer and commercial programmers. The add-ons have expanded its ability far beyond that of IE. For practical purposes, Firefox has become a platform in it's own right, while IE has remained just a browser.

Fortunately for advertisers, the Linux based content management systems (CMS) have a similar ability to accept add-ons that greatly expand the application's capability. Over the years open source CMS applications have become capable of functioning as a full service Website, supporting headers, footers, registered user logins, e-commerce, membership based newsletters, classified ads, Jobs, and more.

While there are dozens of open source content management systems available, only three seem to have hit a critical mass; WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. WordPress is primarily a blog system and not designed to support a general Website. Drupal is, but it's highly complex and not easy to use. Joomla, the remaining front-runner, is designed to be easy to use and has hundreds of free and commercial add-ons that provide additional functionality, including templates that automatically reformat content to fit iPads and other mobile devices. It could be just what the advertising industry needs, if not now, at least very soon. And it's easy to adopt.

The Joomla CMS application can be installed on any Apache based Website, and many ISPs offer it as part of the basic hosting package. No programming is required to install or use Joomla. Once installed, setting up the structure for the site, or defining the sections and categories, is done through a GUI.

The process is simple. Once the site structure has been defined, you just hit the add page button and start building the page. Each Joomla page consists of a set number of columns and a variety of optional elements that can be added to different parts of the columns, like polls, most read lists, and weather reports. Pages are put together like an Erector Set, allowing for substantial variations in layout and appearance.

The current 1.5 version of Joomla has major limitations with content structure and user access issues. The main problem is that an article cannot appear in more than one section or category. However, this issue will be resolved in the 1.6 version of Joomla due out early next year, and there are workarounds now, thanks to Joomla's add-on flexibility.

Joomla will accept two kinds of add-ons; templates, which determine page design and layout (including CSS), and extensions, which are code modules that add additional functionality to the Website, like a self service classified ad section, or an automatic newsletter generator, or the ability to assign an article to multiple categories. And there are getting to be a lot of options for Joomla.

Free and commercial extensions to add additional functionality to Joomla are available by the hundreds. The commercial extensions frequently go for under $100, and some go for far less. One company, iJoomla, offers an extension that can add surveys to each page, and an advertising module that enable visitors to buy and place ads online for your site. Both products go for less that $100.

There are a number of free sources for Joomla page templates on the Internet, the best being, and there are many commercial sources as well. The commercial Joomla template services tend to come in two types, shops that sell specific templates at set prices, and shops that offer a paid subscription services to a library of dozens, even hundreds of templates, for download. The fixed price templates tend to run from $20 to well over $3000. Subscription prices tend to range from $50 to $100 per year, with a few shops well above that. The iPad format templates go for about $30, and could be one of the biggest bargains in the history of advertising technology.

Whether Joomla will become the advertising industry standard CMS is hard to say, but there's no doubt it could, and a reasonable argument could be made that it should. Whether it actually will be will depend on how well the Joomla development community and the advertising community can work together to define and meet each others needs and requirements.

It would be nice to live in a world where modifying your company's Website to work on a new mobile browser was as simple as buying a $30 application and clicking the “Install” button. The fact is we're almost there. The biggest obstacle will be mind set.

Glen Emerson Morris was recently a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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