jebraweb-walkmanThe Sony Walkman was the absolute state of the art in portable audio in 1980. Do you remember how cool it was? Suddenly, we could listen to music on headphones anywhere we wanted. It fit in the inside pocket of our jean jackets! There was nothing better than this for creating an invisible wall between you and the world, a wall full of the best of Aerosmith or Madonna or Michael Jackson or even Mozart (if you were that kind of kid). The Sony Walkman totally revolutionized what it meant to be a teenager with musical interests, and even to be a technology-forward adult of the ’80s.

I have two of these things in my basement now, along with a very dusty polyester case full of several dozen casettes. They’re all buried under some other dusty items in a box I haven’t opened in a decade. How did this happen? How?! Listening to tapes on my walkman with my headphones while I rode the bus to school was the best thing ever, once upon a time. Now, despite its original awesomeness, I admit freely that my Walkman and the tapes it played are now outdated. Deprecated. Obsolete.

This happens, unfortunately, at lightning speed in the world of software and internet technology. What 1980 is to portable music, 2009 is to the internet software of today. No matter what your developer might want, no matter how smart he or she is, and no matter what precautions your web hosting company might take, technology marches on, improves, and leaves its predecessors in the dust anyway. There’s no way to keep everything on the cutting edge 100% of the time, so the question becomes: how do you know what old stuff you can use, and what you absolutely have to upgrade? In the case of Joomla — our favorite content management software — the path to upgrade hasn’t always been easy.

As I write this, the current version of Joomla is 3.1.5. That’s the version in which we’re developing all of our new client sites here at Jebraweb. However, in July 2013, more than 60% of Joomla sites online were still running Joomla 1.5 (according to this article in the Joomla Community Magazine). That’s a huge proportion of sites, and so it might seem like, with that many sites still using it, it must still be a pretty good product — so if you’re in that group, there’s no real pressure to upgrade.

Let’s back up. Joomla 1.5 was released in 2008 and was last updated in March of 2012. That’s a nice long release cycle — at first glance. However, that last update in 2012 was literally the last update ever for this version of Joomla. Updates are made for lots of reasons — sometimes they add features or fix bugs — but many of them are made as the developers react to hackers having found security holes. Some people call these updates “patches” — like when your Windows computer downloads automatic updates that protect you from whatever threat has recently been released onto the internet. When the Joomla developers released that final update in March of 2012, they effectively said, “This is the last time we’re going to help all of you who are running web sites that use Joomla 1.5. If anyone finds a new way to hack Joomla 1.5, we’re not going to protect it. Good luck. Take care. It’s been nice knowing you.”

That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Don’t worry. That’s not all the developers have said. They’ve also spent thousands and thousands of hours building new versions of Joomla. More than just “updates,” these are total reworkings of the very core of the software. They include major improvements to functionality and security. Having worked in every version of Joomla since 1.5, I can tell you that the upgrades since then have been fantastic. I’m glad that the developers have focused their attention on these newer versions, and I’ve transitioned my site to the most recent version.

Sounds great, right? So now, maybe I’ve convinced you — and maybe you’re wondering why on earth all those people haven’t upgraded. After all, I’ve made it sound so good — safety from hacking AND all sorts of new features! Sadly, there’s a downside, and it’s why the number of sites using deprecated versions of Joomla is so high:

Upgrading from 1.5 to anything else is really, really time-consuming.

I’m one of many Joomla developers who have taken the time to talk honestly with the leadership of the Joomla project about the intensive time commitment inherent in upgrading our 1.5 clients. I believe that they’ve heard us, and that they’re working hard on developing better tools for upgrade and for translating templates from one version to another, and I’m hopeful that future upgrades will be easier. For now, though, we are stuck with spending upwards of a dozen hours of time on each site’s upgrade away from Joomla 1.5. There are many articles out there that talk in greater detail about when to upgrade and why. Here are links to a few:

Upgrade Joomla 1.5 to 2.5

Why Upgrade to Joomla 2.5 or 3?

Why Should You Migrate Your Joomla 1.5 Site to a Newer Version?

(Note: I know it’s all about SEO and keywords, but I wish people would come up with some more interesting blog titles.)

In just the way that we all had to make the tough call about when to let go of our cassette tapes, store away or throw away our Walkmen, Joomla site owners will eventually have to make that decision about Joomla 1.5. It’s likely that, at some point, those who didn’t make that decision earlier will have it made for them by default when the servers on which these web sites are stored are upgraded by their host companies, and old versions of Joomla won’t run on new versions of server software. When that happens, just like when Sony stopped selling replacement parts for the Walkman and recording companies stopped producing music on casette tape, it will be the end, whether we all like it or not.

Progress marches on. Before you’re left clutching your broken Walkman, your web site a blinking error message, I encourage you: please, please upgrade.