10 Top Joomla Extensions

By: Robert Thomson

There are who-knows-how-many thousands of free Joomla extensions you can use for just about any personal or commercial project. Of all the many great Joomla components, tips, tricks and modules out there, only a few ever earn that special place on a "top 10" list. Naturally, there are some great commercial add-ons, but we're talking here about extensions you can use under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

Don't be upset if your favorite isn't listed, and be advised that it is best to wait a few months for open source code to get thoroughly tested, vetted, tweaked and improved. In other words, you won't find the Joomla extension you just read about today listed here, as the ones on this list (in no particular order) are tools that are safer to recommend based on their having been smacked around a bit. They are "net tested" and as guaranteed as any freebie ever could be.

1. JoomlaXplorer: This powerful file manager works right within Joomla. An external FTP application would work, too, but considering the feature-to-price ratio JoomlaXplorer is hard to beat. A common opinion of web pros is that this should be integrated directly into a future release, a cry that's been heard for a few years already.

2. Smoothgallery Lightbox: This is one of the most popular gallery extensions with Joomla developers who like to impress clients. It looks great, works like a Swiss watch and if you set it up right, it works in various, customized ways. Because it uses AJAX libraries some users have had issues with it no playing nice with a site's other installed AJAX extensions. There are ways to fix any problem, so the benefits totally outweigh that minor issue.

3. Fireboard: Fireboard was a completely eye-opening experience when it was released. Before this extension was available, getting a totally solid forum was really a hassle. A chorus of geeky voices calls this the best forum extension for Joomla, hands down, at any price (and "none" is a great one).

4. sh404SEF: It's not much on the brand-name ID, but this component lets you incorporate SEO on your Joomla site as easily as it can be done. With its support for most leading extensions and relative simplicity, this tongue twister is the ultimate Joomla SEO extension.

5. JoomlaStats: This amazing Joomla component does a good job at tracking statistics. It doesn't compete with Google Analytics on power, but for total Joomla integration in a stats component, it's hard to beat.

6. MiniFrontPage: One leading Joomla guru calls this "the Cadillac of news modules," as it does a super job displaying the newest content additions in module positions. It is dead simple to display a snippet of your new content with an auto-generated image, and it offers a nice, customizable "read more" link.

7. Community Builder: This extension is a must-have for social networks, but has uses far beyond that single purpose. The setup time involved is easily outweighed by the huge feature set, and you can get all kinds of other extensions specifically created for Community Builder to further extend this great extension.

8. Virtuemart: This is a set of Joomla extensions that reminds you how great Joomla is. If you sell anything and want a Joomla-integrated shopping cart, here you go. It works straight up, has great documentation on the developer site and has overcome a few initial problems to take its place among the best Joomla e-commerce solutions.

9. Extended Menu: There are a few CSS drop-down menus for Joomla, but this one balances power with functionality. Joomla novices should avoid it as it is difficult to set up and requires pretty good familiarity with CSS. Developers will find this module a solid base from which to construct a completely customizable menu system that will play nice with existing Joomla menus.

10. Jombackup: This is a compact, focused little database backup "mambot" and it does just what it's supposed to do. A pared down database backup bot, once it's set up it will backup your Joomla database automatically then email it wherever you say. It doesn't get much easier than that. It may be a one-trick pony, but the trick is a winner and the pony is gentle.

Summary and caveats

With any free Joomla components, extensions and mambots, your mileage may vary and you may or may not agree with someone else's opinion. None of the ones listed here should be considered perfect, but people pay hundreds of dollars for more than a few name-brand software packages that are downright buggy. (Don't tell Bill I said that.)

Many people have used these extensions and judged them worthy of inclusion in the Joomla GPL toolkit. They have been used many times in commercial applications and put to unique and varied uses by, well, unique and varied people. You can be counted as one of them if you grab some of these extensions and put them through their paces. In the open source world, that's what you're supposed to do-because that's how it all gets better and stays affordable!

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