Joomla! Developer Blog

So Really - What's the Difference

April 8th, 2006 by masterchief

I see a lot of questions about what’s the difference between Joomla! and Mambo. Many people that did not follow the saga that ensued during the split with Mambo seem to think that one is a spin-off of the other, or one is “the original and best” and the other a poor-man’s replica. While feature for feature they are very similar at this time, the main differences lie in the heritage of the projects.

It is inadequate to suggest that a comparison can be done in one or two paragraphs, or with the typical throw away line of “try both and see”. Evaluating Open Source or even commercial software is a difficult process requiring good research and good information. I believe this is a fair and balance representation of the history of both Mambo and Joomla! to the best of my personal recollection and research. For reference I joined the Mambo Development team in February 2003.

Modern History – Mambo in the 21st Century

One can never deny ones’ roots, however turbid they may be. So this is a brief history of how Joomla! came to be out of its Mambo roots.

Mambo was originally developed by a Melbourne (Australia) based company, called Miro, in 2000. It was spawned in an era when phpNuke reigned supreme in a community-site minded internet. To their credit, Miro correctly identified that there was a lack of substance for business oriented sites.

It is believed Miro borrowed heavily from the competing CMS offerings of the time, as open-source projects are known to do, but adding its own flavour by creating a unique separation of site and administration.

Miro publicly released its code under the names of Mambo Site Server and later Mambo Open Source at version 3 in April 2001 under the GNU GPL. From this time until the middle of 2002, Miro was the only developer of Mambo, contributing bug-fixes and security patches but not really adding to the feature sets. At the same time, during 2001, Miro also developed a commercial iteration of Mambo, and later released “Mambo 2002″ in January of 2002. At this time Mambo 2002 and Mambo Open Source are still very similar.

Late in 2002, Miro was contacted by Robert Castley who saw great potential for the application, and was eventually appointed as project director. Castley took over the development of Mambo Open Source and progressed it to version 4 beta, having assembled a small team of keen and like-minded developers to support the project.

Early in 2003, Miro hands off the responsibility of the code fully to the Open Source project Development Team. It is at this time that work ends on the 4.0 series and the first major refactoring of the schema and code architecture are performed. Meanwhile Miro continues work on its commercial counterpart independently of the Open Source project, and the two code-bases diverge rapidly. It is important to note that neither versions are compatible with each other.

Version 4.5 is born in December 2003 with enough changes to be fairly considered a fork of itself with most of the original Miro code having disappeared during refactoring. It is at this point that Mambo is placed on the radar and begins to receive much recognition for its quality and gaining popularity.

In 2004 Linux Format awards Mambo “Best Free Software Project” of the Year and Linux User and Developer names it “Best Linux or Open Source Software”. is unveiled in March of 2004 following frustrations with the facilities provided at, and also the growing need to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding third-party developer market. Above all other things, Mambo’s template offerings become the most prolific and envy of any of the content management systems of the day.

September 2004 saw the release of version 4.5.1 which massive functional improvements and a refurbished administrator.

Then, following the resignation of Robert Castley in late 2004, and the appointment of his replacement Andrew Eddie, the Mambo Development Team and Miro decide to reunite and collaborate their efforts more formally. The Mambo Steering Committee is formed made up of Miro executives and elected representatives from the Mambo Development Team.

In February 2005 version 4.5.2 is released making great efforts to improve features and stability without radically changing the look and feel of the interface.

2005 sees more major awards such as “Best Open Source Solution” and “Best of Show - Total Industry Solution” at LinuxWorld Boston and “Best Open Source Solution” at LinuxWorld San Francisco.

Work then begins on version 4.5.3 which boast international support for the now famous Mambo Administrator, fine grained access control and more.

Regretably, in August 2005, a dispute develops involving the fulfillment of decisions within the Mambo Steering Committee. The entire Core Team decide to sever ties with Miro and leave the project. They regroup under the banner of Open Source Matters.

After a serious dust, polish and make-over, Open Source Matters gives birth to Joomla! 1.0 in September 2005. Over the coming months, Mambo also reforms its own teams and support structures, abandoning the advanced work on the original version 4.5.3 and opting to continue to support the current stable code-base.

With the passage of time carrying us well into 2006, both Mambo and Joomla! continue to win awards, both being heavily based on the original 4.5.2 code-base. At the time of writing, both projects are involved in heavy refactoring efforts of the new Mambo 4.6 and Joomla! 1.5. Following the release of both these version we are likely to see polarisation of the two projects and each provide its own richness and new flavours to the Open Source movement.

Code by any other Name

Another way to look at it is like this:

Mambo today – same name, same base code, different team
Joomla! today – different name, same base code, same team

This makes it extremely hard to answer the question “what is the original”. Some people like to stick with the classic brand, others like to go with whatever is new. In this case do you stick with the name or the designers. It’s an interesting question to ponder.

Extensions Compared

The current stable versions of Joomla! (1.0) and Mambo (4.5.3) should be mostly compatible. It is likely that anything that was built for Mambo will install and run in Joomla!. However, it’s possible that purpose built Joomla! extensions won’t run on Mambo without modification.

Features Compared

Feature for feature, there is not a lot of difference. The Joomla! Administration has certainly been given a facelift but otherwise most of the differences lie in cosmetics, bug and security fixes.

Architecture Compared

Again both are very similar. Database schemas are virtually identical and very compatible – it’s possible to run Joomla! and Mambo site off the same database. Both Joomla! and Mambo have upgraded respectively libraries. However, Joomla! did include several API features that had been worked on prior to the split. Line for line, Joomla! is arguably cleaner and slightly richer for the third party developer.

Development Compared

There is a significant difference in the rollout of versions. Joomla! has maintained a commitment to making stable versions more stable, releasing incremental versions on a regular basis, for example, 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, and so on. In my opinion Joomla! has addressed more security issues and more major bugs than Mambo, and also in a more timely fashion.

Both projects release their code under the GNU General Public License.

Communities Compared

Both communities are large and healthy with their share a long time supporters, zealots, trolls and others in between. Growth in the Joomla! Forums is rapid and could possible surpass that of Mambo during 2006.

Support Compared

Both projects have:

Joomla!’s Developer Forge is generously hosted by VA Software, the same people that manage, and runs SourceForge Enterprise Edition. Hosting of all web sites is done through the generosity of Rochen. The Joomla! developer portal is very much focused on fostering community interaction.

Mambo runs the Open Source G-Forge for its developer forge and both the forge and most web sites are run by a private company.

Only Joomla! maintains a dedicated Extensions catalog separate from their forge.

Structure Compared

Internal structures are similar in some ways and different in others. The organisation structures are not terribly important in making a comparison of the products themselves. However, one major difference exists in the non-profit entities that protect the legal interests of the projects. The Mambo Foundation actually contributes to part of the governance structure to Mambo, is overall heavier and has a membership. Open Source Matters (the Joomla! non-profit) is very light and provides no governance or leadership officially to the project. Joomla!’s legal advice is provided by the SFLC which notably includes Eben Moglen, a key figure in the GNU General Public License.

So how do I choose?

Even after this brief comparison, it could still be difficult to choose. It you are after features in the out-of-the-box download, toss a coin – really! If you are looking for slicker eye candy then Joomla! wins hands-down.

If you are after reliability and stability then I believe Joomla! is better for you. Your decision though may simply come down to the fact that there is an extension for Joomla! but not Mambo (or that doesn’t work on Mambo). Joomla! is also supported by some of the most famous supporters and advocates of the Open Source movement.

For developers, I firmly believe that the architectural improvements in the next version of Joomla! will outshine not only Mambo, but many other CMS projects in the same pack.

If you are choosing a CMS based on what you will be able to do with it in the future, then I believe Joomla! is the choice because this is the name you are going to see competing in the Enterprise market.

Does this mean that Mambo is bad and Joomla! is good? No, not by any stretch. It simply means that Mambo is brilliant software and Joomla! is probably a little bit better.

Inevitably we do come back to the throw away line I mentioned at the start, “try both and see”. Try them both but select the total package that suits you best. One thing I can guarantee is that whatever one you choose, you are getting a quality product for your content management needs with which you will not be disappointed.


Copyright 2006