JCal Pro

Last winter I took on the task to redesign the Foothills Harley Owners Group web site. The previous iteration of the web site had outlived its purpose and a new site was needed to allow the group to find the information they needed quickly while allowing the group’s officers to manage the content easier.

I used Joomla as the content management system to give the site it’s form and structure. The content was categorized and laid out in a way that would make it easy for the Webmaster to manage and maintain.

There was one area that was of paramount importance. The club needed an online calendar system where they could enter all of the various rides and activities to allow the site visitors to quickly see what was coming up.

Joomla does not have a calendar feature per se but through the use of extensions it offers the ability to augment core functionality with new features. I began searching for a calendaring module and finally settled on JCal Pro from Anything Digital.

This Joomla extension provides not only an online calendar but also modules to display the next few activities in a bulleted fashion. JCal Pro began as a non-commercial product but has since moved to being a full commercial implementation.

Anything Digital offers a subscription plan that allows you to download the latest version of JCal Pro for a specified time. I selected the Develop Special 1 bundle, which gave me access to JCal Pro version 1.5 as well as the newer JCal Pro version 2.

Besides download capabilities the subscription also allows you forum access to post questions and get product support. The Developer Special 1 bundle will grant you access not just to JCal Pro but also for Anything Digital’s application RSVP and Advanced Search.

I downloaded the software and installed it onto the Foothills HOG Joomla site. The installation was fairly simple and follows the standard implementation using the Joomla Administration module.

It did not take long to get the system up and running but there are some caveats to be considered. Joomla does not recognize the concept of daylight saving time so twice a year the JCal Pro gets a little confused. This usually means having to go in and manually adjusting the dates or times to get things on the right track.

JCal Pro manages time itself and Joomla does likewise. Trying to get your hands around how each interact is a logic puzzle that can at times be frustrating. The JCal Pro development is fairly active meaning there have been several upgrades during the first year of implementation.

It has been a little frustrating because the bugs that I have encountered in the application seem to come and go with each successive implementation. There are also some features that are missing that you would just expect to be there. Printing a calendar resulted in a creative hack uncovered through the forums otherwise that was not included in the base package.

The types of data that can be displayed is also incomplete making it confusing to the inexperienced administrator. With each successive upgrade there have been issues regarding the existing data. In some instances it has required re-inputting the data, a very tedious process.

Many of the bug fixes and changes show up in later releases but as beta versions requiring the Joomla Administrator to run beta extensions on a production server. This is ripe for problems and has come into play in more than one occasion.

Despite all of the trials and tribulations JCal Pro has performed adequately. Of all the calendar extensions currently available, it seems to be the most feature-rich and stable. I’m continuing to use it but cringe every time I have to make changes to it since you never know what will break next.

I’d love to give this extension a raving review but given its track record I hesitate recommending this to all Joomla administrators. If you need a calendar system and you don’t mind a little extra work JCal Pro could be just what you’re looking for.

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