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Author Topic: Website design recommendations for a small business site?  (Read 10460 times)
tranglos
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« on: March 29, 2009, 04:26:22 PM »

I need to set up a small, simple website for my wife's one-person company. It would be mostly static except for a way to switch languages (the site will be bi- or trilingual), with a cookie to store the user's language preference, and perhaps a search mechanism. I know I could use any of the free content management engines, but they're far too complex on the one hand, and on the other hand they don't solve my major issue: the graphical design of the site. I am completely unable to imagine and design anything graphical, so this is what I need to buy.



So I went looking for templates and found a few suitable ones on 4templates.com (just as a reference, I particularly like this one, this one and this one). I like their general look, but before purchase you can only see small-size screenshots, so I don't know what they really look like in the browser, or if they are fluid vs. fixed-width designs, how they react to font scaling, or if the main section headings can be added / removed easily, etc. I would also need them customized in some small ways. The designers have a contact form and say they do customization, but they haven't responded to my questions sent twice over two weeks, so either they're not interested or their comment form is overrun with spam.

Anyway, I don't know where else to look, or even how much I should expect to pay for customizing templates like these. I don't even know if they are particularly good templates smiley The ones at 4templates.com are priced between $20 and $30, which is certainly low - but do other designers offer any significantly better (design-wise and usability-wise) termplates for more? Has anyone used such services and would like to share their experience?

I wanted this as a birthday present for my wife, which is April 9th, so it's already a little late for that - but other than that this isn't particularly urgent, so I'd rather spend more time and choose well. Professional website designers, please feel free to respond, but please reveal your interest in keeping with DC policies, and please also understand this will not be a particularly high-yield account smiley

« Last Edit: March 29, 2009, 04:45:37 PM by tranglos » Logged

rgdot
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« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2009, 04:37:48 PM »

Have you looked at Open Source Web Design as an option?
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tranglos
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« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2009, 04:44:34 PM »

Have you looked at Open Source Web Design as an option?

No, but I will now, thanks!
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tranglos
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2009, 02:57:53 PM »

(Bumping the thread)
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2009, 03:30:57 PM »

How about Xara web designer? http://www.xara.com

Checkout the templates page: http://www.xara.com/uk/pr...ts/webdesigner/templates/

Loads to choose from and easily customisable.

There are a load of video demos to see how it works at: http://www.xara.com/uk/pr...designer/tutorials-demos/

Note I haven't actually used this product (it is new and only recently released) but I have used and recommend the rest of their product line in the past and they produce really good quality software.

I don't have a financial interest in XARA but I have recommended their stuff in the past and as a result I signed up to their affiliate scheme. If you decide to buy something from them you can buy it direct from their site but if you feel like sharing the love you can pass on some commission to me by purchasing via my affiliate link here
« Last Edit: March 30, 2009, 03:36:15 PM by Carol Haynes » Logged

tranglos
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« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2009, 04:41:21 PM »

How about Xara web designer? http://www.xara.com

Thanks for the suggestion, Carol. Xara Web Designer does look spiffy! I'm not sure if I want to go that way though, because all I'd be able to do would be to use the built-in templates. I like perhaps two of the templates on Xara's showcase page, but not as much as I like my selections from 4templates.

I already have a few web design tools (albeit they're more in the traditional HomeSite style), and I'm afraid I'd end up spending countless hours (which I don't really have) and still not come up with anything vaguely professional looking. When it comes to visual design, I could just as easily buy a trumpet and hope to start playing good music by next week!

I feel what I really need instead is to buy a single design plus a customization service. I'm about ready to buy from 4templates, except that you can't really know how well the templates are built until you buy - you can't even tell if they are fluid or fixed-size, or if the section links are made of text (easy to manipulate) or if they are graphics (which I could not modify). I'm prepared to spend more than 4templates are asking, as long as I can have the designs customized a little, and as long as I can be fairly secure I'm getting the right thing. I guess this is the hardest part of all smiley
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2009, 04:49:54 PM »

It seems that in Xara Web Designer you can modify the templates in pretty much whatever way you want.
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tranglos
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« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2009, 05:20:27 PM »

It seems that in Xara Web Designer you can modify the templates in pretty much whatever way you want.

The templates can be modified, yes - but I doubt *I* could modify them, if you can see the difference smiley

I can certainly spoil a good design, but not improve on it. If it sounds lame, that's because it is lame, what can I say! If I needed an image changed, I don't know how to do so, because I don't know the first thing about editing images. How do you go from a blank rectangle mouse-drawn in Paint to a shaded 3D button that blends into the background but still looks clickable? I've no idea.

But it gets worse, because I am mentally unable to even *imagine* what I want, or what would look good. I can tell a good design from a bad one, like I can tell a good piece of music from a bad one, but I can't make either. There's probably a medical term for this regrettable peculiarity, and I sure hope it isn't called laziness, but there it is. Some people apparently can't spell regardless of effort and me, I can't draw things, or even imagine what would look right when drawn.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2009, 07:03:45 PM »

Fair enough - I understand 'blank page syndrome'  embarassed
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steeladept
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« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2009, 03:37:11 AM »

Sorry I missed this thread earlier.  I guess my main questions would be what kind of content would go on this site?  Do you have an idea of how many pages you want (which goes back to the content)?  If this is a static site (and it could be even with the multi-lingual button thing), what would change and how often?

The reason I ask these things is if you are just looking for a truly static site and all you are changing is some text here and there, you could probably hire someone to do it for you completely without too much cost.  In fact, I know a guy who does exactly this, though I don't think he is very cheap.  He specializes in dynamic sites, so he tends to price that way even for static ones.  However, you may even be able to look at some art colleges and find a student or a dozen that has some talent to do so.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2009, 04:13:16 AM »

I am just getting into using Joomla and finding it a fantastic tool. There are loads of free templates out there (e.g. JoomlaShack) but if you want to personalise them you can use the commercial product Artisteer (www.artisteer.com) to produce your own template. It works VERY simply by suggesting a rough template design (click until you get one you like) and then you can customise just about everything you want (graphics, colours, layouts) by working along a tabbed interface and tweaking settings that you want to change. Artisteer produces templates for Joomla, Wordpress and Drupal (amongst others including plain HTML).

Joomla can take a little getting used to but I found some excellent videos to get you started at http://www.buildajoomlawebsite.com/ (they aren't free but only cost $10).

Here is my first attempt using Artisteer and Joomla (I am porting it from WordPress and it isn't quie complete yet): www.friendsofgovi.org.uk
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« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2009, 10:24:16 AM »

Joomla can take a little getting used to but I found some excellent videos to get you started at http://www.buildajoomlawebsite.com/ (they aren't free but only cost $10).

There are also some nice (and free!) video tutorials for Joomla at the Joomla for Beginners website.

Main page : http://joomlaforbeginners.com

Direct link: http://joomlaforbeginners...omla-video-tutorials.html

 Thmbsup



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AussieRodney
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« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2009, 05:26:38 AM »

No-one has suggested WordPress yet?  You have the languages as categories & publish each static "article" once in each category.  I ran up a sample site for a friend recently in a few hours using the Atahualpa theme & fell in love with it, once you get used how it works, it's so easy to customise & is fully variable width.

Your solution doesn't have to be complicated.  And it can be free, except for the hosting.  And you should be able to do it yourself.
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tranglos
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« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2009, 12:55:11 PM »

Sorry I missed this thread earlier.  I guess my main questions would be what kind of content would go on this site?  Do you have an idea of how many pages you want (which goes back to the content)?  If this is a static site (and it could be even with the multi-lingual button thing), what would change and how often?

Good questions all. At the moment we're looking at about half a dozen sections, where each section is typically a single static page. Not much text even, except for testimonials (of which my wife has a good number already) and descriptions of the various services. A contact form. No real need for a forum, polls or other dynamic content, though I'm still hoping to convince my wife to keep a blog smiley

In fact, I know a guy who does exactly this, though I don't think he is very cheap.  He specializes in dynamic sites, so he tends to price that way even for static ones.  However, you may even be able to look at some art colleges and find a student or a dozen that has some talent to do so.

Right now I have no idea what cost bracket I should expect. I'm still trying a few DIY solutions with customizing a ready-made template. If that doesn't work out, I guess there's always elance.com, though it's a bit of pig-in-a-poke thing. 

I am just getting into using Joomla and finding it a fantastic tool. There are loads of free templates out there (e.g. JoomlaShack) but if you want to personalise them you can use the commercial product Artisteer (www.artisteer.com) to produce your own template. It works VERY simply by suggesting a rough template design (click until you get one you like) and then you can customise just about everything you want (graphics, colours, layouts) by working along a tabbed interface and tweaking settings that you want to change. Artisteer produces templates for Joomla, Wordpress and Drupal (amongst others including plain HTML).

Joomla can take a little getting used to but I found some excellent videos to get you started at http://www.buildajoomlawebsite.com/ (they aren't free but only cost $10).

Here is my first attempt using Artisteer and Joomla (I am porting it from WordPress and it isn't quie complete yet): www.friendsofgovi.org.uk

Thanks a lot Carol and 40Hz for suggesting Joomla. I'm playing with a local installation right now, and it's the first CMS I am fairly comfortable with and feel like I can get the hang of customizing it sufficiently. I still don't know how to make multi-level menus, which I would eventually need, but I'll get there.

Joomlashack has a number of really sweet pro templates, and my wife already loves this one. We must have seen about a hundred different designs so far, and this one is an instant hit with both of us.

My main doubt about Joomla (as well as WordPress and any other hi-tech solution) is whether I can get the bilingual aspect to work - it must be flawless. My wife's company does translation/linguistic services, so the translation of the site needs to be impeccable. The Polish version of the site must not display dates in English, for example, and I don't know if Joomla can handle that. (I'd rather avoid running two installations in two separate directories, although it's a solution if all else fails.)

There is a translation mod for Joomla, but from the description it isn't clear whether it provides only for multilingual versions of articles, or whether it can serve multilingual strings from the core engine as well. Users' reviews of the mod are awfully mixed - it's one of the top rated extensions, but has a number of 1-star reviews that claim it's useless. I'll probably email the authors, since they seem to be responsive in the review area.

(on edit: apparently the JoomFish translation mod doesn't support Joomla 1.5 yet. The Language forum on joomla.org has lots of people asking how to make a bilingual site, and little in the way of advice. So that issue remains the main stumbling block right now.)

I do like Joomla so far though, if only because I can see how to work with it right from the start. Drupal seems impenetrable by comparison.         

No-one has suggested WordPress yet?  You have the languages as categories & publish each static "article" once in each category.  I ran up a sample site for a friend recently in a few hours using the Atahualpa theme & fell in love with it, once you get used how it works, it's so easy to customise & is fully variable width.

Your solution doesn't have to be complicated.  And it can be free, except for the hosting.  And you should be able to do it yourself.

And thanks Rodney, too! I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere, because I reinstalled WordPress the other day and immediately zoomed in on the Atahualpa template. Very nice. My points above about perfect translatability apply here as well, of course; I haven't yet found a WordPress extension similar to the one for Joomla.

The crazy thing is I posted a very similar question over two years ago - when I was thinking of remodeling my software site (it dates back to the 1990s and is beginning to smell). At that point I tried a lot of different things and gave up. I still like TextPattern a lot, for the cleanliness, the reusable forms and especially for the textile syntax (would love to have textile in Joomla or WordPress!), but making a txp-powered site out of static pages is rather frustrating. Plus, good TextPattern templates are very scarce. There are a few good-looking ones, but they're all image-based, fixed-width designs, so the layouts fall apart as soon as you press Ctrl+Plus in the browser - that's unacceptable.

The software site has different requirements though. For that, I'd really like something simple (the site for the Everything search engine is perfect), but with the ability to do placeholder expansion/substitution in php (e.g. to automatically insert items like app name, current version and release date on different pages without entering them manually on each page). That should be easy to code manually of course, but none of the CMS-alikes I've seen seems to provide for that out of the box. 

« Last Edit: April 22, 2009, 02:44:49 PM by tranglos » Logged

Carol Haynes
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« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2009, 05:16:22 PM »

Re. multiple languages - I haven't used Joomla for that purpose myself but the fact that the United Nations use it to build their site suggests that languages should work pretty well.

I really recomment Artisteer for making templates of your own - you need ABSOLUTELY NO artistic talent just the ability to fiddle and decide what looks good. Plus you can use it for Joomla, Drupal and WordPress (or even a vanilla HTML static site). It is wonderfully easy.

Here is my first (somewhat inclomplete) site using Joomla and a template created in about 15 minutes with Artisteer:

www.friendsofgovi.org.uk

The only bits of the template that took a little simple hand coding are the footer and a few CSS tweaks.

Keep us in touch with what you are up to.
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tranglos
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« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2009, 05:40:49 PM »

Re. multiple languages - I haven't used Joomla for that purpose myself but the fact that the United Nations use it to build their site suggests that languages should work pretty well.

True, but what web designer wouldn't want to have UN in their client portfolio? It's probably customized to no end.

I completely agree it should be possible to have a multilingual site in Joomla. It's just that this is a make-or-break issue for this particular site, since a technically faulty or incomplete localization will reflect badly on a company that offers just such services.

I really recomment Artisteer for making templates of your own - you need ABSOLUTELY NO artistic talent just the ability to fiddle and decide what looks good. Plus you can use it for Joomla, Drupal and WordPress (or even a vanilla HTML static site). It is wonderfully easy.

Ouch, but it's expensive. The version that exports Joomla template sells for $129.95 (plus VAT in my case). For that price I could buy two or three perfectly good ready-made templates (though not unique designs). If I understand it correctly, I would be limited to the stock template designs that come with the program. That's fine if I find one I like and my wife accepts; otherwise it's no good. I've tried Xara web designer (which you previously suggested), and I didn't like any of the built-in templates well enough.

That said, I've downloaded the trial and will see where it takes me.

Thanks a lot again for all the useful suggestions!
« Last Edit: April 22, 2009, 05:45:10 PM by tranglos » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2009, 06:15:34 PM »

I've used templatemonster.com and 4templates.com for templates before, and I love the templates.  I haven't seen anyone using the same templates as I, so the incidence of duplication, at least in my case, was low.  I just used photoshop and dreamweaver to customize, and off I went...
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« Reply #17 on: April 22, 2009, 06:27:33 PM »

True, but what web designer wouldn't want to have UN in their client portfolio? It's probably customized to no end.
Perhaps, but once it is customized, why not make it available to all - unless it is customized by the UN, in which case why go with Joomla (or any other content management) since they must customize & verify each site by hand?  No, I think they (the UN) probably use the same engine or something very close to the original.

I completely agree it should be possible to have a multilingual site in Joomla. It's just that this is a make-or-break issue for this particular site, since a technically faulty or incomplete localization will reflect badly on a company that offers just such services.
If it is that critical (and I agree it is), I would suggest considering not using the multi-lingual translators and actually make three different pages yourself.  To make it easier, you may wish to use the translator to translate the bulk of it, copy it in to the new page, and have your wife fix any issues.
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tranglos
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« Reply #18 on: April 22, 2009, 06:42:07 PM »

If it is that critical (and I agree it is), I would suggest considering not using the multi-lingual translators and actually make three different pages yourself.  To make it easier, you may wish to use the translator to translate the bulk of it, copy it in to the new page, and have your wife fix any issues.

I'm not sure I understand. Translating the content is not a problem, this is what we do smiley I should be able to design menus and submenus in Joomla that would point to the correct language versions of each page. My concern is with (a) strings that are part of the template and (b) strings that come from the core engine.

(a) may not be an issue, if I can use different templates for specific pages. I don't know yet whether this is possible (it would be easy in TextPattern, for example). However, looking at some free Joomla templates I've downloaded, they don't seem to contain any displayable strings of their own; that's very good.

(b) is potentially a bigger issue, if Joomla embeds any displayable strings in php code. I don't think I would be able to modify it to the point of swapping out Joomla's internal php modules, so a good translator mod is probably my only recourse.
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tranglos
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« Reply #19 on: April 22, 2009, 06:50:36 PM »

I've used templatemonster.com and 4templates.com for templates before, and I love the templates.  I haven't seen anyone using the same templates as I, so the incidence of duplication, at least in my case, was low.  I just used photoshop and dreamweaver to customize, and off I went...

Thanks for that, wraith. Can I ask a favor, please? When I look at templates like these:

(1)  http://www.4templates.com...css-templates/20/AX0398BL
(2)  http://www.4templates.com...lcss-templates/2/AX0237GR

I cannot easily tell whether the section links (the column of blue menu buttons in the middle in (1); the row of black buttons under the main banner in (2)) are made of images or text. Do you know, or can you tell by looking at the screenshots, or by comparing with the templates you have used yourself? The screenshots they show are too small to tell the difference, and whoever is running the site isn't responding to questions asked via their contact form.

Also, the templates you bought from them - are they fixed width or fluid? Thanks a lot in advance!
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« Reply #20 on: April 22, 2009, 06:50:47 PM »

I am not sure what you mean by strings and such, but what I meant is instead of having 6 static pages that you run through a translation engine, you create 18 pages for the three different languages.  A different page for each language with the same content.  Then perhaps a home page with a selector.  It is certainly not very efficient, but if it is critical that each word, sentence, etc. is exactly correct, that is the only way I know of to be sure.
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tranglos
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« Reply #21 on: April 22, 2009, 07:01:36 PM »

I am not sure what you mean by strings and such, but what I meant is instead of having 6 static pages that you run through a translation engine, you create 18 pages for the three different languages.  A different page for each language with the same content.  Then perhaps a home page with a selector.  It is certainly not very efficient, but if it is critical that each word, sentence, etc. is exactly correct, that is the only way I know of to be sure.

No, that's fine, that's exactly the way to do it. However, this only covers my own text, my custom content.

There are also pieces of text coming from the Joomla itself - phrases such as "search", "previous", "next", "Last updated on" etc. The CMS also takes care of formatting dates, so by default it will use English names for weekdays and months, as well as the US-English format. I cannot have English dates on the Polish version of the site, or Polish dates on the English. This cannot be fixed just by adding pages, because the mechanism that displays dates (or the pieces of text I mentioned above) will still be the same for all pages.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #22 on: April 22, 2009, 07:09:51 PM »

Having not used multilanguage stuff in Joomla I can't really say how it works but logged in users have the option to choose their default language (assuming the relevant language packs are installed). I would assume that you would have to duplicate content for each language and then the pages would be displayed automatically by users language choice. I am not sure what would happen if you start to add visitor comments etc.

As for dates you can choose your format - for En-GB installations it defaults to UK English format as standard so I can't see why the language packs wouldn't provide automaticaly for relevant formatting (and language). I'll have an experiment tomorrow and see what happens if I install an extra language pack.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #23 on: April 22, 2009, 09:03:31 PM »

OK I have been having a play with this language setup and there are a couple of solutions in the form of Joomla plugins.

1) http://extensions.joomla....gual-content/1767/details

I have tried this one and it is dead easy to use. You install the plugin and then place a small token {joslang_select} somewhere where a language drop down menu can appear (you may need to edit the template source code or place it in a block somewhere - you can even include it in the text of relevant articles which have translations). In the plugin settings you can specify up to 7 languages (eg. just put a simple list like:

en=English
fr=French

in the plugin settings box. Then use your two letter code to tag content when writing pages etc. for the website - eg.

[en]Hello[/en][fr]Bonjour[/fr]

When you select a language from the drop down menu only the content tagged with that language will be displayed. I haven't tried it but I guess you can also use it in menus and block titles etc. too.


2) http://extensions.joomla....gual-content/6348/details

I haven't tried this one yet but it looks as though it can all be automated by the user selecting their own language and then only content in that language will be displayed. Sounds neater but if I understand correctly you effectively produce two documents for each article (each tagged with its own language).

The first approach is more flexible - you set up your site as you want and then can translate what you want when you want and add tags. No tags and it displays in the default language - tags and you get what you want. It also has the benefit that you only create one document for each article (rather than the second method where I think you have to produce 1 document for each langiage for each article. This method is more transparent but then you only get content in the language you choose. add to that it digs into and modifies a lot more native code and you would be relying on the developers to keep it going through new versons of Joomla. The current version has been tested to version 1.5.8 but already Joomla is on 1.5.10 and the updates are security fixes you want to apply - whether you language extension would then work is a bit 'suck it and see'.


There is also an automatic translation extension (joomFish) which a lot of people use. I am not a fan of automatic translation but it is there as an option.


With respect to 'native' language packs for Joomla - I have tried the French pack alongside the English pack and it is simple to choose the default language for the site (a couple of clicks). This translates the backend as well as obvious bits in the front end (and yes the dates are updated automatically to reflect the current language). When a user registers you can give them the option of updating their profile which means they can specify their own native language.

It would be very neat if option 1 above (josLang) could be enhanced one step further by reading the users own language preference rather than having to manually select the language from a drop down (although this is a nice option for unregistered visitors).
« Last Edit: April 22, 2009, 09:09:34 PM by Carol Haynes » Logged

wraith808
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« Reply #24 on: April 22, 2009, 09:21:20 PM »

Thanks for that, wraith. Can I ask a favor, please? When I look at templates like these:

(1)  http://www.4templates.com...css-templates/20/AX0398BL
(2)  http://www.4templates.com...lcss-templates/2/AX0237GR

I cannot easily tell whether the section links (the column of blue menu buttons in the middle in (1); the row of black buttons under the main banner in (2)) are made of images or text. Do you know, or can you tell by looking at the screenshots, or by comparing with the templates you have used yourself? The screenshots they show are too small to tell the difference, and whoever is running the site isn't responding to questions asked via their contact form.

Also, the templates you bought from them - are they fixed width or fluid? Thanks a lot in advance!


They are usually images- they are given as blank images, and you are given the fonts to put what you want on them yourself.  I usually convert them to photoshop format, then create a new layer for the text and any effects.  Then I save the psd files for later use and flatten them for the actual web images.

Look at this template for an example: http://www.4templates.com...css-templates/20/VA0113BL
And my website: http://www.ankhana.net

This template came with the psds of the completed site look, html for the index and the inside pages, and the images sliced into 21 files with no text or anything.

As far as the second part of your question, it depends on the template.  The best way to see is to go to the search form, then search for the item number and click dynamic width.  If it comes back with nothing, then it's not dynamic, i.e. AX0398BL appears to be fixed width and height.  Template monster is better about responding to your queries, but of course the templates there cost more.

Let me know if you have any more questions!
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