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Mambo was an Open Source Content Management System written in PHP. At one time, it was the most popular software of its type on the internet, running over 40% of CMS-driven websites.

Do you remember what the internet was like in 2001? Facebook didn’t exist. WordPress didn’t exist. Wikipedia was less than a year old. Craigslist only operated in a handful of cities.

Most web sites at the time were being written in HTML. The idea of “content management” backed by a database was still fairly new. A few systems existed, but not many. The idea just really hadn’t caught on.

That year, a handful of developers in Australia invented Mambo, a new content management system that would eventually dominate the internet.

For a while.

Mambo was easy to use and powerful. It featured a simple web interface for adding and editing content, which was revolutionary at the time.

What happened to Mambo CMS?

By 2004, Mambo was winning awards. Linux Format named it the “Best Free Software Project” of the Year, and Linux User and Developer named it “Best Linux or Open Source Software.”

But that same year, the troubles started.

Legal problems, PR problems

A business owner asked a developer to make some modifications to a Mambo theme. One of those modifications, a two-column headline span, eventually made it back into Mambo Core.

The visual idea here is very simple, and hardly original: a headline that extends across two columns of text (like in a newspaper).

The code that made it happen was also somewhat pedestrian: a colspan attribute inside an HTML table.

But the business owner who had asked for the modification in the first place felt that the coder, in implementing the same design idea a second time (a different way, it turns out), had somehow stolen the idea or infringed on his intellectual property.

These allegations were never brought to trial and most knowledgeable commentators seem to think the accusations against Mambo and the coder were, at best, uninformed.

However, the ensuing scandal did significant damage to the Mambo community.

The business owner who thought his property had been stolen wrote a number of public letters to the user and developer community, warning that they might somehow be in danger if they were to begin or continue using the software. Many people heeded these warnings.

The situation was made worse by a nexus of confusing circumstances. There was a commercial and an Open Source version of Mambo. The Open Source version changed its name from Mambo Open Source (MOS) to just plain “Mambo.” The company relationship between the commercial company that initially launched Mambo (and sold the commercial version) and the community-oriented project were not clear to many people.

Finally, non-technical business decision makers were not particularly well-versed in the legal considerations and freedoms associated with Open Source Software. In the face of even an unlikely risk, alternatives seemed much more attractive.

_Not with a bang, but with a fizzle__

Shortly after the trouble with the copyright issue, the lead developer left the project. By the end of 2005, the company that had launched Mambo and supported its development dissolved.

Over the next few years, a handful of lead developers came and went, and some attempts were made at restructuring the team and the organization. But a handful of new versions were released, mostly little more than bug fixes and security patches. The original dev team all went on to other projects, and no new talent really wanted to get on board. At the same time, newer solutions, like WordPress, had become popular, launching a whole new era of Content Management.

Where is Mambo today?

In most respects, the Mambo project is dead. The last stable release was in 2011, and before that there had been one in 2008. As of this writing, a message on the Mambo website announces that development might resume soon, and asks for interested volunteers. But it isn’t clear how long that message has been there. Most of the pages on the website are broken.

But the spirit of Mambo lives on.

Many members of the original Mambo development team regrouped and launch Joomla, which started life as a fork of the Mambo project. Joomla, which is probably the second-most popular CMS on the internet, has been extensively rewritten since then — but the soul of the internet’s first wildly popular content management system is still there.

Mambo Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Mambo hosting?

    Mambo is a defunct open-source content management system. At one time, it was very popular but was soon overtaken by alternative solutions. It is significant because it helped spawn a number of popular forks, including Joomla and MiaCMS.

  • So how relevant is Mambo nowadays?

    It’s not very relevant because most people have moved on to alternative content management systems. There were a few attempts to keep the project going, but none of them managed to make much of a dent on the downward trend. Mambo is no longer in development, although some people still use it as a legacy system on small sites.

  • How did Mambo get started and how many people used it?

    Development of Mambo started in 2000 while the first commercial release, Mambo 2002, was released two years later. In its heyday, Mambo was a good CMS. It won several awards between 2004 and 2006. Mambo developers claim that up to 40% of all internet sites were powered by Mambo at one point, but development soon slowed, people started leaving the project, so Mambo eventually faded away. Most Mambo users moved on to Joomla and Wordpress.

  • So when exactly did Mambo development cease?

    Mambo development ground to a halt in 2008, following the departure of several key figures and project leads. The last official update was released in mid-2008. There were plans to release a minor update in 2011, followed by version 4.7.x later on, but the plans never materialized and Mambo is stuck at version 4.6.x.

  • My employer has a few old Mambo sites and I need to keep them alive for the time being. What are the server requirements?

    You can still download Mambo, create new Mambo sites, or migrate old ones. Since development was discontinued years ago, Mambo server requirements are modest. You need PHP version 4.1.2 or higher, along with a MySQL database, all running on Apache. Mambo can work on Linux, Free BSD, Mac OS X and several legacy versions of Windows (XP, Windows NT, Windows 2000). However, developers recommend Linux over Windows and OS X.

  • What made Mambo so popular?

    Mambo was designed to be a lean and free content management systems at a time when most of the industry relied on complicated, commercial software, or proprietary content management systems. Mambo was easy to use, easy to develop for and completely free. However, Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal and other open-source CMS solutions eventually overtook Mambo.

  • Under which license was Mambo published?

    Mambo was published under the GNU General Public License (Version 2). The rights to the Mambo codebase, name, and copyrights, are protected by the Mambo Foundation. However, as of 2013, the foundation stopped serving content and for all intents and purposes it is considered defunct.

  • Which language was Mambo written in?

    Mambo was written in PHP, hence the system requirement (PHP 4.1.2 or higher).

  • Is Mambo obsolete in terms of features?

    Mambo included a number of advanced features for its time, including page caching, advanced templating, RSS feeds, and automated web indexing and so on. While these features are not cutting edge by today’s standards, they were impressive ten years ago.

  • I have a couple of ancient Mambo hobby sites that I would like to preserve. What about migration?

    Many Mambo users choose to migrate to Joomla, although you can obviously migrate to other content management systems as well. If you want to go for Joomla, the migration process can involve a few steps, due to Mambo’s age. Your safest bet is to migrate Mambo to Joomla 1.0, and once you are done, update Joomla to 1.5, then 2.5 and so on. It may sound like a tedious process, but eventually you will get to Joomla 3.x.

  • I am not sure migrating is worth the effort. What about SEO? Will I be penalized for using an outdated CMS?

    Yes, you probably will. Mambo simply lacks up to date search engine optimization features found in the latest releases of Joomla and Wordpress. In case you want better SEO optimization, you are probably better off migrating your old sites and tweaking the content accordingly.

  • What about security? Is running an obsolete and unsupported CMS really dangerous?

    Yes, using a content management system which wasn’t updated this decade is inherently risky. Since no new security patches are available, exploits may go unchecked. If you are concerned about security, you should migrate.

  • Is there any way of improving SEO and security short of migrating to a new CMS?

    Anything is possible, especially with open-source software. In theory, you could make a lot of improvements on your own, but in practice the effort probably wouldn’t be worth it. You would spend a lot less time and effort migrating to a new CMS.

  • How many sites use Mambo today?

    The number of Mambo sites online today is very small and declining. Compared to Joomla, Drupal or Wordpress, the number of Mambo sites is negligible. Very few new sites are based on Mambo and a lot of old sites are either fading away or migrating to alternative content management systems.

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