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Kunena version 3.1: future or failure?

1415 hits Updated: 24 April 2015

Will K 3.1 be sup­ported?

What new features will be in K 3.1?

The future of Kunena

The Kunena project is on the verge of collapse amid growing fears that its next version [K 3.1] will ever see the light of day. The survival of Kunena hinges on the success of K 3.1 as much as it does on the future of Joomla.

Over the past couple of years there has been a dramatic decline in the number and availability of free third party-developed extensions for Joomla. The “core applications” within Joomla have also been whittled down to the bare minimum: the ability to register new accounts and login to a website, the ability for people to compose and publish articles on the internet and the means for website operators to allow their users to navigate their sites with a menu system. These are the core elements in any website.

Additional features, such as being able to conduct opinion polls (removed in J! 1.6), submit links to other websites (targeted for J! 3.4) or news feeds, banners, contacts and site searching (to be targeted in J! 3.5), are not seen as part of the core requirements that the Joomla CMS and/or framework developers should have to contend with.

As more features have been and will be removed from the Joomla core and effectively outsourced to third-party developers, third-party developers are have become increasingly reluctant to provide these solutions for free. The days of building extensions for free are numbered.

Third party developers, faced with the inevitable likelihood that the hundreds or thousands of hours of their time will go unrewarded, are losing interest in providing extensions for free. The same thing holds true for the Kunena project.

Against this background of declining interest in “doing it for nothing”, the Kunena project has suffered. The Kunena developers have lost the incentive to enhance the forum product so that it continues to meet the ever-present demands for new features while, at the same time, ensuring that Kunena will continue to operate as a part of Joomla.

The K 3.1 project began in late 2012/early 2013 with fairly modest agenda. Originally, K 3.1 was intended to achieve four major goals:

  • jQuery Javascript support;
  • LESS;
  • a Hierarchical Model View Controller; and
  • a new template design.

For two years K 3.1 has not advanced beyond alpha testing/initial design phase. There is no beta version available for public testing and there is no timetable for it to be released. While the project has been stuck in this developmental phase, some people have used this time to add other features. The addition of these new features has resulted in K 3.1 not working at all. No-one knows exactly which new features have broken K 3.1 because no single person knows what new features have been added. This is, first and foremost, at the heart of why people have lost confidence in the K 3.1 project.

The original plan to achieve four relatively simple things has been derailed by “adventurous experimentation” which has involved the inclusion of extra features without understanding the consequences of how those extra features affect the whole system.

Many original members of the project have left. Sadly, there has been no real news about K 3.1 for over six months. Further, the lack of engagement by Kunena’s developers with the users has affected the product’s popularity. The likelihood of K 3.1 being finalised is becoming more remote as the months roll by without any word from the developers. Even if K 3.1 should be released in the “near future”—whenever that may be—there is a suspicion that people will not be enthusiastic about adopting a new release that has been kept under wraps for this length of time.

In these difficult times, everyone involved with Kunena has been contemplating their own business survival. The key people have either left the project to pursue their own businesses—or they’re employed by other businesses that may have plans to re-develop and distribute a re-branded form of Kunena in future—or they simply have no time for it.

Can users expect support for K 3.1 from the developers?

This is a difficult question to answer without looking at the overall history of the project and the performance, over the past couple of years, in relation to problems discovered, questions asked and solutions obtained.

It is important to understand that there is has never been any formal support for Kunena.  Although some people may believe that the term “support” implies that the Kunena team is obliged to remedy software defects or operational issues involving Kunena products, the term “support” does not impose any obligation on the Kunena team to address or respond to any requests for assistance, reports of software malfunction or defect, or to rectify faults, omissions, failures or damage. It is important to understand this distinction. “Support” does not imply that every problem will be resolved (or can be resolved) at zero cost. Although it's true that people will have genuine issues that affect only them (and that may not affect others) and the developers have always tried to help—in a community-driven, self-help forum context—the Kunena site terms of use clearly sets out the limitation of support.

As the size of the Kunena team has become smaller over time, and with the developers becoming increasingly self-occupied, the level of forum activity has shown a significant downturn trend over the past couple of years.  This downturn is illustrated in the following graph.


The above chart shows that forum activity at www.kunena.org is now about one-seventh of what it was in January 2011.  There may be several reasons for fewer messages being posted on the forum.  It is possible that K 3.0 is a better, more stable product than its predecessors and, therefore, the latest stable K 3.0 version has fewer problems.  It is possible that questions posted at the forum are simply not being answered—or answered in a timely manner—and people are losing interest.

It is also possible that people have been waiting for over two years for news about K 3.1 and they have lost their interest in whatever future the Kunena team may have in store.  Putting this another way, if people are not asking questions about K 3.0—a product that they trust and that fulfils their existing needs—why would they have questions about K 3.1?  It is difficult to determine the causes to explain why 85% fewer messages are being posted at the Kunena forum today compared to three years ago.

Against this background it may be reasonable to conclude that there will not be the same level of “support” available for K 3.1 as there was in earlier versions.  It is in this context that I created this website here to help people who need fast, effective answers to their questions about Kunena.

People should not expect that, whenever K 3.1 is released for general use, there will be people available who possess the expertise—or who may be willing to devote their time—to answer questions and resolve problems when they occur.

What new features will be in K 3.1?

The truth is that no-one really knows what new features exist in K 3.1.  Over the past six months I have repeatedly asked the Kunena developers for information that would help me assemble a list of new features.  In a project as large as Kunena it is not appropriate to offer the convenient excuse that people are “too busy” to help one another to prepare the end-users with information that will help them.  It is not appropriate to expect people to discover the information for themselves by searching through GitHub.  Simple, basic information about what people can expect is needed and it is needed well in advance of any planned release date.

While K 3.1 is stuck in alpha development phase and with new features being added (and altered) with every passing week, it's impossible to say with any certainty what people can expect to find when (or if) K 3.1 reaches a beta stage.  Against this background, I will attempt to make a few predictions—some of which may be fulfilled—about the main differences between K 3.1 and K 3.0.

New template:  Crypsis

The biggest difference that people will notice is a new template codenamed Crypsis.  This template will only operate on J! 3.x platforms and most of the new features that people will be interested in will only be available for sites that use the Crypsis template (or templates derived from it).  Although the old Blue Eagle template will continue to be available, the developers have indicated that they do not intend to maintain it into the future.  In effect, people will be able to use the Blue Eagle template (or templates derived from it) in K 3.1 but they should not expect the developers to fix problems that people discover with it.

Crypsis is expected to be more responsive.  This does not mean that Crypsis will be tableless; Crypsis still uses some table-driven elements in its construction.  So, for all the people who had hoped that Kunena would remove the <TABLE> statements from the template, people may be disappointed to find that Crypsis inherits several design constraints inherited from earlier versions of Kunena.

The idea was that Cypsis for K 3.1 was intended to be a fairly simple transition between table-driven and tableless templates; some of the older template construction methods have been retained and there may be legacy issues as a result.  The intention was to thoroughly overhaul and redesign the Kunena template in a future version after K 3.1.

The other main difference that people will discover is the implementation of jQuery Javascript.  Again, the availability of jQuery is only for people who use Crypsis; people who continue to use Blue Eagle will still have to rely on Mootools Javascript. 

K 3.1 on J! 2.5

Joomla will cease support for J! 2.5 in December 2014.  From the team discussions, I am been reliably advised that people will be able to install K 3.1 on J! 2.5 but entirely at the user's risk.  This means that the developers give no guarantees that K 3.1 will install or operate without errors on their J! 2.5 websites.  More importantly, after December this year, there will be no maintenance of J! 2.5-related source code for K 3.1.

People should use this opportunity now to upgrade/migrate their websites to J! 3.x.

Other new features

K 3.1 was intended to be a minor release.  The original plan was that K 3.1 would not incorporate new enhancements or features over and above those things mentioned in the introduction to this article.  In the course of developing K 3.1 a lot of new enhancements have been added.  The scale of extra work makes it debatable whether K 3.1 can really be classed as a minor release or whether it should better be marketed as K 4.0 instead.  The Kunena team has decided to release the next version as K 3.1.

Although there is no complete record of changes, people can get a sense of the magnitude of the changes by looking at the following selection:

It is important for people to understand that these enhancements are still in the early stages of development and that some of them may not be included in the final version of Kunena that is released to the public.  I mention these things to give people a better understanding of the how the project is being managed and that, while disagreements sometimes occur, development activity is progressing—albeit very slowly—even if people are unaware of the progress that has been made.

Kunena add-ons

The add-ons currently available for download are not expected be changed when K 3.1 is released; however a few important points need to be made at this time.

The Kunena add-ons listed on the download page are optional extras and they are unnecessary.  Source code for these modules and plugins has not been significantly changed for more than two years; some of these add-ons have known bugs and they do not work properly.  In all probability, these add-ons should operate with K 3.1—I am unaware if they have been tested—but there may be unforeseen problems.  In the final analysis, people should not expect that these add-on products will be maintained or supported in future.  In other words, if people use these products they have to accept that the risk of the products not working is entirely theirs.

Similarly, third-party products developed for older versions of Kunena may or may not continue to operate with K 3.1 and people should not expect the Kunena developers to remedy problems that people encounter.  When people search the internet looking for free “add-ons” for Kunena and blindly install them, that's not the responsibility of the Kunena team to fix those problems.  When software changes occur and “add-ons” that used to work with an older version of Kunena do not work with the installed version, again that is not the responsibility of the Kunena team to fix those problems, either.  For example, the following is a list of software that does not work with K 3.0 (and, therefore, will not work with K 3.1):

  • Kunena Groups Plug-in for JomSocial 2.0
  • Kunena Menu Plug-in for JomSocial 2.0
  • My Kunena Plug-in 2.0

As far as I am aware, the current range of software—available for download from the Kunena website—will be available at no cost to anyone who wants to use those products.  There is no intention at this time to charge people extra for the Kunena core component or existing add-ons.  The development team may extend the core capability of Kunena with additional add-ons in future and it is entirely possible that such additional add-ons may have to be purchased.

Some people are concerned that Kunena may be commercialised in future.  I do not think that people should be unduly worried about such a possibility at this time.  There are never any certainties about the future of a product brand.  Kunena is open source software; this means that anyone can fork the project and re-release it under a different name (as long as the original copyright notices and authorship details remain intact within the source code).  I am not aware of any definite intentions, by anyone, to change the current Kunena business model.  Any further discussion on the likelihood of fully or partially commercialising Kunena is purely speculative.

The future of Kunena

Amid growing pessimism about an uncertain future for Kunena, people should remember that Kunena remains the most popular extension for Joomla at this time. Kunena is unquestionably the most-used forum extension for Joomla. While various aspects of this article may be contested—I have no doubt that the ensuing debates will be controversial—the Kunena project is a remarkable achievement nonetheless.

The uncertainty about Kunena is due to the absence of information extending beyond the sem-private discussions in GitHub and on Skype.  In the absence of official communiqués from the team, this public silence has fuelled speculation within the community.  Of course, people can conclude what they may from what they see but they should also remember that we're talking about a piece of open source software.  No-one is paid to develop the software; no-one is paid to write documentation; no-one is paid to maintain or support the software or to help with answering questions posted to the Kunena forum.

My purpose in writing this article is not to sow the seeds of further speculation.  It is also not my intention to goad the developers into responding with announcements that refute some of the conclusions that I, personally, have drawn from my observations.  My purpose is to inform people as to what may be reasonable to expect and what could simply be described as “wishful thinking”.  I believe that we are all trying to remain optimistic despite the various statements that begin with the words “I have heard that ...”.  Before people spread unfounded and potentially damaging rumours it's important to understand the difference between reality and fiction.

About the author:

is a Joomla professional and former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years—a substantial contributor to the original Kunena documentation project with over twenty thousand messages posted at the Kunena forum. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.

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