MediaWiki 1.1 Beginners Guide review

27 April 2010

Taken me a while to get around to this, but here’s a review of MediaWiki 1.1 Beginners Guide by Jeff Orlof and Mizanur Rahman, which you can buy from Packt’s website.

I’ve quite an interest in MediaWiki (Peacock Carter offers MediaWiki consultancy), having written Packt’s MediaWiki Skins Design book. The most obvious place to start seems to be to list the chapters, so here goes:

  • Chapter 1: About MediaWiki
  • Chapter 2: Installing MediaWiki
  • Chapter 3: Getting to Know Your Wiki
  • Chapter 4: Creating Content
  • Chapter 5: Advanced Formatting
  • Chapter 6: Putting the Media in MediaWiki
  • Chapter 7: Organizing Your Wiki’s Content
  • Chapter 8: The MediaWiki Administrator
  • Chapter 9: Multi-user Environment
  • Chapter 10: Advanced Customization
  • Chapter 11: Maintaining MediaWiki
  • Chapter 12: Integrating MediaWiki

Chapter 1: About MediaWiki

As you would expect, this chapter covers the very basics of MediaWiki and wikis in general, from what it a wiki is to what it isn’t, and then on to MediaWiki’s specific features.

I found it a very solid introductory chapter, though existing MediaWiki users can happily skip passed this, I suspect.

Chapter 2: Installing MediaWiki

This chapter, believe it or not, goes through installing MediaWiki, from the basic requirements you need to get MediaWiki running. There’s information for most, and would probably act as a useful reference for even seasoned MediaWiki users.

This chapter is a fantastic trouble-shooting reference, highlighting potential problems you may come across and giving you easy to follow solutions. It also includes information on installing MediaWiki with Fantastico, which I found interesting as I’d not used that method before.

Chapter 3: Getting to Know Your Wiki

This chapter goes through the various elements found in a typical MediaWiki site. I found the chapter fine, though a little basic for my tastes (but I would, I’m not a beginner – the book’s called MediaWiki 1.1 Beginners Guide for a reason!). My only real criticism was that the ‘changing the logo’ guide would probably have been better off in the customisation chapter (chapter 10).

Chapter 4: Creating Content

This chapter contains really clear guides on editing pages, slowly taking the read through the various wiki markup, from creating links to other pages in the wiki all the way through to the nowiki tag – fantastic as I suspect this might be the chapter most readers will head to time after time.

Chapter 5: Advanced Formatting

This chapter builds on MediaWiki 1.1 Beginners Guide’s previous chapter, guiding the reader through adding and editing tables in MediaWiki’s markup to inserting mathematical formula and more. I found it clear and detailed, and the xamples throughout nicely reinforce the more theoretical content.

Chapter 6: Putting the Media in MediaWiki

This chapter discusses uploading files to your wiki and moves on to embedding audio files in your wiki using the OGG format. Fairly straightforward (to me, at least), but, as ever, clearly written, which should allow readers to make lightwork of what can be a complex topic for non-technical users of MediaWiki.

Chapter 7: Organizing Your Wiki’s Content

I was initially skeptical about this chapter – on first reading the chapter title I suspect it would be little more than . However, the author(s) of this chapter makes great use of the pages, detailing MediaWiki namespaces, categories and templates, their differences and specific uses, as well as prcatical examples on using each of them.

Chapter 8: The MediaWiki Administrator

This chapter simplifies what could be quite baffling to those new to MediaWiki – the user account types outnumber those in most other systems (e.g., ‘normal user’, ‘administrator’) – providing a nice overview of these before moving through restricting access to various granularities of user etc. Another pretty solid overview.

Chapter 9: Multi-user Environment

There’s sample content from this chapter online on Packt’s website. Simply, the chapter walks the reader through user preferences in a way I found fairly clear for what could have been a complex chapter.

Chapter 10: Advanced Customization

Ah, this covers my particular area of expertise (I leave the development side of MediaWiki to Michael Peacock and the other developers at Peacock Carter!): MediaWiki skins.

After going through how you can change the skin displayed to your site’s users, the chapter gives a few examples of how to customise a MediaWiki skin, using Monobook as the base.

I couldn’t possibly review this chapter without mentioning that a certain book covers MediaWiki skins in much more detail.

Chapter 11: Maintaining MediaWiki

BOO. Just thought I’d check you’re still reading! Back to the book: this chapter covers some common tasks involved in maintaining a MediaWiki site, from installing and using the MaintenanceShell extension to backing your wiki up and then restoring your wiki from a backup. Finally, the chapter deals with upgrading the

Chapter 12: Integrating MediaWiki

MediaWiki 1.1 Beginners Guide’s final chapter (I’m not counting the appendices as chapters) covers integrating MediaWiki with popular CMS and blog software such as Joomla and WordPress, and the Moodle elearning framework.

As with the other chapters in the book, it’s written in an approachable way for beginners, and although is a little more technical than some of the other chapters, I doubt readers will struggle at all here thanks to the use of practical examples.

Appendices

The book also contains 4 appendix chapters, which, although interesting, I’ve not reviewed as I think they’re fairly self-explanatory. For completeness, I’ve listed them below:

  • Appendix A: The Best Extensions for MediaWiki
  • Appendix B: The Best of MediaWiki in Use
  • Appendix C: Where to Turn to
  • Appendix D: Pop Quiz Answers

Overall

Overall, MediaWiki 1.1 Beginners Guide is a great read if you’re new to the MediaWiki platform – even I learnt things reading the book!

I think more telling than that is that I’ve personally recommended MediaWiki 1.1 Beginners Guide to clients who want help getting to grips with MediaWiki. The way the book’s structured – with questionnaires that gently remind readers of the what they’ve learnt from the chapter so far, along with ‘try it for yourself’ sections – make it a good mix of practical and theortical content.

I’d have liked to have seen (probably as someone who works to customise MediaWiki skins quite often) is a nicer case study used throughout the book, but maybe I’m just sick of seeing Monobook! I also expected a little more detail on skinning MediaWiki, but it’s still a good starting point for the very basic changes I imagine most MediaWiki beginners will want to make.

As the title suggests, the book is for beginners; i.e., those new to MediaWiki, so it’s not likely to impress more advanced users, but I suspect those new to MediaWiki will heavily benefit from the book…which is kind of the point of the book. So, it does what it says on the cover, to misquote a certain sealant company’s slogan.

Disclosure

I’m an author for Packt myself, who asked me to review this book, for which I acted as a technical reviewer, having written MediaWiki Skins Design. However, I wouldn’t be posting a good review if I didn’t think the book wasn’t worth reading!