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Posts Tagged ‘osCommerce’

The Case for ZenCart: Supporting the Long Tail of eCommerce

June 18th, 2009

While Zen-Cart is one of the best open source ecommerce platforms it has plenty of deficiencies, however I recently understood that it will always be able to keep its niche and therefore always have a market.  Of-course this will remain the case as long as its leaders remain true to its spirit.

the_long_tail_of_open_source_ecommerce_platforms

Zen-Cart is an unwilling offspring of the popular osCommerce. Like all offsprings, it is an improved version of its predecessor with better templating system, class oriented design, and notification systems but still maintains its characteristics of spaghetti code and somewhat convoluted and non-flexible checkout process.

Zen-Cart’s strengths are its simplicity which gives many non-programmers the opportunity to tweak and add (or remove) features to their likings with no major effort. This means that implementing a Zen-Cart ecommerce website is usually inexpensive and fast. Another great benefit of the system’s simplicity is speed. Zen-Cart is many times lighter than many other ecommerce systems even without complex caching technologies. Together, these benefits support a specific market: the market of light ecommerce. I am talking about online shops with 1 to 100 daily transactions or even less. It can obviously support more than that but the simplicity and the light weight features will attract the small business which is budget oriented.

The light ecommerce market while being small in terms of overall sales figures is relatively large and will get larger and larger with time. This is also known as the long tail of any market, in our case it is the long tail of the ecommerce market. This means that the numbers of installations will most likely be large and not insignificant. It also means that it is a valid market and will not vanish overnight with any other solution such as Magento who now charges a hefty amount for licensing its Enterprise version.

Before you rush to declare this light and feature packed ecommerce platform the kind of the long tail ecommerce market, don’t underestimate the challenges that it is facing. With over a year and a half of no significant updates its market share is shrinking fast. The default template and the admin panel need some serious reworkings to get up to par in UI and design with other open source challengers and a major cleanup and reorganization of the backend configurations is way overdue. While it supports XHTML and validates correctly, the default template needs to be reworked without the tables.

In any case, Zen-Cart still serves its purpose as a free and light open source ecommerce platform. And here at Activo we have recently developed a Recurring Orders payment module that comply with PCI requirements and integrates well into the ARB module of Authorize.net. I’ll soon post links to an initial free version, a commercially licensed version should be available in about a month or so.

What do you think of ZenCart? here to stay or yet another open source project that will be lost in oblivion? somewhere in the middle perhaps?

eCommerce, Magento, Web Development, ZenCart , , ,

Open Source eCommerce: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

January 28th, 2009
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A few days ago I read Karry Watson’s article titled Open Source E-Commerce: Twelve Promising Programs. Karry provides a good overview of the current state of open source eCommerce options for online vendors. From our experience with many different vendors and from recent trends I wanted to discuss three open source ecommerce systems from Karry’s list that power most of the shopping carts out there, now and in the near future. Ugly first:

The Ugly: osCommerce

There is no hiding for this huge collection of 3 line scripts that somehow compose a shopping cart. I think any web developer that took a few classes of computer science knows that it is a big hack not a piece of software. Any additional functionality needs to be glued somehow and made work. Oh, by the way – good luck trying to use two extensions at the same time. Anyway, you see where I am going with this. Easy to setup, easy to use, not programmed well, hell to maintain, nightmaire to develop. Ugly.

The Bad: Zen-Cart

I personally fell in love with this shopping cart back in 2004 very close to the split from osCommerce. What a great energy this project had. The sky was the limit. Someone recently pointed out that open source fatigue happens to many projects: starts great, reaches pubirty, and starts lingering. Great codgin techniques, not complete by any means but every release converts more code into clean, object oriented, design pattern oriented beauty. Unfortunately, recently development has stalled. Ok, it didn’t, the developers are saying that they are very close to the next release which got extended (and additional features got added). Bottom line, no releases in 2008 at all. Meantime, where is our improved admin interface? Web 2.0 features? quantities by attributes? Bad.

The Good: Magento Commerce

Still new and growing fast. The new kid on the block. What I like about Magento is the solid foundation which is based on the Zend Framework. In a way, forcing good development practices: MVC, templating, scalability, layering, etc. Magento is here to stay, moreover, it will quetly revolutionize the open source ecommerce space and force all the players to push the envelop. This includes all the small size commercial shopping carts ($1-$2,000 per license). Good. Great!

What are you using? What are you going to use?

eCommerce, Magento, Web Development, ZenCart , , , ,

ZenCart and Magento for eCommerce

September 22nd, 2008

Anyone who is involved with an online shopping cart and was considering open source solutions probably stumbled upon two major ecommerce providers: ZenCart and Magento Commerce. ZenCart is an evolving and older shopping cart with roots in osCommerce, while Magento Commerce is a newcomer to this category written from scratch on top of the new Zend Framework. Since we support both platforms, we often are asked to provide a basic comparison analysis for the business owners and this is what I will try to do in this article.

ZenCart

This is a great open source shopping cart that can power almost any size eCommerce sites. We have successfully used ZenCart for sites offering 20 products all the way up to tens of thausands of products and variations (which by the way is connected to a POS and kept up to date to the minute). Since its fork from osCommerce ZenCart has gone through extensive development and now offers much broader extendability and robust template system. Some of the underlying systems that make this shopping cart so robust are: template system, initialization system, object autoloaders, plugins a-la observer design patern, flexible and extendible configuration system, and more.

One of the biggest disadvantages for ZenCart is that all these great systems were built on top and in an after thought to an existing platform. Hence, there are many dependencies and the learning curve for professional grade customization and development is steep. For example, one of the tasks that current core developers are working on is to transform additional funcitons to object oriented design, in other words, they are still trying to get rid of the spagheti code left from the osCommerce days.

Nevertheless, ZenCart is a true workhorse that has proven itself many times and with hundreads of thausands of stores world wide. In fact, it has excellent support for multiple languages and multiple currencies stores.

At Activo, Inc. we have developed many modules to enhance various aspects of the store: front end, specialized templates, taxes by zipcode, easy search suggestion tool, even a real QuickBooks integration module and a real time Point of Sale (POS) integration with RunIt systems.

One more thing that ZenCart excels in when the right modules and the right setup is applied is SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Once setup correctly, ZenCart is one of the most SEO friendly stores out there. I have seen multiple times where a brand new ZenCart store with some SEO efforts generating more than $50,000 per month in sales (within 2-3 months of Go-Live).

ZenCart bottom line: Great solution if you want to see a solid and proven shopping cart with mostly standard features and you do not care about the type of technology that powers it. Currently, for best and fastest deployment ZenCart is second to none.

Magento

Magento is a brand new (about a year old as of writing this article) and it is now beginning to see community and developer adoption. Magento is written on top of PHP5 and Zend Framework. A bit about the framework: the new Zend Framework is sponsored by industry leaders such as IBM and Zend and is largely based on the MVC design patern. In a way, it is the answer to the .NET framework in the PHP world. There are similar frameworks and they may even be older and more mature, like Symphony or CakePHP. However, since the Zend Framework is backed by both IBM and Zend it is very likely that this framework will become the industry standard.

Magento was developed from scratch and in an object oriented manner on top of the new Zend Framework. Therefore, it is expected to have better extendibility options for developers and much better module/plugin management consules in the back-end however will probably come at the expense of instability in the short term. Magento’s templates out of the box look sharp and eye candy. Its creator definitely placed an emphasis on the way it’s admin panel feels & looks and the way its demo templates look & feel. Additionally, almost all aspects of the UI feels a lot more like Web 2.0 with many AJAX features and many time saving UI features.

One of the biggest downsides to Magento is its current speed since it lacks an effort in optimizing its DB and overall structure. Hence, it is relatively heavy and requires a bit of advanced know-how when installing and setting it up. It’s forums seem to be gaining traction with developers and many developers say that once you migrate a store to Magento you will never look back.

Magento bottom line: While it is definitely a matter of time until we see the real value, Magento does seem to have some advantages over any other open source eCommerce system. Merely the fact that it was developed from scratch recently means that a whole lot of best practices are thought of right of the bat instead of showing as an after thought (which we as developers have to deal with it). Nevertheless, Magento’s forums indicate that the product has yet to have reached maturity. If you are ok with somewhat unstable solution and looking for the absolute cutting edge shopping cart Magento is for you!

eCommerce, Magento, PHP/MySQL, Web Development, ZenCart , , , , , , , , , , ,

Looking Ahead: ZenCart ver 1.4

August 25th, 2008

The ZenCart developer team seems to be hard at work and preparing to deliver a new version of ZenCart: ver 1.4. The core developers posted a roadmap brief for version 1.4 back in September of 2007. Recently, additional entries have been posted in the forums describing in more detail the upcoming changes and signaling a new release is to be expected soon.

The currently described updates to ZenCart are done all around the DB, its architecture, and improving its performance. To summarise from the ZenCart forums:

New Database Driver Layer
Extremely light/flexible drivers make it easier to support other Database Types
Preliminary support for innodb and mysql transactions

Sql Caching system rewritten
Much easier to add new caching types
Preliminary Support for Memcache

Use of MPTT for category structure
Reduces number of queries needed to ‘describe’ the category structure
Improves user experience thru reduced page load times

Supporting Classes to reduce query load
Hugely reduces queries needed
Reuses queries using Cache to further improve performance

The roadmap for ZenCart ver 1.4 promises the following updates to the code (summarized):

  • Better usage of PHP 5.2 features. This also means 5.2 will be the new minimum requirement.
  • More Object Oriented code, less of the old osCommerce code.
  • Lots of DB improvements (some is described above, seems more is yet to come).
  • Category structure converted to MPTT format. MPTT stands for Modified Preorder Tree Traversal (explanation of MPTT).
  • Performance improvements for sites with lots of product attributes.
  • More function libraries converted to classes.
  • Duplicate components shared between admin and catalog.
  • Template system enhancements: less tables and more admin control.
  • Additional notifiers for the observer system.
  • Transaction support with InnoDB. Also mentioned as initial stage according to the recent posts of the updates that were done so far.
  • SwiftMailer instead of phpMailer.
  • Stock and SKU per product attribute.
  • Security enhancements.

Keep up the good work!

eCommerce, PHP/MySQL, Web Development, ZenCart , , , , , , , ,