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Posts Tagged ‘Zen Cart’

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 , , , ,

A list of CMS and eCommerce systems that officially support jQuery

December 7th, 2008

Last updated: December 7th, 2008.

Recently, jQuery – the agile JavaScript Library – has reached a tipping point. Here is a list of CMS and eCommerce systems that our clients are most interested in and their status with regard to jQuery.

Systems where jQuery is officially supported:

1. Microsoft has adopted jQuery and will offer intellisense support in its dominant IDE: Visual Studio 2008.

2. Umbraco - an open source CMS now offers jQuery by default and using jQueryin Umbraco is a matter of adding a simple call in order to include the jQuery files in the page.

3. Drupal - is an open source CMS and Framework CMS, as of version 5 it offers jQuery streight from its core. There are plans to build a centralized jQuery plugin in Drupal version 7.

4. Typo3 - is an open source CMS Framework. Typo3 has a jQuery extension that allows advanced integration with jQuery.

5. DotNetNuke - an open source ASP.NET CMS. Since October 2008 DotNetNuke offers built in jQuery support beginning with version 5.

Systems where jQuery is not supported:

1. Joomla - seems to favor Mootools over jQuery. Here is an article on how to support jQuery within Joomla and avoid conflicts with other libraries.

2. Zend Framework – the leading PHP Framework following the MVC design pattern. A press release was issued in May 2008 announcing Zend Framework and Dojo partnership.

3. Magento Commerce – an open source eCommerce platform that is gaining huge market share in the eCommerce industry. Currently Magento Commerce supports prototype JS library instead of jQuery, but offers ways to integrate jQuery easily.

4. Zen-Cart - an open source eCommerce (competing with Magento). At the moment Zen-Cart is not supporting any JavaScript library in its core.

Other systems and their relationship to jQuery:

1. WordPress - an open source blogging software. Uses jQuery for its core functionality and is avilable for any third party plugin.

2. Ektron CMS400 – Ektron has an enterprise level CMS with advanced content editing features. Oddly enough, Ektron seems to have embedded their own version of jQuery in their code.

While jQuery seems to be favored the favored JavaScript library by many developers, it has yet to be declared as the default one for many projects and systems. I’ll be keeping this list updated in the following months. Let me know if there is a system that interests you and I did not list it here.

Content Management Systems, eCommerce, Ektron, Joomla, Magento, Web Development, ZenCart , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Important Zen Cart Modules

September 28th, 2008
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While Zen Cart is one of the most feature rich open source shopping carts out there, almost every developer ends up using a handful of modules from the free software add-ons of the official Zen Cart site. Here I include a short review of the 5 Zen Cart Modules that I find most useful in our implementations of client’s shopping carts:

1. Ultimate SEO

One of the must-haves for every Zen Cart shopping cart. The Ultimate SEO for Zen Cart module modifies the default clunky URLs to a more Search Engine Friendly (SEF) URLs. This means that instead of certain parameters in the URL, such as product id, category id, easy page id, etc, the actual name of the article is used.

What is nice about this SEF URLs module is that uses a technique that makes use of regular expressions and identifies the type of the page to display by a letter: ‘p’ for product page, ‘c’ for category page, etc. and it adds the specific id number at the end of the URL. While some claim that this may lower the relevance of the page for the more important keywords I have never seen a proof. On the flip side, due to the same reason, it is possible to display the same page with multiple URLs: great little feature that can be used in certain SEO strategies. Please be careful as it may also result in de-listing from Google.

2. Easy Populate

For store managers that wish to manage their entire catalog of products, categories, images, prices, etc. from a single excel spreadsheet. The Easy Populate Zen Cart Plugin was migrated from a similar plugin that wa originally designed for osCommerce. The Zen Cart Module has been adjusted for the tweaks in the DB architecture and some features were added in more recent versions of the module.

Once installed, this module offers downloading a tab delimited file with all the information laid out in a single big table for your entire catalog. This is key if one needs to manage a large number of products on a regular basis. Some tips to remember when using this module:

  • Before uploading any new products, download the latest spreadsheet and use it as a template for uploading new products or for updating existing products information.
  • The product model number is your anchor: this is the only value that does not change, anything else can be edited in this method. If you need to change the product model number, you will need to erase the old one and create a new one.
  • To delete a product change the action code to 7 and make sure the product model matches.
  • Never touch the last column – it serves as a control for the parsing function.
  • Always review the logs once you upload – this way you will reveal any anomalies like unusual characters in the product description that may throw off the rest of the table and hence introduce random irrelevant products or may even damage your DB.

3. Simple Google Analytics

Unless you are using a different analytics tool, the Simple Google Analytics Zen Cart Module makes it effortless to include the necessary code in all your pages. Once installed, copy and paste your Google analytics code.

While it is not important which specific tool you use for analytics (some are better than others, and some cost more than others, while Google Analytics is free up to a point), it is important that you track entry pages, exit pages, referring sites, etc. to your shopping cart. This is like the dashboard for any site that takes SEO seriously.

4. Time Zone Offset

Ever wondered why when you place an order at 9am you receive an email with the order information which confirms that your order was placed at 10am or 11am? the difference rises from differences in time zones between the business time zone and the server actual time zone. Some servers are physically hosted somewhere in the east cost while the business that owns and operates the store resides somewhere on the west cost. Hence the time difference. The Time Zone Offset Zen Cart Module comes to remedy this issue. Simple to install, and simple to use.

5. Backup MySQL Plugin

How can you backup your current state of Zen Cart? well, you need both the full set of files (which you most likely have) and a copy of the DB – which contains any recent live orders, customers info, modules settings, etc. The Backup MySQL Plugin makes it easy to extract a copy of the DB. Once installed, it takes backing up the currect DB is a matter of clicking a link.

While there are hundreds of modules all available for free for you to download and use on your Zen Cart, we have found that only a few are actually useful and will cause no headaches. The above list is a shortlist of Zen Cart modules that we have found useful in our implementations.

What modules do you find useful? What’s in your Zen Cart?

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