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2009, the year of Open Source Software

January 7th, 2009
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We are lucky to live in our times. No, it is not fun going through (steep) downturn economy. But it is exciting to see the changes that such a recession will bring. One of the exciting changes that I predict for 2009 is a general boost to open source projects: increased usage and adoption by corporations while communities and ecosystems grow. Perhaps even to a point of competition with commercial products (in some cases). This is another question by itself: Can an open source project compete with a commercial product?

This year, 2009, we will see how open source projects will make huge strides and erase the gap with commercial projects, if not gain an advantage over them. Here is why:

1. Unbeatable Price: free! I know, it is not entirely true, you still need services around open source products and arguably more than in commercial products. But as the market learns to adopt more and more open source products the TCO can be lower with open source than commercial products, especially if you have the right team on your side.

2. Gain from the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, instead of wisdom of one as is often the case with commercial products. We see examples of this all over, in particular in the web development industry: Umbraco is gaining huge marketing share compared with Ektron. Magento Commerce is gaining huge market share over any other open source ecommerce platform and some of the low and mid-level commercial products in the ecommerce industry. Similar thing is happening with ASP.NET: the framework is now adopting the MVC design pattern mostly due to the fact that other platforms like Zend Framework and Ruby are free and product amazing websites. Top it off by the adoption of jQuery in almost any commercial web product today including ASP.NET framework which dumped AJAX.NET in favour of jQuery.

3. This is the sad-but-true part: developers are being laid off and hence join open source projects. It is known that the IT industry lags about 6 months after the indicators have come in, in other words, hi-tech layoffs will continue to come. In any case, more developers will be out of a job and will have plenty of time to collaborate and volunteer in open source projects – a great way to polish a resume…

To summarize, in 2009 we will see a great boost in open source adoption. Now, I am not saying that commercial products will not see any upside this year, but the competition will certainly be tougher then ever before. I am excited to see how it plays out. We certainly are going to focus our energies and our client’s energies on the leaders of each industry. You?

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

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is Magento Commerce the new Joomla?

October 29th, 2008

If you are in the open source eCommerce industry, you probably heard about the new kid around the block: Magento Commerce. If you follow the industry news, you know that since its announcement back in April of 2007, Magento’s popularity is nothing shy of sky rocketing. Certainly feels like mid-2005 with the emergence of Joomla and the demise of Mambo in the CMS space. So, what makes this open source ecommerce platform so popular? What is it still lacking, but seem unimportant? First, we can clearly see an obvious trend: the emergence of Magento and the decline of both Zen Cart and osCommerce:

Search trends for the terms Zen Cart, osCommerce, and Magento

Search trends for the terms Zen Cart, osCommerce, and Magento

The notion of ecommerce built from the ground up with today’s modern tools gives shopping cart owners a warm  fuzzy feeling. Top it with the fact that the modern tools are solid MVC (Model View Controller) design pattern and the Zend Framework and you get a bunch of online stores that are ready to jump on this promising bandwagon. Ok, I am missing one important fact! These days, admit it or not, looks and coolness are gold. Not surprisingly, this is were Magento shines!

But wait a minute, is Magento Commerce ready for prime time? Well, this is where you see a divide in the industry, this is where the chasm and the bell curve comes in. Yes, Magento does lack performance, stability, scalability, and some trivial features that existed for many years in other carts like Zen Cart and osCommerce. But the trend is obvious and there is no going back. If history repeats itself Magento will become a leader very very soon!

Viva la competicion!

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 , , , , , , , , , , ,