eCommerce with Magento

If you haven’t yet heard of Magento, you ought to check it out. For the past couple years, I have been using Zen Cart and I’ve done one installation of X-Cart. While these shopping carts work fairly well, the overall design and feel of these platforms is becoming quite out-dated.

Magento was first announced in April, 2007 as a new open-source ecommerce solution. Version 1.0 was launched in late March, 2008 and it is currently on version 1.1.4 (with 1.1.5 release later this month).

I have been using it ever since the release of 1.0. A warning to the php-dabblers: Magento is extremely complex and utilizes OOP PHP practices, and heavily utilizes the Zend Framework. It isn’t built for the average Joe. Skinning this beast requires a lot of effort in figuring out how Magento uses it’s layout XML files, and template PHTML files. While this is a warning for those who are not very comfortable with PHP, to those of you out there that are sick of the open-source ecommerce plague of ugly code in platforms such as Zen Cart, you will be very pleased with the Magento framework. It is extremely well thought out, and some say that it’s possibly TOO well thought out.

The default template that comes with Magento looks beautiful. You can even download or purchase other themes from the Magento Connect site, or create your own.

The admin side of Magento will make an existing Zen Cart user drool instantly. I won’t even go into all the features that I love about it here, you just need to check it out for yourself!

It is a bit daunting when you install Magento and see that there are over 6,000 files. That’s a lot of files. You’ll soon find out that you won’t have to touch most of them. If you want to add functionality to Magento, it is built in such a way that you can create modules that add to the core code so that you don’t have to mess with any of the core code, thus making upgrading Magento much easier. Templates are created in modular form as well. You won’t have to overwrite anything that you haven’t created yourself.

I will say, the documentation for Magento stinks at this point. Much of it either doesn’t exist or is out-dated. Unless it’s a simple problem, the IRC channel (#magento on freenode) usually won’t help you. And, you’ll often find a few posts in the forum regarding the same problem you are having but none with solutions. Hopefully this is an area that Magento will improve upon very soon.

I do absolutely recommend using Magento. The learning curve is steep, but it’s worth it. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. I’ll try to answer any questions that I know the answer to, or point you in the right direction.

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