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Magento Beginner's Guide 124

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Michael J. Ross writes "The shopping cart systems that power online stores have evolved from simple homebrew solutions in the CGI era to far more powerful open source packages, such as osCommerce. But even the later systems are frequently criticized as suffering from poorly-written code and inadequate documentation — as well as for being difficult to install and administer, and nearly impossible to enhance with new functionality and improved site styling, at least without hiring outside help. These problems alone would explain the rapidly growing interest in the latest generation of shopping cart systems, such as Magento, purported to be outpacing all others in adoption. In turn, technical publishers are making available books to help developers and site owners get started with this e-commerce alternative, such as Magento: Beginner's Guide, written by William Rice." Read on for the rest of Michael's review.
Magento: Beginner's Guide
author William Rice
pages 300
publisher Packt Publishing
rating 8/10
reviewer Michael J. Ross
ISBN 978-1847195944
summary A starter guide to this popular e-commerce shopping cart.
This title was published on 15 April 2009 by Packt Publishing, under the ISBN 978-1847195944. The firm makes available a Web page dedicated to the book, where visitors can find information on how to purchase the print or PDF versions of the book (or both as a bundle, at substantial savings). The site also has a link labeled "Code download" (even though there isn't any downloadable code), another link for viewing any errata (of which there is one reported, as of this writing), and a link for downloading a sample chapter (the third one, "Categories and Attributes").

The bulk of the book's 300 pages are organized into eleven chapters, which are intended to take the reader through the basic topics, in the same order they might be encountered by anyone developing a Magento-based store for the first time: an introduction; Magento system requirements and installation; product categories and attributes; tax rules; adding product information; site styling; advanced product functionality; CRM; payment processing; shipping configuration; and order fulfillment. These chapters are followed by an appendix that delineates, as numbered lists, all of the steps covered in greater detail in the chapters. The book concludes with an index whose value is immediately brought into question by the "products" entry, which presumably would be one of the most lengthy sections for an e-commerce book such as this one, yet contains only two entries, and neither one has a page number.

The book's first chapter begins by stating what Magento and the book offer, which were already covered in the preface. The author then introduces the demo store (an online vendor of coffee beans) to be used throughout the book, with screenshots. Readers can skip over this chapter, without missing anything of importance. This chapter, like all that follow, concludes with a summary, which adds no value to the book.

In Chapter 2, the author patiently steps the non-technical user through each phase of installing Magento on a Web server, with an emphasis upon Linux systems, which apparently are far less problematic for Magento than using a Windows-based hosting account (imagine that). PHP novices will likely appreciate the author's tip on how to use phpinfo() to see their server settings, but should be warned to delete that file so hackers cannot also stumble upon that information. Also, there are some technical inaccuracies in the author's discussion of search engine friendly URLs. In step 1 of the installation, he should have explained why he chose the Full Release and not the Downloader. On page 31, he instructs the reader to set some Magento files to permissions of 777, even though the previous page stated that his Web hosts' control panel does not allow that setting. Some readers may be confused by this, and should be advised to use their FTP programs for accomplishing this task, if their control panel has the same limitation. In step 3, the author could have provided some guidance as to what the reader can do if Magento refuses to proceed with the installation and provides no error messages, even though the database information is valid and confirmable by logging in at the command line. Of course, it is difficult to anticipate all the possible problems that a user may encounter. Even the official Magento documentation does not appear to address this particular issue. Lastly, the checklist at the end of the chapter, which specifies four items to confirm prior to installation, obviously should have been presented at the beginning of the chapter.

In the third chapter, the author explores some key concepts needed in working with Magento: products, categories, and attributes. Throughout the book, these three common terms — and later, "shopping cart," "payment gateways," etc. — are presented in title case, as if they were proper names, which they are not. Within the text, this formatting gives them the appearance of menu or page names, which quickly becomes annoying. A glaring example of this is section 16 on page 59. On the same page, the reader will encounter a rather cryptic heading, "Have a go hero." Nonetheless, readers should find the topic coverage to be quite useful, including tips on enabling a product navigation menu, optimizing categories, entering products, creating product images, and setting attributes. The next two chapters explain how to apply taxes to customer purchases, and how to add "simple products" (those without customer-changeable attributes), respectively. At first glance, one might conclude that Chapter 5 should immediately follow Chapter 3 — or be combined into one chapter — since both deal primarily with products. But within Magento, tax rules are a prerequisite for properly creating new products in one's store, so the chosen order makes sense.

The author shifts gears with the sixth chapter, which explores basic styling, i.e., customizing the appearance of a Magento-based storefront. The majority of the changes can be accomplished easily by the reader, because most of them are made within the Magento administrative area, and not through any involved editing of the CSS files of the default theme. Chapter 7 covers the topics of related products, grouped products, and configurable products — and thus clearly should have followed Chapter 5. Regardless, the author's use of illustrative examples, in creating the demo site, is quite helpful for the reader to see how to use each dialog box in the process of creating the various types of products.

The last four chapters of Magento: Beginner's Guide address four essential aspects of building and running an online store, beyond the products themselves: Chapter 8 is fairly brief, but explains how to configure a store's e-mail addresses and contact form (but not how to customize the e-mail templates), as well as the functionality made available by Magento for administering customers once they have become registered users on the store site. The subsequent chapter shows how to set up a Magento site to accept customer payments using PayPal, Authorize.Net, and other electronic payment options. Chapter 10 explains how to configure the various shipping options within Magento, and, like the previous chapter, focuses on trade-offs among the various options rather than the details of how to complete each dialog box. Confusingly, on page 219, the author states that you can charge a handling fee with the flat rate method, but four pages earlier states the exact opposite. The last chapter in the book covers the various phases of order fulfillment, as well as order management.

Despite the value of the book's contents, the material would have benefited from some proper editing, evidenced alone by the many errata: "freelance[r]" (on the "About the reviewer" page), "[and] so" (page 2), "distinguishes" (page 3), "top[-]two" (page 10), "Paypal" (page 11), "Card(saved)" (page 11), "php" (page 13), "reading and article" (page 17), "you web host" (page 27), "/single-origin-coffees" is missing (page 55), "Attribute[']s Model" (page 73), "Add New [Attribute] Set" (page 75), "answer[s]" (page 78), "zip codes" (pages 85-86, and others), "characters;" (should be a comma; page 104), "later [in the] book" (page 131), "discuss about" (page 131), "direct[ion] replacement" (page 133), "graphics;" (should be a comma; page 138), "tab. to" (page 141), "2@ brew..." (page 182), "can sit[e]" (page 190), "such [as] Visa" (page 195), and "Shopping Card" (page 197). Some of these errata are likely not attributable to the author, but instead introduced during the production phase of publication. There are other indicators that quality control was lacking, such as an errant period tacked on to every "Chapter 5" in the page title, on all the pages of that chapter. On a more subjective note, I found Packt Publishing's use of four different font sizes within the table of contents — no doubt intended to make higher level section names stand out — to actually reduce speed of scanning and comprehension, just as it does on Web pages that have half a dozen or more font sizes on a single page. The practice is not limited to this particular title, but appears to be standard in their lineup of books. In addition, the longer subheads are shown in such a thick and compressed font face as to be quite difficult to read, e.g., on page 239.

Throughout his book, the author's writing style is generally clear and approachable, though occasionally choppy. His background in technical instruction is exemplified by his logical, step-by-step explanations. Some readers may find this style too repetitive, such as the many mini-summaries — labeled "What just happened?" — scattered throughout the book. These are unnecessary, waste space, and could be excised. One instance of pedantry (on page 105) deserves special recognition/ribbing: "Yes and No are self-explanatory."

But all of these aforementioned flaws are relatively minor — particularly to the reader anxious to put up a new online storefront with minimum delay. Magento: Beginner's Guide is a detailed and lucid introduction to an e-commerce system quickly growing in favor.

Michael J. Ross is a freelance Web developer and writer.

You can purchase Magento: Beginner's Guide from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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Magento Beginner's Guide

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  • Magneto (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lunoria (1496339) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:12PM (#30229204)
    I read the title as Magneto Beginner's Guide. I must read too many comic books.
  • osCommerce (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rossz (67331) <ogre AT geekbiker DOT net> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:13PM (#30229222) Homepage Journal

    What I noticed when I evaluated osCommerce and few other ecommerce packages is the people who developed the package didn't have even a small understanding of how to use style sheets. This was a few years ago, so maybe things have improved since then.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:17PM (#30229288)

    • Re:osCommerce (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fallingcow (213461) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:37PM (#30229544) Homepage

      osCommerce is a piece of shit.

      It's the code equivalent of Finnegan's Wake, but without any hint of genius at work in its production.

      Broken architecture, ugly-ass code, no templating system to speak of (a side effect of the broken architecture) etc. STAY AWAY.

      • by Trecares (416205) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:58PM (#30230498)

        So is there any other option that works well for e-commerce websites? I don't know what else is good?

        • by DavidTC (10147) <{slas45dxsvadiv. ... } {}> on Thursday November 26, 2009 @02:27AM (#30234342) Homepage

          VirtueMart works. It's a Joomla component.

          Or, at least, works a heck of a lot better than OSCommerce, which is completely unmanageable to edit.

          Also, the OSCommerce people seem utterly unable to actually make releases. The current release candidate is almost two years old at this point.

          As usual, they're devoting their time to the alpha of the next version, and any complaints about bugs will direct you to the cvs server. Heaven forbid people want an actual functioning piece of software.

          Oh, and as a fun feature, a hole was discovered in OSCommerce 6 months ago. They haven't even updated the release candidate, or provided a patch. Their instructions for fixing the hole is to .htaccess protect the admin directory. Nice security, you retarded monkeys.

          Virtuemart, OTOH, is not very 'good', but only in the sense it's not very featurefull. For example, you can't sell serial numbers, for a feature I've wanted. But I was able to add that in, as the code was actually understandable, unlike OSCommerce's code. It's a basic start of a system that works fine for what it does, and PHP coding can take it wherever you want.

          It actually has reasonable templates, and the fact it's inside Joomla means you're just templating the content part, and the rest of it is just the Joomla template.

          My biggest complaint is that, because of having to add features, I have found it hard to upgrade, which I guess is as much my fault as anyone elses.

          I haven't checked out this Magento yet.

        • by eoin_tbo (1485851) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @07:13AM (#30235654)

          I ran an e-commerce shop for around 2 years and the website had been set up before I took it over. For the first 6 months it was running on osCommerce. And it was pretty painful to make even minor changes. There've been no releases for well over 2 years at this point and I would be inclinded to say that as a official project it is dead. It keeps going through community support with an absolutely massive array of contributions.

          Of course none of the contributions are tested, or have any guarantees of interoperability so to install more than one requires both a high level of technical knowledge and a solid backup system. (which you should have anyway)

          After the 6 months I changed over to Zen Cart. This is a fork of osCommerce but there seems to be some life in the official version and the code/templating system is at least semi coherent. Again there are tons of community contributions but again you need to know what you're doing with them.

          If I were to do it again I would move the whole thing over to shopify or an equivalent service and let them deal with the technical side. All you as a business person should be doing is selling your products/services, not dicking around with php files trying to change language settings or introduce new modules. (of course as a geek this is what I enjoyed about the work and why I've gone back to my natural habitat coding software)

          I didn't do this at the time because I was concerned about the cost but once you count in hosting, ssl certification and credit card handling charges, shopify (or eqivalent) would have made more sense. The only other issue being data entry but I'm sure there were automated ways around that.

    • by loconet (415875) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:44PM (#30229632) Homepage

      The problems with osCommerce go further (much much further) than just style sheet issues.

  • by Yetihehe (971185) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:17PM (#30229272)
    Magento is a nice system, but it's BIG. It's not bloated. Just it's architecture makes it really slow. With one item in db, default configuration and served locally it shouldn't really take almost two seconds to refresh a page.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:03PM (#30229846)
      This makes it useless for any sizable sites. With an empty DB it should be refreshing near instantly.
    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @07:39PM (#30231852)

      This is the problem I had with all the open-source ecommerce systems I tried a while ago when I just wanted to add a nice shopping cart to my little site, where I sell a small handful of products. All of the options (oscommerce, magento, etc.) were bloated, and used the database for everything. Every single page view required database lookups to create the page. Maybe this makes sense on some site selling dozens or hundreds of products, each with very little description, but my site only has a few products, with very large pages dedicated to each one, along with instruction pages, troubleshooting pages, etc. None of the options seemed to fit that at all. I looked into trying to modify both oscommerce and magento to fit my needs (I know Perl, but not really PHP), but they were so huge and complicated that it wasn't an easy task to try to trim them down.

      What I want is a simple shopping cart that's open-source, and lets me use my existing website (without turning it into some database-driven monstrosity) with its simple, fast-loading pages, which only use PHP for the headers and footers. There doesn't really seem to be any such thing.

      • What I want is a simple shopping cart that's open-source, and lets me use my existing website (without turning it into some database-driven monstrosity) with its simple, fast-loading pages, which only use PHP for the headers and footers.

        Even if you don't put product descriptions in a database, you'll still need some sort of database to store unfinished and finished orders. If you don't want to use a database on your web site, use the PayPal cart.

        • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:08PM (#30239664)

          No, I don't mind using the database for storing orders, when people make them. I just think it's ridiculous to use the database for storing product descriptions and having to regenerate all that content every time someone looks at a page. For obvious reasons, there's far, far more page views than there are actual orders.

          • I just think it's ridiculous to use the database for storing product descriptions and having to regenerate all that content every time someone looks at a page.

            Unless you want to provide multiple views of a product or category, or real-time views of stock status. Then you'd have to generate all the static HTML for each different view of each product, each category, etc., and you'd have to do so whenever stock status would change. And are you going to rely on Google for site search, even though Google's spidering speed is far from instant?

            • by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:06AM (#30242764)

              As I said before, I have a handful of products (3 to be exact, though I'd like to get up to 10 or 20 eventually). I'm not ever going to have one of those sites with 10,000 different products. That's why I don't see why the entire product description should be contained in a DB, and fetched from that DB by PHP and generated into an HTML page for every single pageview. That's incredibly inefficient, and requires a fast site; I don't think my $3/month FatCow hosting is that high-performance.

              So no, having static HTML for every product is not a problem for me, and categories don't even exist on my site; what's the point with so few products? I'm not a reseller, I sell a few custom products I make myself in small quantities. And "site search" is also something that's not really needed, though Google does spider all the pages.

          • by OrangeCatholic (1495411) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:07AM (#30242768)
            >I just think it's ridiculous to use the database for storing product descriptions and having to regenerate all that content every time someone looks at a page.

            Actually, I was building ecommerce systems several years ago and we took it as dogma to hit the db a few times each page. Having the product descriptions in the db is the most important thing, for flexibility of display and back-end inventory and product maintenance.

            But if you have less than 10 products, then no, you don't need any of this.

            Learn cookies and make a shopping cart that puts everything into a cookie, sending it along from page to page as the user browses the store. The cookie is *basically* just a raw string of your own formatting, all you need is pairs of product_id and how many. When they are done, have the PHP script email you their order, or dump it into a plain text file, xml file or comma-delimited for importing into Excel.
      • by Whiteox (919863) <htcstech@gm a i l . c om> on Thursday November 26, 2009 @02:11AM (#30234294) Journal

        Well, if you are ok with writing web pages, then all you need is Mal's e-commerce.
        It's free. It's a hosted shopping cart and will probably work well for your needs. []

      • by coryking (104614) * on Thursday November 26, 2009 @12:17PM (#30237586) Homepage Journal

        The problem I've ran into with most OSS (and even paid) ecommerce systems is they dont understand basic accounting nor do they understand how a business operates.

        Take zen-cart for example. When a customer cancels an order, what is the proper thing to do? Well, I'll tell you what *isn't* the proper thing... DELETE THE ORDER FROM THE DATABASE!!

        The second I found out that the way to hide/cancel an order was deleting it from the database, I ran away from zen-cart. You never delete an order... what if you got audited? What if the customer wanted to actually go ahead with the order? What if you wanted to get a report on the number of canceled orders? You can't if you delete the damn thing from the database!!

        Really, the problem is these products had their interface designed to suit their database schema. In reality, the design and workflow should come first, and the database schema should fall out of that.

        • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @04:00PM (#30239240)

          Wow, that's pretty scary. A canceled order is a canceled order, not a deleted one.

          That's why I was hoping to find an ecommerce system I could just pick and choose the modules I needed from, and add them to my website without it being an all-or-nothing proposition, but the ones I looked at (ZenCart included, which seemed very similar to oscommerce in the code) were so convoluted that it wasn't an easy task. The other part, which really isn't avoidable when using these web scripting languages like PHP, is that I think the whole paradigm of using scripting languages to generate HTML on-the-fly is just a bad and broken model, evolved from the early days of static HTML. When you write a GUI program for use on a local computer, you write it in something like C++, and write directly to the window without going through some annoying markup language, but on the web everything is convoluted by that requirement. It'd be a lot easier if writing a website was more like writing a C++ program.

          • by OrangeCatholic (1495411) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:25AM (#30242836)
            It's bad and broken because HTML was designed to be hand-coded. Once people started automating it with scripting languages, it became clear how irregular and non-repeatable HTML's syntax is. I'm really surprised there was never an HTML 6.0 that radically flattened the syntax, but at that point (circa 2000) the language was already too entrenched.

            However, having PHP spit out HTML is extremely powerful. Consider how many thousands of different product view pages you can browse on a site like Amazon. Those may all come off of one PHP script, perhaps just a few pages long.

            And it works on the back-end too. Instead of teaching your secretary HTML, you can just point her to the product_update.php and have her enter the product name, price, description into empty fields. You can write a GUI for your own inventory. Literally.

            This is all just what I remember from Web 1.0. Now we're into Web 2.0 with a full object model (javascript, *not* related to Java) for everything in the browser window. No, they never changed HTML itself, but they created a computer-friendly model for all the div's, tables, forms, mouseovers, etc. Plus cascading style sheets, which can be useful if you want to change the appearance of the whole site with a single edit. They basically got the whole system right starting around 2003-04.
    • by specific_pacific (904746) <> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @11:05PM (#30233374)

      Zend, behind the framework to which it uses and a great PHP advocate, also wishes to advocate it's optimised LAMP servers. They have a cache demo to speed up pages on the server side so the "instant" loading is possible.

      Optimisation has always been an issue but on shared hosting it's alright as long as you setup some subdomains make-do CDN so you can load your images.

  • Good luck with that! (Score:5, Informative)

    by DogDude (805747) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:17PM (#30229286) Homepage
    As an e-commerce business owner, and a former web developer, I just tried Magento based on a suggestion from my designer. It's not for regular people. There's no formal documentation (literally... none), and like with many OSS projects, "community" support is non-existent. Magento might be a neat project for a large team of professional developers working on e-commerce for a company with very deep pockets, but I don't think that a beginner of any kind should touch it. I'd rather have less functionality, but more function.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:20PM (#30229322)

      I'd rather have less functionality, but more function.

      Ahhhhh! My head aspload!!!!!

    • by SteveFoerster (136027) <steve AT hiresteve DOT com> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:31PM (#30230184) Homepage

      As an e-commerce business owner, and a former web developer, I just tried Magento based on a suggestion from my designer. It's not for regular people.

      Magento is for irregular people? I thought that was Milk of Magnesia? Learn something new every day....

    • by stuckinphp (1598797) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:40PM (#30230276)
      I just looked at the differences between community edition and enterprise edition. What a joke. More functionality / customization ability in the drupal ecom module.
      • by mweather (1089505) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @12:30AM (#30233800)
        The big selling point for the enterprise edition is per-website/storeview administration. With that functionality you can sell hosted stores, or limit employees to only the websites they are responsible for. The rest of the features are just there to pad the list. Most of the missing features are available as modules from Magento Connect.
    • by Anarchduke (1551707) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:44PM (#30230322)
      I noticed that. I looked on their website and found that Yay, its open source. But the "Community" version apparently doesn't support encryption or a number of other security measure present in the Enterprise version. The community version is free, but their enterprise version, according to Magneto, "Start at $8,900 USD/yr"

      They boast of 1 million downloads, but I am wondering how many of those downloads actually became Enterprise customers. I don't know what it is about their website, but it makes me suspicious and very unwilling to leave any contact information with them.
      • by OrangeCatholic (1495411) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:34AM (#30242876)
        >their enterprise version, according to Magneto, "Start at $8,900 USD/yr"

        That's a joke. For $8,900, expect no less than to have a techie visit your store, spend two weeks manually entering every item into the database, configuring the appearance of the storefront, and then spending 6 months on the phone with you making sure it's working properly.

        If they provide any lower level of service than that (I'm guessing zilch?) then they are ripping you off.

        For real competition in this area, look at POS (point of sale, aka cash register) systems. You might need to get your hands on a trade publication and look at the ads. I haven't installed one yet, otherwise I'd give a recommendation.
    • by k0lee (317678) <> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @09:33PM (#30232732) Homepage

      I help manage a website based on Magento and whenever I want to hear the sound of crickets, I post a technical question to its user forum. If it hasn't already been asked and answered, you're pretty much screwed.

  • by elbiatcho1 (1554817) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:18PM (#30229300)
    I've tried this and it had some potential. Very clean looks and easy to use backend, but it felt horrible performance-wise overall. Also there are Paypal problems that seem to have been lingering for long time (retrieving response from PP and analysis, notifications).
  • by yelirekim (1371387) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:25PM (#30229380) Homepage
    I have a few large scale magento projects under my belt, and I just want to pipe in here.

    even the later systems are frequently criticized as suffering from poorly-written code and inadequate documentation

    Magento does do a better job in these areas than say, osCommerce, but there are still massively underdocumented portions of the code base. The code is clean and extensible, but horribly inefficient, to the point where a lot of people speculate that the Magento team wants it to be like that, so when your store takes off you are more likely to hire them to speed things up.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:41PM (#30229586)

      I complete agree with that sentiment as well. There have been a few releases that broke core functionality and the only official response was to hire Varien to fix the problems.

      I understand they are trying to push their commercial aspect to earn money but to intentionally break a functioning a system to earn that revenue is very underhanded.

    • by Maudib (223520) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:06PM (#30229878)

      "to the point where a lot of people speculate that the Magento team wants it to be like that, so when your store takes off you are more likely to hire them to speed things up."

      Which is hilarious when you look at the "Enterprise" sites that Varien has done to date. They are slow, ugly and often broken. Varien does not do great work. Thats probably why they are partnering with Optaros, but it remains to be seen if those carrion eaters can do any better.

      $10,000 a server license. It might be worth it if you need SAP integration, but I don't believe for a second that the "Enterprise" version is written any better then the community. Some people doubt that it even exists, that in reality its probably just community edition + over-priced consulting services.

    • by loxosceles (580563) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @09:39PM (#30232780)


      I set up a test magento site just a couple weeks ago to see if it had gotten better, and not only was it slow as fsck, but the installer had some hiccups. The URL checking steps broke, and I had to skip them. I had a weird fastcgi + aliasing setup that may have contributed, but an installer should just work with defaults if you keep clicking next. That magento didn't is a big red flag IMO. I'm also not impressed with the admin interface.

      The database setup step alone took a number of minutes, long enough that I had to look at the database files to make sure they were changing. They were. Magento is just exceedingly slow, both in initialization and in everyday operation.

      Good code doesn't buy you anything if you have to rewrite most of it to get it to run reasonably fast.

  • by Maudib (223520) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:27PM (#30229420)

    The problem with Magento is not that it is too complex for a non-technical user. The problem with Magento is that is not properly documented or commented for technical users. Non-technical users that stay within the Magento default store box will have no problems, developers that try to move outside this box will be frustrated, constantly.

    Take a look at the code. There are precisely zero comments. Take a look at the documentation, there is almost no official documentation. This makes developing with Magento extremely hard as they employ some convoluted structures for very simple tasks. Eventually one finds that the code is generally of a high standard and that most things can be done without too much effort, but the learning curve is excessive.

    I believe that the lack of comments and documentation is part of an intentional strategy by Varien to drive potential users to their closed-source Enterprise solution. The power of the community edition is enticing, but finding knowledgeable developers is nearly impossible and training inhouse staff takes far too long due to the conspicuous absence of documentation and comments.

    Finally, I think it is pretty clear that PHP was a very poor choice for such a large framework. The lengths they need to go to implement something that appears to be convention bases and sort of but not quite dependency injected are extreme. PHP's inability to execute code asynchronously is a huge headache and the EAV model is cumbersome to say the least. Performance is seriously wanting.

    So yeah, Magento is enticing as hell to non-technical beginners. However ultimately the combination of Varien's refusal to document/comment and their poor technology choices make this a platform that just won't scale. Whats needed to at least partially change that is Magento for Developers*

    *There is a Magento for architects, but its already out of date and very short on real details.

    • by QuoteMstr (55051) <> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:05PM (#30229872)

      Finally, I think it is pretty clear that PHP was a very poor choice for such a large framework.

      I don't want to talk about PHP's technical merits. We could have an endless flamewar about those. I just want to say that PHP become a lingua franca of web development. Pretty much everyone (especially in the Bay Area echo chamber) give you the my-god-you've-just-killed-that-kitten look if you propose writing a package in PHP. PHP isn't used because it's good, but because it's popular, and has a huge developer base. You can make a career out of knowing nothing but PHP, and people do.

      Which is why I've decided to never do web work again. Give me embedded programming, systems work, scientific work, game development -- anything but web work. It's socially impossible to avoid using PHP for it, and PHP is one of a very few languages that viscerally infuriates me. I'll program using it and start cursing the developers. I can't stand it.

      Yes, yes, you have Java, Ruby, *.NET, and lots of other choices. And they're used by some. But they don't have anything close to PHP's ungodly-huge marketshare, at least in the small-to-medium website world.

    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:12PM (#30229958) Homepage Journal

      ``The problem with Magento is not that it is too complex for a non-technical user. The problem with Magento is that is not properly documented or commented for technical users.''

      So, some smart guy decided to step into the void and improve the situation, but, rather than writing documentation that is distributed with the software, he wrote a book that people have to pay for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:35PM (#30229512)

    ... governing endorsements and testimonials: []

  • by uuddlrlrab (1617237) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:35PM (#30229516)
    This isn't news. This is fucking marketing. As good as this software may or may not be, this is not newsworthy, and is nothing more than shameless promotion of a product.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:35PM (#30229524)

    It has a great backend and tons of features. But.. it's difficult (damn near impossible) to skin. And the other huge problem is the AJAX multipage checkout. It just doesn't work for some users, and there's no alternative.

  • Does it handle (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by SnarfQuest (469614) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:36PM (#30229526)

    Does it handle getting your share of Obama's stash? He's giving away all that money from his own stash, so you should have an easy way of handling that.

  • .. This statement is interesting.
    A lot of the e-commerce software you can get for free is written in common web development languages, e.g. Perl/PHP/Ruby/ASP.
    So is this a question of lacking in-house competence from a SMB perspective? Most OSS e-commerce packages I've used have been a breeze to install, never mind to customize.

    The truth to the statement is that some things are, at best, poorly documented. But if worst comes to worst, track down the bit of script you need to know (how it works) and read the code?

    • by megrims (839585) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:03PM (#30229852)

      Magento is an OO MVF application, on an EAV database, with an artificial (and ridiculous) namespacing system, managed by strictly case sensitive (sometimes you need to capitalise the first letter, sometimes not) XML config files and file placement within module directories. There is literally no documentation and the debugging information is pretty limited.

      Figuring it out takes a while.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:09PM (#30229908)

      But if worst comes to worst, track down the bit of script you need to know (how it works) and read the code?

      Easier said than done. Magento is over 5,000 files big and doing relatively simple things can involve editing about 10 different files. Doing more complex things can quickly become a nightmare.

      sadly magento is still a better choice than it's competitors.

    • by crypie (111943) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @10:05PM (#30232990)
      It might be a shameless plug, but Satchmo - is a completely open source option. It's not perfect (what software is) but I believe it is a much better alternative than most of the PHP based alternatives.

      I am one of the core devs so I am biased but do feel compelled to chime in with an alternative to the PHP based solutions out there like Magento.
  • by al0ha (1262684) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:42PM (#30229604) Journal
    that based on experience, retailers that propose setting up an ecommerce site should forgo all "canned" shopping carts and fork over the minimal money it will cost to have one custom written to fit your business.

    If you are attempting to launch a business without the initial funds to spend around $1000 on a custom shopping cart, with the expectation of spending more money down the road adding custom features tailored to your business if proved successful, then you are not ready to start your business.
  • by palmerj3 (900866) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:05PM (#30229862) Homepage
    I wonder if this book can show everyone how to import products reliably? The current import system is total crap and often needs to be completely bypassed.
  • by lbalbalba (526209) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:24PM (#30230094)
    ... is 'Magento' itself actually any good or not ?
  • by PDHoss (141657) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:49PM (#30230388)

    I agree that Magento is a properly designed enterprise commerce package and that most other OS commerce packages are spaghetti. But Magento is just... Impenetrable. You wander around forever just trying to figure out how to change some simple thing. Knock the PHP hack carts all you want, but I bet I can figure out how to graft on a quick feature about a billion times faster in that than in Magento. And when you're talking OS solutions, a great many users will be of the hacker type just wanting to git 'r done.

    Magento is just waaaaaay to "pure" for my tastes.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:16PM (#30230668) Homepage Journal

    i work in the field. im a programmer.

    magento is shiny, looks good and whatnot, but the code seems to be done in a way to discourage external development and modification. it takes 2-3 times longer to do some modification to magento that it takes to do on other shopping cart software.

    im suspecting this to be a new trend though. i noticed similar other software (non shopping cart) out there, which were open source, but coded in such a way that (as if to show your left ear with your right hand), it would become complicated and manually time consuming to modify, therefore discouraging 3rd party development.

    we had some former clients jumping on magento bandwagon. things went well for them at the start. but as their needs for modification increased with passing time, they had to migrate their store to another cart because it became too expensive for them to fund modifications to their store software.

    • by rainer_d (115765) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:31PM (#30231278) Homepage

      What other shopping card do you recommend then?

      • by unity100 (970058) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @01:56AM (#30234230) Homepage Journal

        currently it would be best to go with oscommerce. unfortunately, or maybe rather unfortunately, despite having deficiencies in a lot of fronts, it has a HUGE community. the number of contributions, modifications and whatnot are immense. there are wild implementations which totally wander off from the realm of shopping cart even. most important is this, because it has a huge community and a user base, there is also a huge developer base who can be hired for cheap to get work done on one's system. this is the major point.

        there are a lot of would-be-good carts out there. but, just like any software, like in the case of linux / windows, software needs a big userbase and a developer base to take off and get ahead. because oscommerce was the first in many respects, rightfully or wrongfully, it is way ahead of the competition in regard to that respects.

        another very important point is, oscommerce is already known and supported by almost all 3rd party service providers. wont belittle you or stand clueless if you ask them some issue you are having while integrating their thing to your oscommerce store. WILL have a module out there that supports oscommerce. basically, everyone knows and supports oscommerce. even, some banks that give out merchant solutions stringently, and wanting to audit and test your site software before giving you their virtual pos will know and allow oscommerce without any hassles.

        this is the current state of affairs. as a web developer, the code of oscommerce appears very crooked at times to my eyes. but, despite rather hating to work on it at the start due to my job, over time i learned to respect its strengths.

        • You are asserting Magento takes 2-3 times longer to modify than OSCommerce.

          Okay, that is theoretically possible.

          To insert a random car analogy, that's sorta like asserting that a Hummer is a more fuel efficient vehicle than a FooMobile. That is theoretically possible, as I've never see or even heard of a FooMobile, so perhaps FooMobiles come attached to an immovable building, for example. But that does not mean you should go around recommending a Hummer for fuel efficiency.

          I can't even begin to comprehend how brain damaged a system takes longer to modify than OSCommerce would be.

          I recommend you look at Joomla w/Virtuemart if you think that OSCommerce, of all things, is the easiest to modify. There's a lot of files, but almost all that's Joomla...virtuemart is in administrator/componants/com_virtumart/, and is 500 files _max_, and actually organized in directories.

          There's also a Drupal solution that is apparently okay, but I don't know Drupal that well.

          • by unity100 (970058) on Friday November 27, 2009 @12:09AM (#30242452) Homepage Journal

            so perhaps FooMobiles come attached to an immovable building, for example. But that does not mean you should go around recommending a Hummer for fuel efficiency.

            in this case it does. for, this is software - one has to count in all factors. had the thing been only the source's modifiability, it would be debated. however it comes as a package :

            I recommend you look at Joomla w/Virtuemart if you think that OSCommerce, of all things, is the easiest to modify. There's a lot of files, but almost all that's Joomla...virtuemart is in administrator/componants/com_virtumart/, and is 500 files _max_, and actually organized in directories.

            There's also a Drupal solution that is apparently okay, but I don't know Drupal that well.

            its not just source's modifiability as i said. oscommerce, by itself lacks a lot in that regard. HOWEVER, what matters is, all of its defects and advantages are known, and there are innumerable ready made modules to start from, even if one is doing an out of ordinary modification. thats the point.

            as it stands now, i dont see osc letting go of its prominent status anytime soon, not even with the possible release of oscommerce 3. even then there will be hordes of stores that are heavily modified in osc 2, and it will be a bigger hassle and budget sink to upgrade to 3 than stay with 2. so, apparently, it is here to stay.

            I can't even begin to comprehend how brain damaged a system takes longer to modify than OSCommerce would be.

            simple. apparently it was purposefully done such to discourage 3rd party development.

    • by Skal Tura (595728) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:45PM (#30231446) Homepage

      Amen to that!

      Underneath lies tho larger problems than just that. Sure it's been obfuscated to make harder for 3rd party modifications, but they actually fail to implement proper MVC pattern, just to name one problem. (Nevermind that 12k files in a fresh install...)

  • by Skal Tura (595728) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:40PM (#30231376) Homepage

    Foreword: I work as a web developer, and work in highly complex dynamic systems, specializing in UIs and system integration.

    I've worked with both osCommerce and Magento. Magento has very good marketing engine, really efficient throwing around of buzzwords. Sure it says on the cover to use Zend Framework and MVC pattern. What's not to like? EVERYTHING. The implementation is crappy even at best. It's not true MVC as view components actually FETCH DATA oO;

    I spent about 3 weeks to get an new store launched, and launch was even delayed. The same work, the same system could have been done using osCommerce in a week...

    I would recommend Magento only to my worst enemy, even that might be slightly too cruel. The list of problems with Magento is too immense to even start listing ... But i do say: Put it to SVN, checkout to empty directory and try if it work ;)

    (Oh, and the development documentation for Magento is complete hokus pokus marketing bullshit)

  • by Falc0n (618777) <japerry@jademicr ... m ['osy' in gap]> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:46PM (#30231462) Homepage
    A big piece missing from Magento is the content management portion. There has been talk about integrating Magento as a third party add-on to drupal, but its so different in how it handles content, that it doesn't really work.

    A decent alternative is Ubercart and Drupal. Ubercart, while not the best example of -good- drupal code, it is getting better, and d7uc is planning on bringing much of the code to drupal standards. One big plus about ubercart is its extensibility. Despite it being a bloated shopping system (built for a mom-and-pop shop, similar to magento), it is easy to override functions and get it to do what you want. Ubercart is also used extensively on major websites, almost everything that uses drupal 6 and ecommerce.

    In the dark days of ubercart, or when I'm banging my head on a problem that cannot be easily solved with it, I've looked to magento, but then came running back.
  • by dialbat (900703) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @07:17PM (#30231696)

    I've read it, and this book is exactly what the makers of Magento should have done.
    I don't think it's worth the money, maybe 5$.

  • by FlyingGuy (989135) <flyingguy AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @09:14PM (#30232588)

    A project with no documentation and the comments stripped out, Qel Surpise!

    A shopping cart should be simple and small. It should be unobtrusive.

    What it should do is give you the calls to display, review, modify, fill your shopping cart, check out and take a payment.

    Nothing more, nothing less.

    At that point you can integrate it into whatever web site your building using your styling and markup.

    This ain't brain surgery, it is a database. and the most complex thing should be a bit of javascript to update the totals.

"Just think of a computer as hardware you can program." -- Nigel de la Tierre