It seems that sometimes work comes in waves. I haven’t dealt with setting up a shopping cart on a site in quite a while, and now I have three clients that I’m setting up shopping carts for. The clients want a PHP based solution (good thing, considering that’s what I do), and as usual the less we spend the better. I started by looking at the available FOSS options, fully expecting that this would be a simple task. Little did I know…
The first application I looked into was osCommerce. The best way I can describe it is as an old dragon. It may be free and open source, but it’s big, bulky, and outdated. I was looking for something much easier to use, and much more current. Something that would be easy to manage once it was set up, as opposed to taking two hours to add color options to a product.
Not to be discouraged, I moved on another possibility, zenCart. ZenCart is a huge step in the right direction, but it still seemed to lack the intuitive interface that you might expect from web based software. I may be too hard on them, but a quality user interface makes the difference between happy customers, and customers that never return. All in all, there is a lot of really great technology which zenCart doesn’t use, and while it’s free and open source, that doesn’t make up for it’s lack of usability.
I continued to look around at free alternatives, but didn’t find anything noteworthy. Now I was discouraged. I decided to check into some commercial products, most notably cubeCart. It costs $130 – $180 and it’s not 100% open source, but cubeCart makes up for all that with the interface. It has an intuitive admin section, better support, and plenty of available add-on modules (for shipping, payment, even affiliate programs). In the end, we went with cubeCart, deciding that the benefits were worth the cost. I was almost ready to admit that the available FOSS options couldn’t touch commercial products in this market. Just then, a glimmer of hope! Magento.
Magento is a new up and coming PHP shopping cart, built using the Zend Framework. It is young and currently still in beta, but it shows great promise. According to their roadmap, the production version is due out first quarter 2008. It’s current drawbacks are it’s lack of support for certain payment and shipping gateways, and it’s lack of support for popular affiliate programs. However, much of this is in the roadmap, and should make it into the production version. In my experience, what they currently have out is stable, and extremely user friendly. I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that there will soon be a FOSS option that will be able to compete with their commercial counterparts.
In the end, if you need something right now, cubeCart is for you. While it will require some up front investment, you will save it back just on the Tylenol you won’t be buying for the headaches you will have with osCommerce or zenCart. However, if you don’t need something for a few months, or you are trying to keep an eye to the future, check out magento. You’ll be glad you did.