Using Magento (seven months on)

I posted way back at the end of June on my use of Magento over Cubecart. Well it’s been seven months since then and I’ve had a few people asking how things are going …so here are a few thoughts.

My first Magento store is now open and doing pretty well. There were a few …well, lots of problems along the way, but most have been ironed out. I think a lot of it is learning how to use Magento properly – and I’m still learning.

I had to sit down with my client for a good few hours at the beginning so we could figure out how to do product options. She’s now pretty proficient at it, so despite being amazingly complicated, it appears to be manageable.

One of the major problems I had was with uploading images. Each time we attempted to upload an image everything would seem to upload ok but then Magento would act like you didn’t upload anything and then log you out on the next reload. After extensive trawling through the Magento forums I discovered that two lines in a php.ini file were all that was needed to fix the problem ( and I think that the fact that Magento was unable to prevent this or figure it out for itself shows its age.

Another feature which shows Magento’s age, and actually makes it feel like it’s still in beta, is table rate shipping. It sounds perfect in concept, and the usage instructions on the website are pretty comprehensive, but it simply doesn’t work. Not just for me either, so many people were posting comments about its problems

I think my biggest problem I’ve had, actually a humongous massive problem was with updating Magento. I dread updates and avoid new addons. On the surface the process seems very automated and straight forward, but I’ve tried several times now and none have been unproblematic to the extent that the Magento installation usually ends up completely broken. I was only able to fix the problems by doing fresh installs. Magento is so obese that the length of time it takes to back it up (especially once its populated with products) renders updating and extending completely impractical in my opinion. Furthermore, customising a skin is incredibly complicated to start with, but maintaining one between Magento updates is simply painful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve decided that Magento’s rich feature set completely kicks Cubcart’s arse. Product options, associated products, and discount codes are amazing and the one page checkout is pretty good too, but many features still seem unpolished, and user-unfriendly. However before Magento can assume dominance in the online commerce market, I think it needs to transform from a online shopping cart with very limited CMS functionality into a full CMS with complete commerce functionality.

Finally, and most importantly, a stable and reliable method of updating which does not require impractical backups and does not break skins is paramount for any progression.

Posted in Magento, Tech | 1 Comment

dTabs Version 1.3 Released

Just 66 days after the release of version 1.2.2 , dTabs 1.3 is now available for download. 1.3 fixes several bugs and adds few new features including:

  • New “between” argument for dtab_list_tabs for adding content between tabs.
  • New “fadetime” argument for dtab_list_tabs to enable control over the length of time it takes to fade.
  • Provisional support for javascript free css menus.

Kubrick Tabs has also been updated to support dTabs 1.3.

Posted in News, plugins, Themes | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Magento vs Cubecart

Since discovering Magento, I’ve stopped developing with Cubecart. The first thing that attracted me to Magento was that it was free and it didn’t require each page to have “I’m a tight-ass using the free version of some cheapo shopping cart” in it’s title …and it was template driven.

After looking into it more deeply I’ve found that Magento is much more sophicated than Cubecart, supporting product options, grouped and related products, multiple stores, discount codes, “seo friendly urls”, and customer whishlists, all “out of the zip archive”. However after working with it for a few weeks now, it’s becoming more and more obvious that Magento is still only a baby. While it’s seemingly bursting with amazing features, some of them seem incomplete and most seem to have been designed from the viewpoint of the programmer rather than the end user, resulting in Magento being more complicated than sophisticated.

Here’s a few problems I’ve had with Magento already:

  • There’s no way of viewing all the products in the store by manufacturer
  • The urls aren’t all seo friendly, in fact filtering/layered-navigation makes very seo unfriendly urls
  • New administrators are given no role by default and so can’t log in to the admin panel
  • The CMS system is bollocks. There’s no parent-child relatinships for a start
  • Themes/skins are far too over complicated to make and edit
  • The documentation is nowhere near complete, for end users or developers

A couple of final thoughts:
There is definitely something to be said for the simplicity of Cubecart.

I think part of the major problem with these open source but commercial web applications is exactly that:- while they are open source so the community can edit and modify the source code to meet their needs, they are commercial. I think this results in much less contribution from the community and most of the contributions that are made are commercial.

Posted in CubeCart, Magento | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Viewing Microsoft Office documents with Firefox on OS X (without using Office)

My uni seems incapable of setting a single timetable for a term and sticking to it, so they make several “up-to-date” timetables available on their website which are updated daily. However they insist on keeping these timetables in Word and Excel formats, because that’s what they are made in and everyone has Office, right?

Well I have M$ Office 2008 installed on my iBook G4, and it’s painfully slow to open and it hogs pretty much everything. So I spent a while looking for somekind of plugin for Firefox to open Word and Excel documents inside Firefox, like you can do with IE on Windows.

Only one such plugin exists, Word Browser Plugin not surprisingly opens Word documents in browsers such as Firefox, but not very well – it doesn’t like tables. Since I mainly want to open timetables, this is a problem. Apparently no other plugins exist for this purpose so I gave up and continued to use Office to view the timetables.

However a couple of days ago I stumbled accross Quick Viewer Droplet, an AppleScript by Apple. Quick Look is a part of OS X, that allows you to preview documents from within Finder such as Office documents without opening Office or whatever program is used to open them. This in itself partially solves my problem – I could use Quick Look to open the timetables without need to grind my iBook to a halt by opening Office, but Quick Viewer Droplet cuts out Finder and previews files in Quick Look directly, so that Firefox can be set to automatically preview Word Documents and Excel documents!

Amazing, isn’t it?! ;-)

Posted in Tech | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Quick Look Droplet

A cool little AppleScript from apple to open things using Quicklook

rating: ****
usefulness: 10
ease of use: 10
minimum user level: novice
download: Quick Look Droplet

Posted in Leopard (OS X 10.5) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment