Posts Tagged ‘Web Development’

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.


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 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 , , , , , , , , , , ,

New Web Browser by Google: Chrome

September 2nd, 2008

Google is now officially in the browser business. I guess that the google bars wasn’t enough of a penetration into the browser market and Google wanted/needed additional features (and feedback?) from users. Anyway, Google now offers a new web browser: Chrome. Google also explained briefly why they have decided to launch a new browser. So, what does it mean for us, web developers?

  1. An additional browser to pay attention to and run tests for. When Google launches a new browser, it is not another niche browser that we can skip in our testing. It is probably going to have a sizeable market share.
  2. Visit the ‘For Web Developers‘ page posted by Chrome. You will find useful information for what we do. Once piece of advice is if we tested our sites on Safari 3.1 – then the page will work fine on Google Chrome. However, they still post some tips and testing tools.
  3. Explore and learn V8 – the underlying engine that powers Google Chrome. According to Google V8 is a platform that will help power the next generation of web applications. As mentioned on their ‘Why’ page: “We also built V8, a more powerful JavaScript engine, to power the next generation of web applications that aren’t even possible in today’s browsers.”

It is never boring in the world of web development, is it?

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Inspiring Commentary Article on Web Design Practices

August 27th, 2008
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Written by Kimberly Elam, Web Design by Design made me think twice before running to draft the next web site design with our designer. This same minimalistic approach of almost too little but just enough to make a clear point approach is great because it begs for more. As Kimberly puts it, the user remains hungry for more information. And guess what they will probably do? call or email for more information!

This article highlites the a similar line of thought for successful web firms: they target what their clients need not what they can do with technology or design. Hence this comes to remind us that websites, in any aspect: design or web development, are here to serve the business. A website is just a tool not the goal.

This comes accross with our line of though at Activo: each one of our proposals begin with what are the goals in this project. In other words, what will we achieve by the following web development project?

Web Design, Web Development, Web-based User Interfaces , ,