Magento – then & now

By Rohan on February 1, 2013

Magento

From Denise Gabbard at Business2Community.com 

Magento is at the top of every online retailer’s wish list, when looking at ecommerce platforms. They are by far the most popular choice of ecommerce software platforms, and currently the most rapidly growing software for online stores over the past six months, with a phenomenal growth record of over 20%. While this might not sound very impressive, consider that there are hundreds of competitive platforms available. Magento is unique in that it built on a modular system that offers maximum flexibility. With a wide range of options like built-in shopping cart software, SEO, and product browsing, it is very comprehensive. One unique feature is the ability to optimize your site for mobile access, knowing that most people will shop via their Smartphones in the coming years.

Having had experience with OS Commerce way back when it was pretty much the only open source eCommerce solution available, I was pretty excited when Magento was announced. While OS Commerce is a fairly modular platform, its extremely outdated table based HTML structure made designing for it a pain. Magento promised to be a more modern, feature rich take on open source eCommerce and for the most part, it has achieved this goal. But speak to anyone who has worked with the platform and their tale will usually be a cautionary one, and this is not without good reason. 

We jumped right in to the platform in 2009 almost as soon as the first stable release came out and completed work on Ubergoodness. The experience was interesting, to say the least. Not being totally familiar with the strict directory structures and XML based layouts, it took a great deal of work to get the store looking right. For the most part, the back end took care of itself (initially) and we were lucky enough to have access to some great free extensions which helped our clients out in the realm of credit card transactions and location based specific shipping methods. 

All’s well that ends well, right? 

Not so much unfortunately. As time went by, small issues began to creep up. The database size was ballooning to enormous proportions, and when asked to upgrade the CMS, trial runs showed lots of errors and mismatched data appearing. Then there was the whole issue of Magento not being compatible with PHP 5.3 due to the use of the deprecated split method. Because of this we held off upgrading until a fairly significant security scare forced us to call a meeting with the client and seriously discuss the position of the store. Moving it off Magento was put forward, however we resolved to move the store from version 1.3 to version 1.7 in one fell swoop. 

Finally after much blood, sweat and tears, we managed to get the site fully ported from 1.3 to 1.7 and have a full redesign and relaunch in the works. We were also pleased to see that 1.7 boasts a huge amount of improvements over earlier versions, which included better back up options and ways of setting up cron jobs to clear the log tables in the database. In the meantime Magento was purchased by eBay for $180 million, and while I think they put a great deal of focus on their Enterprise Edition, it has been good to see continued support from extension developers for the Community Edition. Sites like Stackoverflow are great resources for getting help on any coding issues with the platform when the Magento boards can’t provide an answer.

So the verdict is this – Magento is great, but it is not the WordPress of eCommerce. It is not for the faint-hearted or “intermediate” developer. It’s a behemoth that requires advanced knowledge of PHP and MySQL on the back end as well as advanced experience with HTML, CSS and Javascript on the front end to get it working properly. Add to that Linux & SSH skills if you really want to get the most out of it. When you do however, it is a great eCommerce platform for medium to large sized stores.