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A New Breed of Open Source Shopping Carts

While the Big Three of the old guard — osCommerce, Zen Cart, and CRE Loaded — continue to duke it out among themselves, new-generation open source commerce projects have begun to spring up with new ideas and new ways of thinking. Most noteworthy of the new crop are France-based Prestashop and US-based programs Ubercart and Magento.

These fresh Web 2.0-style carts are mature and production-ready contenders, and all are at or beyond version 1.0 in their production cycle. These carts are equal or superior to many commercial e-commerce programs, and are available for free under the GNU or OSL 3.0 Public License. We've previously reviewed Magento, so this column will focus on the other two next-generation carts: PrestaShop and Ubercart.

PrestaShop

Paris-based PrestaShop, aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses, was released on August 4 after two years of development. Eager acceptance by the user community has led to the new program being downloaded at a rate of over 25,000 copies per month. PrestaShop is licensed under the least restrictive open source licenses, OSL 3.0, which does not even require users to register before downloading. An engaged and enthusiastic programmer community is contributing to updating the program at a rapid rate. This active community has translated the program into over 20 languages.

Stand Out Features

Web 2.0 features offered by PrestaShop include product tagging and tag cloud, text-message alerts and RSS feeds. Other features include gift-wrapping and recycled packaging options, free shipping offers, multiple-recipient contact forms, PDF customer invoices, sale of services and virtual goods and pick-up in store options.

The clean, attractive and fun-to-use cart was designed to be easy for online shop owners to manage. Not satisfied to stop there, the program is powerful and scalable — meaning that your business will not outgrow the program, it can grow with you as your needs grow. For example, by using the program's "Back Office" or password-protected Administration part of the Web site, the store owner can control an unlimited number of products, sub-categories and product pictures, as well as unlimited currencies, tax settings, shipping options and languages. The Back Office can be configured for users with different permissions, so for example, the store owner may limit one employee to order processing while another employee can be limited to tracking inventory.

For programmers, the program is also modular, meaning that it is easy for them to meet the business owner's needs by adding or removing functionality. To these developers the company touts its "uncluttered framework and clean PrestaShop code."

For customers, slow bandwidth does not mean slow shopping, thanks to the lightweight file size and technical sophistication. The program is very intuitive, easy to use and pleasing to the eye.

In addition to the standard features expected of any e-commerce program, such as gift vouchers, free shipping minimums, and specials, the program has premium features as well. These include cross-selling ("recommended accessories"), ability to order items that are out of stock and quantity discounts.

Installing PrestaShop

PrestaShop installation is typical of any e-commerce program: download the file, decompress, upload to the Web server, create a MySQL database and user, run the Install Wizard and then delete the install directory. Configuration is simple and intuitive.

The PrestaShop Company

PrestaShop is one of a growing number of open source e-commerce solutions created and promoted by private enterprise. CEO Igor Schlumberger and President Bruno Lévêque expect to make up what they give away by offering customization services, professionally-designed storefronts and search engine optimization, as well as hosted solutions.

The next version of the program, v1.1, is due out in early fall and is expected to offer customized products (text only), wish-list functionality, customer reviews with rating stars and a sponsor-a-friend program. The program runs on any Apache Web server with PHP and MySQL versions 5.0 or greater.

Ubercart

Ubercart is an open source e-commerce program designed to integrate fully with the content management system Drupal. Despite its German-sounding name, the company that developed it is based in Louisville, Kentucky. Like PrestaShop, development on the cart began two years ago, and a stable version 1.0 was recently released. It is based on the prior version of Drupal, version 5, and is currently being transitioned to work with Drupal version 6. Ubercart is available for free under the GNU Public License and is available in 44 languages.

Stand Out Features

What is unique about Ubercart is that its tight integration with Drupal allows you to seamlessly combine a fully-functional community, business or news Web site with e-commerce. This allows Ubercart store owners to sell members-only access to premium paid content, with automatic renewals and expiration of user access. The integration with Drupal also gives the option of using blogs, social networking, forums, newsletters or custom displays of content. It also allows the store owner to offer paid file downloads such as music, videos, e-books and software.

But wait, there's more. Other features of Ubercart include a flexible product attributes system that modify the price, SKU/model, and/or weight of items as the customer adds them to his or her cart; single page checkout, simple order processing screens, and automatic user account creation based on the user's e-mail address.

For customers, different views are possible for product display and organization by selected fields, page views and filters. "Userpoints" allows users to accumulate points for doing certain things on your Web site, such as moderating, commenting or posting notes. And leveraging the power of Drupal gives Ubercart excellent search engine optimization, content publishing capability and support for themes or templates.

For developers, Ubercart works with Drupal's Content Construction Kit, a suite of modules that allow products to be customized. Drupal's secure application framework and search engine optimization features are extended to Ubercart as well. There is a large community of developers, themes or templates and many consultants available. The program can be installed manually or via a Web-based installer.

Installing Ubercart

Ubershop is recommended to run on any Apache Web server with PHP 5 or higher and MySQL version 5.0 or greater. There is a remote installer that can be used that automates the entire process of downloading required files, installing Drupal, installing modules, and running the installation script. Whether you use the remote or manual method, installation involves installing Drupal 5 first, enabling new modules in the Drupal Admin, and then uploading four required modules and six optional modules — each a separate download — before you can begin installing Ubercart.

Ubercart is not a monolithic program, but rather a package of distinct modules, so each of 13 core modules are downloaded, plus at least one fulfillment and payment module, uploaded to your Web server and enabled in Drupal. Many more separate modules are contributed by users and available to be installed in the same way by downloading from the Drupal and Ubercart Web sites.

Setting up Ubercart

If you have set up any other e-commerce program, however, you do not need to be a developer to set up your first Ubercart store. Most configuration settings can be done in the Administrative backend rather than by programming. The list of settings is daunting, but easy to understand. The program is clearly designed for ease of use, and the development team says it is committed to continuing to lower barriers to entry for new Ubercart users.

Origins of Ubercart

According to Ryan Szrama, one of the developers, he and boss/owner Andy Lowe created Ubercart from the desire to move their osCommerce sites to Drupal so they could take advantage of Drupal's strong content management and search engine optimization. They considered adapting other e-commerce systems but decided that their best solution was creating their own modularized system. Because their primary business is running an online sales company with numerous Web sites, their focus has been on usability for their salespeople. Szrama says they believe that the program can always be better, and they are committed to enhancing it. The two full-time developers are currently working on integrating eBay auction listing, QuickBooks importing and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

More Open Source Ecommerce Options:

» Open Source E-Commerce Platform Magento Debuts

» Open Source Watch: Magento 1.1 Released

» Open Source: CRE Loaded 6.31 Released...for A Price

» Open Source Watch: Specialty Hosts for E-Tailers

» OS Commerce: The True Cost of Free Shopping Carts

» First Annual Open Source Survey Results

Kerry Watson is a consultant and author of 11 books in the OSC industry, including the latest Manual for Magento Users. Her Web site is osCommerceManuals.com.

Article courtesy of ECommerce-Guide.com