May 7, 2010

Introduction to osCommerce


Hostway Team

By Gail Seymour

If you are considering adding a shopping cart to your Web site but want to keep costs to a minimum, you might be considering using osCommerce. Here is a brief overview of the pros and cons to help you decide if osCommerce is for you:

Advantages of osCommerce

  • The software is freely available for download on an open source license, meaning you can view and even change the code to suit your purposes.
  • It is supported by a large community of developers and has an extensive library of plugins available.
  • It's also ready to go with little input from the user beyond entering the product information and payment gateway details.
  • It supports a wide range of payment processors and offers the ability to add your own if yours isn't currently supported.
  • It's feature rich, with a graphic Web-based back end admin, the ability to calculate shipping and tax rates, upsell and cross sell, and it allows customers to view order histories and track orders.
  • It's template-based, so you can design a new look to match an existing site or just to be unique without breaking the scripts.
  • Perhaps most importantly, version 2.2 is widely available from Web hosts on the popular cPanel domain management console, and has an automatic browser based installation and upgrade procedure, meaning it's easy to implement and keep up to date.

The Disadvantages of osCommerce

  • Free to you also means free to hackers, who can and do search the Web for standard installations to target. Changing a few settings and installing a good security plugin may deter the opportunist, but these plugins are open source too, and if your site becomes high value, it could attract the attention of more determined hackers.
  • When you upgrade, your plugins might stop working due to changes in the base code.
  • This, combined with the need to alter the basic template if you want anything other than a generic looking outdated user interface means to get the most out of osCommerce, you really need to know or learn a fair bit of coding.
  • If you install the 2.2 version from your Web host and rely on them to update the base code for you, you will be working with an out dated piece of software that doesn't comply with current coding practices. The older software relies on tables for layout rather than the current practice of using CSS style sheets for all layout information and reserving tables for presenting data. Although you may not think this is important, it could severely hamper your search engine rankings.

If you have the access and the technical ability to manage installation and updates yourself, using the newer 3.0 version will resolve this issue. Version 3.0 also has an object oriented back end, making it simpler, faster and more efficient. It also introduces the ability to edit and manage templates from the admin interface. So the decision whether to go with osCommerce might come down to whether or not you are able to install the most recent version.

About the Author

Gail Seymour has been a Web site designer for more than ten years. During that time she has won three design awards, and has provided the content and copy for dozens of Web sites and more than 50,000 Web pages.

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