Magento eCommerce Software

In my spare time I help friends and family build and manage websites. Over the years I have looked at a number of eCommerce products from OpenCart , osCommerce to ZenCart as an alternative to selling on eBay or Amazon. While eBay and Amazon can be great if you don't have the expertise to integrate eCommerce software into your website; directing traffic from your website to eBay to complete a purchase can impact the user experience and confuse customers. Conversely, having a link back from your product page on eBay to your website doesn't necessarily mean you will see traffic to your site from eBay.

Last year I revisited eCommerce solutions after some time and I have to say that they have evolved significantly. In researching eCommerce solutions, I came across Magento, a PHP based open-source eCommerce platform. After reviewing it's features and user interface, I realised it was miles ahead of competing products in both these areas (at least for something that is free!). Add to that an active and helpful community supporting the free community edition, it seemed like a good choice for a small online store. That's not say it's only suitable for small sites, according to the Magento site some familiar brands have implemented Magento.

Magento is developed by Magento Inc (fomerly Varien) and was acquired by eBay in June 2011. It willl be interesting to see how this affects the future of the platform.

Magento is available in a few different flavours, the:

  • Community Edition - which is free
  • Enterprise Edition - which is sold on a license + subscription fee basis (there's is also a premium version for Enterprise)
  • Go  - a hosted eCommerce platform which has pricing plans that are very similar to regular web hosting services
I thought  I would share some of the documentation I created in setting up Magento for my friends and family. On the whole Magento has a great interface, is extensible, and is easier to configure in comparison to some other eCommerce software. That said, I still had to trawl through a lot of documentation and forums to obtain a good understanding of how the software works and how to customise it to suit your needs. It is quite complex due to the sheer number of features and it's modular architecture.

The only other downside for me was performance. For large sites with a large number of products in the catalog you might run into performance issues. Magento does provide performance optimisation guides and includes features which optimise performance (caching, combining CSS / JS files etc); however, if your web host doesn't allow you to change certain Apache or PHP settings you may be unable to implement certain settings (this is likely to be the case if you have a shared hosting package).

These are very rough notes on installing and configuring Magento. Not all the sections and settings may be applicable to your environment and it really is in note form. In some cases I decided to disable modules or functions if I was not using them for performance and security reasons. The notes are based on an installation that will not store customer information or allow customers to register. There are a lot of things to consider if you will be storing customer information not the least of which is security, SSL certificates etc.

At some point when I get the time I hope to be able to clean up the document and provide more information on particular settings / configuration items and so forth. Hopefully you find it useful in setting up your own Magento based online store.


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