For my current position at Gecko-Research, I have to set up an online shop for their fledgling software retailing business. Since they want to keep initial costs low, and since I prefer to use free software whenever reasonable, I started looking around for something gpl’d. I decided on Zen-Cart since it seemed to have the most active community. It’s apparently a branch of another project called osCommerce. Both are gpl’d project, but neither are paritcularly open. I suspect everything I’m about to say about Zen-Cart is true about osCommerce, but it’s conjecture, as I haven’t spent too much time investigating the issue.
I think I can say some things specifically about Zen-Cart however. The Zen Cart project seems to be suffering from a kind of schizophrenia. I think the people currenlty running the project, and owning the trademark, really want to be selling proprietary, copyright software, but since they started with GPL’d code, they can’t. Whether or not this the case, they certainly seem to be pretty frustrated. It’s been years since they’ve had a release. They keep promising more and more whenevery they finally do release again, but they keep pushing the release date forward, and the proposed release number up. That’s always a bad sign. It’s especially wierd in a free software project, because it’s just a cheesy marketing ploy: oh yeah it’s been years since we released anything, but that’s becuase we’re totally making huge changes.
The problem is they suffer from a lack of income, since their software is gpl’d you can download it for free. That’s okay, but they refuse to accept the advantages that the gpl grants: namely you gain an active an helpful user body. They seem to chase off anyone who tries to contribute. For example, if you want to contribute to their documentation wiki, you have to send a PM to one of the adminstrators to ask for a wiki account. There’s nowhere on the wiki that tells you this either (well there is now, i added it). I had to post a message to a forum, and then follow a link someone sent in reply. I had to tell them what I was interested in working on, and had to respond to several antagonistic emails from one of the site admin when I tried to fix up a few other pages which were particularly rotten. No wonder many of the pages haven’t been touched since 2005, and why the wiki is stagnating and largely useless.
Anyway, it’s a usefull enough codebase that I’m going to use it and not start from scratch. But for the sake of my work colleagues, I think it’s important I document some of the issues I had to deal with to get our shop up and running properly. I would prefer to do this in the zen cart wiki or forums, but my impression is I have to be fairly careful what I say over there, or I’ll just get banned. Thus I’ll be posting a bunch of aritcles on the subject here, whenever there’s something I, or my colleagues might need access to in the future, particularly when I think that information might be more generally useful. I’ve also had some thoughts regarding the nature of working on a distributed, and particularly a free project, and how to keep it from staggering like the Zen Cart project seems to be doing. In other words, I’ll be doing a little venting here as well. So I”ve made a category for the subject.