Some thoughts about Zen-Cart

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.

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts about Zen-Cart

  1. If you are interested in improvements to the templating (well a real alternative), most of the features of the announced zen cart 2.0 and a bunch of other goodies you should have a look at ZenMagick (see URL).

    It’s a mod for zencart, which means, you install zen cart and then ZenMagick on top.
    However, the zen cart people consider it a fork (even though most of the code is new and not modified…), so they kicked the project off their contributions section. Perhaps they got worried about competition.

    ZenMagick is proper OpenSource – it’s hosted at sourceforge (really, not just releases uploaded…) and I welcome people to contribute.

    Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that the OO API can be used from zen cart templates too without the need to write a lot of new code to read/write the database.

    I’d be interested in any form of feedback.

    Cheers, mano

  2. Glen,
    I have been a regular contributor to Zen Cart and fully agree with your impressions.
    I would be even more rabid.
    Thus, I have encouraged the ZenMagick programmer to completely fork Zen Cart and start a new “distro”.
    I have pledged my help and support, but he needs more than just me: money, contributors, programmers, etc.
    Would you be so kind as to offer support for him in his forums at Source Fourge?
    He still does not know how to handle the huge job he has been handed.
    He was forced out of Zen Cart, but still continues to use their codebase, because it is too much for just one guy to take responsibilty for updating the whole code.
    Now, there is a big problem.
    Zen Cart is a dead project, it is not compatible with PHP 5.3 and webhosts will soon upgrade their servers to that or higher.
    I strongly doubt that their much-hyped version 2.0 will ever see the light, so lots of websites will be hanging out in the blue and many store-owners left stranded.
    This is why I think that it is URGENT to fork Zen Cart and make ZenMagick compatible with new technologies.
    Please help.

  3. Glen,
    I encourage you to contact the ZenMagick programmer, and follow up with your pledge to help out.
    He has been handed a huge task, and is unsure on how to proceed.
    He needs help: participation, involvement with the project, help with development,etc.
    He is quite certain that he wants to develop ZenMagick as a distributed environment, not as the pseudo-propietary software of 4 epitomes.
    I am very much aware of what is going on with Zen Cart, and I doubt that version 2.0 will ever see the light.
    Now, there are grave consequences to this because version 1.3.8a is not compatible with PHP 5.3, so all websites based on it, included those based on ZenMagick, will soon break.
    Please help to bring about an e-commerce open source solution that will work with new technologies.
    It is not something that only one person can do, so help him, and take ownership and pride in being a part of the ZenMagick team

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