David M. Graham on June 8th, 2008
I've worked with osCommerce and its derivatives for quite some time now. So had the architects of the Magento shopping cart before they came up with the idea of building a completely new Open Source shop cart. Given that osCommerce is widely considered to be the most popular Open Source cart, and that it has at last count 4766 community contributions from its 178,210 members you might wonder why they felt the need for a new cart. It is a good question, and here are my comments on one aspect of the question.
osCommerce has a very minimal release schedule. The Open Source philosophy of "Release Early, Release Often" is just not on the agenda. The last few releases have been backports of new code with minimal impact in terms of business features available in the cart.
Magento has, thus far, offered frequent releases offering significant new functionality long requested by members of the osCommerce community. Data export tools and a much improved backend are only the beginning - the difference is just huge. osCommerce is rather undocumented - and certainly so in terms of official documentation released by the designer. It has a person (one) responsible for developing or leading development of documentation - but little if any cohesive information pertinent to the current release. osCommerce does have established (if poorly understood) API's for module development and a large body of shipping, payment and order total modules exists.
Magento has selected a professional PHP development framework on which to base development - offloading part of the development and documentation cost while taking advantage of organizations known for excellence in training. Varien has made an effort to get documentation in place with a wiki which, if not regularly maintained, does offer documentation by development team members which can be used to build shipping and payment modules. These are certainly very reasonable areas of focus for a project in this stage of its life cycle, and the practice bodes well for the future.
The osCommerce website features an active community forum with many involved community members. Quite a few of those members are technically accomplished and offer willing assistance. But there is little to no participation from the project members - announcements are few and far between and while many fans of the project constantly urge new members to wait for the 3.0 release of osCommerce - the 3 year wait for a release strains their credibility to the breaking point. If not further.
The Magento website encourages participation and has many actively involved members from both the community AND the project. The rapid move from the 0.7 release to a full 1.0 release is a welcome change. While it has resulted in some lag between semi-official Wiki postings on the APIs intermittent postings and updates by official developers offers a new hope that finally some balance between progress and stability will be available in an Open Source eCommerce project.
By now, the picture should be clear. You could say that the single biggest problem faced by the osCommerce community is the lack of an osCommerce project. Lacking this challenge, even the technical difficulties related to an EAV based database management scheme and the high demand for buzzword compliance placed on Magento coders is unlikely to hold this new kid on the block back for long.
Article by David M. Graham