Review – Mambo-phpShop

Over the years, I’ve tried out hundreds of scripts, shopping carts, databases, etc. for my various websites, most of them Open Source. “Mambo”:http://www.mamboserver.com/ is the first one I’ve felt compelled to review.

Mambo by itself is a pretty good CMS. It has a “large user community”:http://forum.mamboserver.com/, plenty of “add-on components and modules”:http://mamboforge.net/, seems pretty stable. And it’s easy to set up your own templates (I’ll get to that later). But I don’t usually have a need to set up a CMS. Until I noticed “Mambo-phpShop”:http://mambo-phpshop.net/. phpShop has been around a long time. I tried it first a few years ago. Like most of the e-commerce/catalog open source software I’ve tried, phpShop was a bear to customize, as far as the look of your site goes. At least for me (not exactly a PHP guru here). I liked “osCommerce”:http://www.oscommerce.com/, but it too was hard for me to change into something that didn’t look so, uh, commercial. (but, duh, it’s a free catalog, duh, so quit bitchin’)

But now, phpShop has not only developed itself to work with Mambo; you can “download it”:http://mambo-phpshop.net/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=74&Itemid=66 fully integrated into the latest Mambo install. And it’s unbelievably easy. My first run-in with shopping cart scripts were early one’s (back in ’95) like “Salena Sol’s”:http://www.extropia.com/products.html. The Salena Sol package was a bunch of perl scripts that ran from your cgi-bin. You had to tinker with the various .pl files to get it to work. It was hair-pullin’ stuff, but I learned a lot, and I appreciate Sol’s early work in bringing commerce to the web with free scripts that he developed on his own (and is still doing and creating modern shopping carts as well as other apps).

These days, kids don’t like to work so hard, and Mambo-phpShop knows who you are.

Loading it up on the server is probably the hardest part. For most kids, after unpacking the gzipped tar file, it’s ftping the whole load up to the server. For other kids, you ftp up the binary to your new directory and from the shell type:

gunzip < file.tar.gz | tar xvf - After that, it's whizbang. You pull up the URL of your new install in the /installation directory and a wizard walks you through it. The wizard can even tell if your installation will fail beforehand and it lists the changes you have to make (usually file permissions). If you've entered your MySQL paths, passwords, usernames, etc. correctly in the wizard, your new Mambo with PHPShop install works right out of the box. You can start addin' products through the web interface, or just upload a .csv file listing all your stuff. Want to incorporate other neat components and modules you've found? Just login to the administrator area, go to Add/Remove Components, find the downloaded .zip file on your hard drive and click "Install". Bingo. Done. Want to give other users various levels of administrative priviledges so they can post articles, upload .jpgs, add/remove products on their own, etc.? Mambo is perfect for that. But these days, lots of shopping cart/catalogs are almost this easy to setup. What's hard is getting it to look like anything you would've designed yourself. You end up either customizing it "slightly" (if you're me) or spend hours, days and weeks reading the forums to figure out how to turn it into a thing of beauty. But hey, whadaya want for nothin'? Ya want Mambo-phpShop. The person who runs Mambosolutions.com (I think it was him) has developed a "Dreamweaver extension":http://mamboforge.net/frs/?group_id=106&release_id=1801 for Mambo. He even wrote an easy "build-yer-own-template":http://www.mambosolutions.com/dw_tutorial/#dw_extension how-to. After you install the Dreamweaver extension, you basically create a new index.php file, make it with tables or CSS, whatever, and click on the Mambo toolbar buttons to add various PHP scripts to wherever you want them to appear on the site *you* designed. Want time/date? Click here. Want menus? Where? Okay, click there. Basically, your entire site is built around 3 template files that you can change any time: index.php, whatever.css and whateverelse.xml. And in case that's too hard, the template how-to tells you how. If even that's too hard, there are a ton of good looking "free templates":http://www.mambohut.com/component/option,com_wrapper/Itemid,75/ you can download and alter to fit your own concept. I'm in the process of building a community site where everyone can sell their work and talk about it in forums. It's not done yet. MamboPHPShop has been perfect so far, but I've got a long way to go to get it fine-tuned.