I'm finally down to just the finishing touches on that osCommerce project I mentioned about last month. The site is Dakota Angler, a fishing bait and tackle store, that finally is ready to sell their goods online.
What made the project challenging was that it already had a presence on the Web providing fishing reports, images of big catches by the customers, and an active forum. Having to integrate a new shopping cart around the old site in a way the client was comfortable took some effort. He wanted the online store, but he didn't want to change the existing site so much that he lost his current users or made it difficult for his employees to learn "everything new". There are some practical business decisions as to why you don't want to fancy up a "bait store" too much for the customers.
Just as challenging to work with was the choice of software for the online store, osCommerce. As I've mentioned before, I'm just a little surprised with how much work was required in hacking the core. In osCommerce, I found that the "boxes" and much of the other non-product content are stored in "flat files" and not the database.
Perhaps I have been spoiled by more modern content management systems out there where almost all content is stored in the database. In the CMS that I use today, if I want to add a "box" on my page, it just takes a simple couple clicks with the mouse in the in the administrative menu and the job is done. With osCommerce, you have to hack a couple files to get the job done. While modifying the files in osCommerce is not difficult for anyone with programming experience, it can be very difficult for the "average" client.
However, in osCommerce's defense, the software works. While I would like to see osCommerce updated more quickly than it is, its long development cycle has also allowed for some very extensive documentation to be written. I think this is the first time I used a CMS where I almost found all my answers though a single portal, osCommerce.com. In some open source projects, the documentation is found less in writing and more in the "culture" of the project. With osCommerce, I never felt that I was left in the dark as to how or why a modification to the core should be made to get the features I wanted. Having good documentation says a lot to me.
I look forward to the next version of osCommerce, version 3.0 which is still under development. I also have interest in comparing the new version of osCommerce with the ecommerce modules yet to be released in the current betas of Drupal 5 and Joomla 1.5. For now though, it will be awhile before I touch another time consuming project such as an online store. Time to have some real fun...