CRE Loaded version 6.3 is out, but small business owners, hold onto your hats. To the open source commerce industry, the most startling change in this open source e-commerce program will be its new pricing scheme: the Standard Edition is no longer free.
Store Look and Feel
The program is much more professional-looking than its predecessors. The default template no longer looks identical to osCommerce, but has a sleek and stark black and white template designed and contributed by AlgoZone.com. However some of the familiar program typos still remain, and the demo copy I reviewed was missing images and occasionally did not work in both the Admin and the Store views. It is possible that some of these errors have been fixed in the distribution version.
Taking a cue from the young upstart Magento, CRE has added a One-Page Checkout that should result in fewer abandoned carts due to the tedious succession of osCommerce checkout screens. With One-Page Checkout, these screens all become one extremely long checkout screen with the same osCommerce look and feel.
Once again, the company has reserved the coolest features for the Pro version. For example, in the Pro version the Bestsellers box scrolls the top-selling products, including a clickable picture of the product. The Pro's product information page also has in-page top tabs. These features are not available in the Standard version.
Tour of Admin Interface
A tour of the Admin interface reveals a cleaned-up look and feel, though it has the same basic layout as the 6.2 version. Admin screens are a cross between Magento and osCommerce MS3 (which is widely available though still in beta).
A new Admin Blocks screen has been added to the Configuration menu so the store owner can control the blocks he or she first sees after logging into the Admin Home page. These blocks can also be used as shortcuts to the various sections of the Admin.
For non-technical store owners, the new Header Brand Manager allows store owners to upload their store logo and tagline from the Admin without programming or using a separate File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program.
Admin Home Page
The new One Page Checkout simplifies the formerly tedious osCommerce-style checkout routine. However, rather than streamlining the process, it simply combines all of the formerly sequential checkout screens into one very long checkout screen. Enable this in the Admin's Modules - Add-Ons menu.
Content Director has completely replaced the classic Information Manager for managing the store's extra pages such as privacy and shipping and returns. This allows the store manager to group information pages into categories and sub-categories in much the same way that merchandise can be grouped. However for those stores that do not need to categorize information pages, this simply adds unneeded complexity.
SEO URL 4.1 or "Search Engine Friendly URLS" a long-time goal of the osCommerce industry, replace the strings of numbers with machine and human-readable names such as shiny_red_apples.html.
Internal ImprovementsInternal improvements include Runtime Code Inclusion (RCI) for easier upgrades less likely to over-write custom modifications.
The Visual Verify Code (VVC), is now infinitely configurable from the Admin's Configuration VVC menu and may be turned on or off on many of the program's screens. VVC is the letters and/or numbers that a person is required to type to prove that they are a human and not a computer program or bot that is automatically filling in the form.
Register Globals are not required to be turned on. Most virtual Web hosts set register globals off by default, and some allow the setting to be overridden by a php.ini file. By no longer requiring register globals, small businesses will be able to host their sites at a wider variety of virtual Web hosts.
Admin Session Control is a welcome improvement that allows the store owner to set the length of the Admin session. In previous versions, the Admin default timeout was set to about 45 minutes, after which a store owner's work was lost and he or she was required to log in again.
SMTP E-mail Server Abstraction means fewer e-mail configuration errors for store owners because e-mail is not required to be sent with the sendmail command.
Industry ReactionThere is already plenty of grumbling about the removal of the free version in the CRE forums and even in the osCommerce forums. Gerald Scott, the manager of the CRE forum, has spent his days since the release trying to answer forum questions and appease the grumblers. He said, CRE Loaded is building a new paradigm in the e-commerce marketplace ...I guess what we are asking for is just a bit of time for this new model to settle in, dont be afraid of it, work with it and you will see we will all find our place and move on to a profitable business venture together!
Response to the 30-day trial version so far has been mild, with only 114 downloads recorded in the first four days of the product's release according to the product's download page.
Who Should Upgrade?Those developers who are selling to increasingly less-technical store owners should use CRE 6.3 as long as they inform their clients that the software fee will need to be renewed by the owner each year. Store owners who are strong do-it-yourselfers will benefit from less programming and more control from the Admin. The Standard 6.3 includes 30 days of free e-mail/ticket support. Pro 6.3 includes 60 days of free e-mail/ticket support.
Kerry Watson is a consultant and author of 11 books in the OSC industry, including the latest Manual for Magento Users. Her Web site is osCommerceManuals.com.
This article was first published on e-commerce-guide.com.