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Implementing E-Commerce on Your Linux System - page 5

Previews of TallyMan, Yams, and OpenMerchant

  • December 20, 1999
  • By Kevin Reichard

OpenMerchant is a project of OpenSales, Inc., which itself is a offshoot of the idealab business incubator, which has given the world such Web sites as tickets.com, etoys.com and Goto.com.

Like the other tools here, OpenMerchant 0.7pre3 combines Web pages managed by a Web server after summoning data from a back-end database. And like the other products, it treats this data in an object-oriented fashion, dynamically generating content after combining database information with other page elements and templates. This gives the power to change portions of the Web site, such as product prices or fields included in templates, without having to change entire Web pages or chunks of online catalog.

The OpenMerchant Web site makes a huge deal about the nonlinearity of object access and the software's ability to follow a user's actions and incorporate that data toward the next user's search to anticipate their end result. We're not quite sure what all of that means--basically, OpenMerchant allows reorganization of product listings without worrying about a rigid hierarchy--and we're not sure who'll find it important, either.

OpenMerchant works with any database backend and Web server, although MySQL and the Apache Web server should be powerful enough for most online stores. (Indeed, this is the test configuration we used.) Download and configure MySQL separately before attempting an installation. The OpenMerchant setup describes how to configure a MySQL database, using several tools (DBI, DBD, and mysql.pm, used for running MySQL with Perl) downloaded from the MySQL Web site. After manually creating a directory structure, manually populate the directory tree with the proper scripts and modules.

Much of the information used is stored in the store.pm file, and running via a virtual host means first editing a httpd.conf file.

There are eight modules:

  • The Content Manager creates the online catalog, including articles, prices, documents, intermediate pages and variants. This flexible content publishing system can also include all facets of video, animation and sound.
  • The Merchandise Manager controls product displays and helps decide how products are displayed in response to customer buying patterns. The Merchandise Manager also lets retailers plan for cross-selling and up-selling products.
  • The Statistics Manager analyzes consumer traffic above and beyond simple hit counts.
  • The Vendor Manager creates a comprehensive vendor and pricing database.
  • The Order Manager provides ordering and shipping system information by customer name, address, and shipping information. This module also performs inventory order and reconciliation within a range of dates, by order number, by user and by shipped--or unshipped--items.
  • The Inventory Manager provides real-time inventory accounting along with unlimited warehouse capabilities, telling customers whether items are in stock or when reorders are expected.
  • The Search Term Manager offers customers a site search engine.
  • The Customer Service Assistant provides customer assistance in tracking orders and changing passwords.

After getting OpenMerchant actually up and running (which isn't a difficult task, despite the poor documentation), you can create an online store using a Content Manager. This process is described in some depth in the documentation, but in the end, this is just entering product information into a database to create catalog pages. The Content Manager is very flexible and powerful, with the ability to create many different kinds of pages with different kinds of content. Of the three packages here, OpenMerchant excels at creating content.

There are already several sites on the Internet using OpenMerchant for online catalogues and order processing. Since the online documentation is brutally limited, look at these to check out OpenMerchant's capabilities before bothering to download and install the source code .

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