Should Open Source mean a poor user experience

  • 1
  • July 30, 2007
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Yesterday I spent a frustrating hour trying to create a web shop for a
new client. I’ve not installed an open source php web store for a
couple of years and assumed that things would have moved on a bit
since my last Oscommerce install in 2005.

Having installed Oscommerce via cpanel I loaded up the site and got a
blank white page with the following error at the top:

Server Requirement Error: register_globals is disabled in your PHP configuration. This can be enabled in your php.ini configuration file or in the .htaccess file in your catalog directory.

No detailed instructions on how to fix it, no link to the support section of the site. Just an unfriendly error message. Obviously I know about php so
knew exactly what the message meant but how is a normal user supposed
to know how to turn register globals on using htaccess? Googling the
error message told me that the htaccess files in every directory
needed to be altered to make the software work. Having register
globals turned on is a security risk and it seems unbelievable that
open source software, which may well have security holes, still
requires this in 2007.

After the poor user experience of this first error message I decided
to try Zen Cart which is a derivative of Oscommerce and appears to be
regarded as a better solution.

Zen Cart installed OK but the admin section is unbelievably
complicated. I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to upload my
first product and even then got an error message about some undefined
variable in a php foreach loop on line 317. The standard template wasn’t the best either.

Zen Cart has a terrible url structure so the first mod was a search
engine friendly url plugin which provided another poor user
experience. I think I got this wrong somehow and caused the php error
message mentioned above. There are loads of files to be uploaded to
different places and the instructions are not very clear. How hard
would it be for the urls to be search engine friendly by default?


If you spend a few hours installing plugins and themes WordPress is
great. However, out of the box it has awful themes, bad optimisation
and unfriendly urls. Imagine if the default WordPress install had urls
that actually looked nice and every page had a unique title and meta
description. How amazing would it be to open up your blog for the
first time and see a really nice theme that you might actually use
rather than something that only millionaire owners of dating sites
dare to leave unmodified.

WordPress already has the capabilities to do this and I really can’t
figure out why they don’t. Thousands of bloggers are left scratching
their heads trying to create better blogs without knowing which
plugins to install. If the WordPress team just made the software work
as it should right out of the box the internet would be a much better