Zencart, is it time to move on?

Last year, the Zencart developer team has announced a new Zencart version 2.0 to be released by the end of the year, every user was excited with the news. More than 9 months passed since then, and now it is “you’ll get it when you get it”.  Kim at zen-fu.com told me:

A client said to me “All this secrecy is very uncomfortable, this is my business were talking about…”

As I have put it before, Zencart is an open source project developed by a closed team, the people inside the team don’t want to open up to ideas and opinions  from people who use their products. We don’t know exactly what’s going on, who is working on what, and when can we expect things to be done to plan ahead. All this gets to your nerve over time, especially if you have worked on it long enough (like me).

Their usual defense is “this is FREE, take it or leave it”. Huhm, okie, it’s true. But the reason why some developers still stick with it is because we love the software, we love the community there, and we want to see Zencart as a whole becomes a successful project. However, if this goes on, perhaps it will soon be the time to “fork a real open source project” as Kim put it. We want to see:

  1. The planning and development process should involve end users. After all, end users are the ones who use the software.
  2. Faster and Open development (common, just allow other developers the ability to contribute to the core code)
  3. More frequent releases (release shouldn’t take one year and a half to be released)
  4. More features by default (again, your end users are business owners, why forcing them to learn php and stuffs?)

Right now I’m looking at http://www.zenmagick.org/ a very promising “fork” from Zencart. I have been exchanging emails with Mano the current (only) developer of this fork, and he is very open to all ideas and opinions. We will see!


  1. I couldn’t agree more. I love Zen Cart and have used it for, oh I guess, four years now.

    But the closed nature of the development is an ongoing problem. It does not take into account the needs of the users enough. I’m not looking to move away from Zen, but will be following the development of Zen Magick.

    I hope the Zen development team will take the concerns of its user base to heart.

  2. We are just about going live with a Zen Cart shop and I see your point.
    For a bit I have worked with Drupal and the community there is nice to work with and the whole community is the development team. They also have a Zen Cart integration. Perhaps a fork could be made to put Zen Cart straight into Drupal?

  3. Since there is no good integration with Joomla yet, perhaps make a Joomla fork?

    • There seem to be some zencart + joomla integration (commercial), they are not free but not expensive either. I’m not sure about the quality since I have never used any of those tho.

  4. Agreed. I have been contemplating about the same thing. It is not fair to our clients who run their businesses on ZenCart. Either deliver or we need to move on. Now with Magento – it is very difficult to ignore latest trends and moves in the eCommerce space.

  5. Emiliano Jordan

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve begun looking into other software right now. I’ve been sitting on a domain I was planning on using for zen-cart templates for a bit now waiting for 2.0 to release. It’s time to move on. I didn’t really consider a fork option, although that is a good idea.

    Also on the Joomla! vs Drupal subject, I’d be more for Drupal. I’ve had a few relatively luke warm to poor experiences with Joomla! and have been loving Drupal.

  6. I have had bad experience with Magento because of the lack of community support when you need it, and the lack of basic features such as featured products on frontpage. But it was over a year ago, I expect it to improve a whole lot already. I love the easy installation and upgrade that Magento provide, and the nice template comes by default. I expect it to be a great software and will beat Zencart hands down if Zencart’s development continues this current path.

  7. I used Zen Cart for one site and discovered from a users point of view it was very difficult to alter / upgrade. Zen magik is a massive improvement on the core and really should be part of the zen cart base it is that good (one man aswell). Unfortunately on the forum some of the responses give you the impression that if you can’t code that is your fault and it is expected for most things.

    So I moved to prestashop, this has users in mind from the start and is completely modular, maybe zencart will adopt a proper modular system, ie zenmagik as a base.

  8. I totally agree with this post! I have been using zen cart for 2 years and while I love the community and the relative ease of using and maintaining it, adding modules can be a very long and painstaking process especially after you have added a bunch of mods and have to compare and merge files. I hope that zen cart 2 will be more modular and easier to install modules like WordPress or Drupal.

    I am also sick of some of the dev’s elitist attitudes, I guess their experience with OSCommerce burned them enough that they have control issues…. I don’t know, but 2 of the 4 dev’s attitudes on the forum reminds me of the classic Seinfeld episode “Soup Nazi”. “No soup for you!!!” LOL The lack of openness and development is disturbing from a user’s point of view. It’s hard to know what to expect in terms of a development process anymore.

    I have toyed around with zen magick and this is definitely the direction that zen cart needs to be headed in. Perhaps they have looked at his architecture and are using some for the next 2.0? I am going to give zen magick a serious go for my next web project, but I am not an experienced coder yet so I don’t know if I will be able to do the customizing that needs to be done. I am familiar with zen cart’s code, thanks to all of the core hacking that I have had to do to integrate all of the modules that I have used, that making modifications is much easier now.

    If you team up with Mano and he is into getting more people on board I would be much more inclined to start putting more focus on learning the zen magick architecture and code structure so I can get familiar enough to be confident that I can take on new jobs using it. Plus, being able to contribute to the project in whatever way, probably helping with documentation/wiki/debugging etc since I am not up to the coding level needed to be able to be of benefit. Please keep us posted!

  9. @matt w:
    I think I know what you mean when you say you will invest some more time into ZenMagick once there are more people involved. However I have to say that you might be missing the point made in the original post that it might be time to move on because the wait was long enough! I guess we do have the hen and egg problem again!

    There is commercial potential in ZenMagick and also some work right now (although right now I seem to be the only one qualified

    I do not have much experience in bigger Open Source projects, but I definitely welcome anyone willing to contribute. It might be a bit rough in the beginning – some of the infrastructure is not really designed for continuous parallel development, but there are heaps of projects that manage that, so why not!

    ZenMagick has a small but growing user base; the wiki lists about 30 live sites using ZenMagick (http://wiki.zenmagick.org/index.php/Reference_Sites) and that list is still growing. (Some of the comments here indicate the same I guess)
    BTW: I’d appreciate if people could let me know about new sites or update the wiki!

    So far ZenMagick runs on top of any 1.3.8 zen cart installation. It does patch a few files, but in a way that still allows to use the original code if desired (the demo site does have a toggle link to play around with that).
    Making ZenMagick a *real* fork would be something I can’t do alone, although the benefits would be huge even at the price of breaking zen cart compatibility.

    Bottom line: I’ll meddle along and see what’s happening. If you give ZenMagick a go and you like it, please consider to blog/twitter/etc about it to spread the word.

    cheers, mano

  10. Since i’m only using Zen-Cart for 9 months now i have to say that i can still wait for zen 2.0 .
    I’m still adding new features every week to my zen-cart and i have to say the community support is really good.

    I’ve seen a couple of sites running Magento and know from a couple of sites that their conversion dropped heavily after switching to Magento and also the lack of community support is frustrating after you have come accustomed to the Zen-Cart community both in the english language and the numerous local (in my case dutch and german) communities.

    Allthough i am feeling that i now am coming to a point where Zen Cart doesn’t fulfill my wants anymore, it still fulfills my needs but i want more from the software.

    Easier templating system for instance… (yes i have been looking at zenmagick and i am going to have a go at it for my next webshop)

    So i guess my point is that the pioneers and early adopters are getting fed up with the wait, but for me as a relative newb to zen-cart i am still exploring all it’s functions, add-ons, hacks etcetera and i have to say compared with what i am used to and seeing colleagues struggle with other open source and out of the box software i will be sticking with Zen-Cart for the near future.

  11. I guess it is a lot harder to wait for professional developers that have used zen-cart many times and have run into all sorts of issues over time.

    My experience is that with each new client there are new and unique requirements that again and again show different shortcomings in zencart. Sure, after a while fixing and patching those issues becomes easier, but it is a pain and often you have to start from scratch because it is hard to keep track of all the dependencies and also the fact that it is almost impossible to reuse existing code.

    Being in that situation with you income on the line makes waiting a lot harder.

    Admittedly, I sometimes run into the same using ZenMagick! However, the difference is that I can fix that Also, I aim to release every 2-3 month, so others can enjoy improvements and fixes reasonably quick.

  12. And that 2-3 month release cycle is yet another area that zenmagick is excelling over zen cart. As I am working more with zenmagick I am more impressed! Improving the good parts of zen cart and making the bad parts much better. I am hopeful that the zenmagick project will continue to grow and improve and that others will come on board.

  13. I have been on Zen Cart for approx 4 years. I like many, have sat with hands folded, waiting for the release of 2.0… 12 months later, we are still no closer, and have no idea when 2.0 will be released. So I, like many find my self straying and looking for alternatives.

    I was looking at CS Cart, but it has issues, namely, you need to pay for a license US$250.00, which is a lifetime license to use the software in a live environment. (Yes you can d/load the trial software and use for 60 days). But without the license, you cannot participate in the full forum, nor can you d/load any add-ons. Which makes me think twice about it…

    So then I came across zenmagick, and it looks very promising, so I am contemplating giving it a try out on a test site (local server), tho apart from the front end, I’m not sure what other benefits it will provide ??? What else does ZM offer to enhance ZC ?


  14. Have you had a look at this page: http://www.zenmagick.org/overview.zm ?
    I admit that it doesn’t really cover all aspects and most likely could be written better, but it is a start.
    I think the short answer is that ZenMagick implements a lot of the things announced for zc 2.0 with the difference that it is already there!
    Personally, I would list the following as main benefits:
    * easier templates
    * all plugins work without the need to modify core files at all
    * themes have more power than in zencart
    * fully object oriented (with the exception of a few bits&pieces that still need work)
    * theme-able emails
    * simple API that allows to access all relevant data without the need to learn SQL – that means it is easy to write custom logic in templates
    * to a degree it works even with zen cart templates, so a soft migration is possible

    … but then, I am biased

  15. Hi there,
    just a quick note that ZenMagick 0.9.7 has been released.


  16. Hi guys,
    It makes me very happy that so many of us are reaching the same conclusions.
    I have already decided to no longer offer support in the Zen Cart forums, and have contacted Mano some time ago to offer support and collaboration.
    It is important to realize that, in spite of all the hype about version 2.0, it is a dead project.
    I don’t think that 2.0 will ever happen, and the reason for it is the closed nature of the Zen Cart team.
    Lastly, Zen Cart v1.3.8a is not compatible with PHP 5.3, the moment that webhosts start upgrading their systems, it will break all Zen Cart installations, including those that have ZenMagick installed.
    So yes, without any doubt, it is time to move on to a really Open Source project, but, as Mano says, so far he is the only one who knows the code well enough to contribute to it.
    So, what is our task?
    Install ZenMagick, start working on it and become familiar with it.
    Also, install Zen Cart on latest version of XAMPP (for example), or any other server that has PHP 5.3 or higher and start working on the incompatibilities so we might grab that codebase and make it compatible with new technologies.
    In other words, a real fork is the only solution.
    Yellow, please contribute to this, you have the capabilities and might port your solutions to ZenMagick

  17. I couldn’t agree more. When I first found Zen Cart 4 years ago, help and support was great and almost instantaneous from the community. However, This last year has wreaked havoc on my business. Mods break, my Zen Cart site is breaking…and I’m stuck with no help. I am now stuck having to REDO my ENTIRE site because nothing is working any longer.

    I do love Zen Cart, and want to stay faithful to it as it was a steep learning curve for me, but I’ve been waiting a long time for the new release…

  18. I have been using ZC for just under a year, it was a massive learning curve as i knew no PHP/MySQL and even now couldnt do much more than “hello world” While the learning curve was steap it was the cumminity that kept me going. The community is the only thing i stay for. i have played with other carts but didnt get very far… especially with Magento.. not only a nightmare to install but the community is just NOT there.

    I think if ZC2 isnt here within 6 months or if it is here and just not very good I will be moving over to prestashop… simply because of http://www.prestashop.com/en/features

    i will be downloading and playing with presta this weekend, I find this a very sad time indeed, but I have had several private convocations with a few ZC members about ZC2 and Kim’s attitude. All of whom have left ZC now.

    Is ZC a dead cart?… I’d say no, but it is skating on thin ice

  19. community.. lol… typo

  20. Well, I am jumping the zen cart ship and moving to zenmagick. I pulled my monthly contribution to zen cart and will donate it to zenmagick instead. The devs of zen cart are so uptight that they are killing the atmosphere of good will and support on the zen cart forum.

    Raine, I REALLY hope that you will join the zenmagick team! We need to recruit as many developers as possible to get behind this project and evolve it into a proper fork that is constantly growing and improving.

  21. I have a few clients sites using Zen Cart, and I’m very happy I found this message thread. I just downloaded the latest snapshot of ZenMagick (9.9+) and I’m going to give it a try today on a new site installation.

  22. Martin McShane

    10 months ago i said Zen Cart was not dead, well, zen cart is dead!

    Even though they have done the long over due bug fixes it is sadly just to little too late.
    I said prestashop was catching up… it has caught up and over took

    The once expensive mods to get the same functionality of ZC are now built in and free.

    for example
    Tabbed products Pro type feature – built in
    SEO URLS – built in
    Google Checkout – built in
    IH2 type feature – built in
    Stock by attributes – built in
    Ajax lightbox/gallary – built in
    Admin Profiles type feature – built in
    Google Sitemap – built in
    Google Adwords – built in
    SMS alerts – built in
    RSS feed – built in
    Loyalty system – built in
    Cross Selling -built in
    Watermarking – built in
    Google analytics – built in
    easy populate type feature – built in
    need i go on?…. ok…

    Login for prices – now available as a free mod.. that was the only thing keeping me at Zen Cart. Shipping is easier to set up, no more CSV crap. Tutorials that show you how to do things like ajax banners and the admin back end.. haha.. you can find things now!

    Of course things like the develpers tool kit is missing, but nothing ctrl + F cant do in dreamweaver and admittedly a lacking in US gateway support, but then PP and GCO are BUILT IN and there is 1.4 in production too. Now how long would it take to install the above list!.. and how much of a hack?.. god help you try and up apply one of the updates.

    i see there is another update (139e), 32 files that need winmerging and applying.. erm.. no thanks, last prestashop update i did was as simple as drag and drop. Because its OO code and modular.. and the next coming 1.3.2 update will be too.

    prestashop’s future development is open, their devs are not closed off, someone should tell the zen cart team theres is not the Manhattan Project. Prestashop is ran like a business, zen cart feel like its ran like a secret social club.

    Prestashop has a larger ACTIVE community

    Zen cart is dead! I was denying it for a good year but when you see a lot of the same usernames at prestashop that you see in in the zc forums.

    In the city I live there are hundreds of web development firms, most use prestashop or Magento. When I was trying to find a developer to bring up IH2 to php5.3 standard (long before it was thought about in ZC) I asked 30+ top local firms on google to do this. Not one were interested because it was Zen Cart (that is in a time of recession too). I had to use a web dev firm from zen carts forums, who now have a growing number of prestashop stores in their portfolio. If that isnt asign?

    And when you have three high level zc mod developers tell me in private email chats all saying zen cart is dead… then zencart is dead!

    Here is the problem. Even if 2.0 was out and stable tomorrow in OO code, it’s too late… prestashop now has all the things zen cart should have integrated a long long time ago.

    ZC was a great system.. emphases on WAS.. it isnt failing, it has failed!. because they dont have the man power for development, dont run it like a business, are behind the times and have not been watching the competition.

    as a wise man once said to me about zencart, “there is gold there, but they prefer to pave it with dirt and grass”.

    • Martin, very interesting reading about your experiences and of others here. It is regrettable that the closed shop mentality has come to this for Zen Cart considering how far it had come. Let’s chat soon.

  23. We’ve been using ZenCart for years for our site, and why I myself love Zencart, it has become far too much of a pain to upgrade, add mods, etc…A few things that really bother me are:

    1. Mod developers don’t include basic instructions for people with modded sites like oscommerce requires. I would prefer instructions of ‘add this code to this file after line.’ instead of an out of date file that I am supposed to compare to a new file.

    2. Mod developers do not include updated mods on the Zen Cart site. This should be required. Things go out of date and we don’t know unless we go searching through different peoples sites just to find the updated mod. This is a PAIN. I can’t tell you the amount of times something has gone wrong, only to find out it’s because it’s an outdated mod.

    3. Mod developers have started combining other mods in their own, thus not allowing one to know what code goes for what and ignoring what is not wanted.

    4. Mod developers do not write instructions for the beginners. We still can’t get SSU to alias our manufacturers, or remove identifiers.

    While I’m sure most of this is done for the benefit of the developers, it does make it a hassle for the Zen Cart community to stay updated.

    I really hope Zen Cart gets things together though.

    • This is exactly the reason why you should look into ZenMagick where everything can be done via admin backend and upgrading the store itself or the modules is no longer a nightmare.

      Regarding the modules, well to be fair free modules are developed out of the developers’ free time, and well we devs can be lazy to document sometimes ^_^, especially when it’s so convenient to just stick the “use this at your own risk” message there :p

      Regarding SSU, the wiki does cover in details how to make manufacturer aliases work, you just didn’t look hard enough. There is even a search function there. I’m surprised so many people complained about the lack of documentation with SSU when in fact most of the time what they are looking for is already available on the wiki.

  24. To be fair: upgrades in ZenMagick are still somewhat manual, but only for the store templates.
    All available ZenMagick plugins (http://wiki.zenmagick.org/index.php/Plugin_Repository) are self contained and except for template changes none of them require any file changes at all.

    With the code getting closer to a 1.0 release template changes also are getting less and less, so upgrades are getting easier these days.

  25. Couldnt Agree More has already been mentioned about 10 times!, so Ill say “You hit the nail on the head”.
    We have built projects with Zen since its creation, it was rough around the edges, then got better, then became a little closed grumpy club that would not let the potential of that product shine!

    So along came Prestashop, with money, backing, and a roadmap! We picked this up in its infancy also and started to build sites with it. It had some good features but was again rough! But with very quick releases it has started to evolve into a great product and easy to manipulate from a development point of view.

    So bye, bye Zen.. you were cool at the time, but have not been allowed to go any further!


Leave a Reply