Interview with Ryan Szrama from Ubercart

Today, we’re delighted to have the chance to talk with Ryan Szrama who has just announced the launch of Ubercart, a new E-Commerce platform for Drupal.

In our comparison between Drupal and Joomla, we noted that one of Drupal’s major drawbacks was its lack of strong ecommerce capabilities. After today’s very promising Alpha release, Ubercart looks as if it has the potential to solve that problem.

Ryan very kindly took the time to explain more about the who?, why? and what? of Ubercart.

1) What is the background of the Ubercart project? How did you get started?

Ubercart was born out of a desire to escape osCommerce and move our sites to Drupal for content management and SEO reasons.  Andy employs Lyle and I as part of an online sales company that primarily operates a commercial restaurant sales gig.  We checked out the e-commerce package and for various reasons decided it would just be better to develop our own module package that would be customized to our needs.  Also, we figured it would be a lot of fun to create!  A major frustruation of osCommerce is the fact that every contribution has to be pieced into your code.  There is no modularity, and after the first or second major contribution, all subsequent installations are likely to be difficult.  We would love for every aspect of Ubercart to be extensible by third party modules, and we’ve tried from the get go to be developer friendly.

2) What are the difference between Ubercart and the Drupal ecommerce module?

As for differences between Ubercart and e-commerce, I believe a main one we keep hearing is usability.  I don’t have a whole lot of experience with e-commerce besides some modifications I did for a guy’s site a year ago, but I found the administrative interfaces to be difficult and slow to use.  Prior to development, I was the guy stuck listing product on our site.  I graduated from that into sales and still take sales calls when needed.  So now, sitting in the development seat, I’m trying to make sure Ubercart is usable for salesmen, particularly for the day to day tasks involved in processing orders.  We’re taking advantage of jQuery being included in Drupal core and using it wherever possible to enhance order administration.  We’ve put in a few key features out of the box, like anonymous checkout with automatic account generation, payment tracking, order change logging, catalog listing, etc. that we believe store owners expect to find in an e-commerce package.  The great thing about osCommerce is that you can install it and start selling things.  We found e-commerce to have a lot of overhead in terms of site setup, and we’re trying to simplify some basic tasks to give Ubercart a broader appeal.

3) What kind of ecommerce sites will find Ubercart useful?

Hopefully any site!  We won’t be naive, though… Since we ship a lot of physical goods and have a large product catalog, we’re gearing development toward sites like ours.  However, we already have one of our sister companies running a small apparel store for their school, and we hope to port a few other small stores like that to Ubercart in the near future.  We’ve spent time developing a shipping quoting API that contributed modules can tap into to quote USPS, FedEx, UPS (included with the release) shipping prices.  We hope to include some other order fulfillment, tracking, and return modules to accommodate the sale of physical goods.

4) On the other side, are there sites that aren’t appropriate for Ubercart?

Right now, the cart is not set for electronic products or site access management.  That’s not our gig, so it’s simply not first on the list to get done.  We hope it happens, and we’re developing the hooks so that developers can make it happen.  If someone doesn’t beat us to the punch, we’ll eventually get modules built for downloadables, memberships, and the like.  We’re really hoping to have a developer friendly project that inspires folks who need this functionality to come on board and take advantage of our documentation and APIs to contribute the modules themselves.

5) What does the roadmap look like for Ubercart?

Ahh… well, the goal for the 1.0 release of Ubercart is to have a suite that replaces our main website.  The look is default osCommerce, but I guarantee you the code has been hacked to bits.  With Ubercart, we’re still in a stage of aggressive development, but for a time we’re trying to foster the growth of the community through our forums and documentation efforts.  The alpha stage so far has been great, and we’re getting a lot of good feedback and bug reports.  I’ve been devoting time this week to getting our community portal up to snuff to coordinate the efforts of all those finding our software and liking it.  After this bugfix blitz is done, we’ll continue fleshing out the core systems.  We also hope to port a decent number of payment gateway modules and shipping modules over from other projects to draw in more users.  Ubercart, thanks to Andy, is getting the best of both worlds as a sponsored open source project.  Development will definitely continue until a professional, complete software package is available, and at the same time we’re able to build a community and get many developers involved in the process of making Ubercart the best it can be.

We’ve also found a lot of interest coming from the international community.  The first day brought in offers from folks on four continents to provide Ubercart support and translations.  I got an e-mail when I came into work the next morning with a link to someone’s German portal complete with a documentation translation effort.  How cool is that?  I’m hearing from more folks in more countries every day that they’d love to lend a hand.  We’ve setup a forum and section in the documentation specifically for internationalization and look forward to continuing our work with these folks who are already giving back to the project!  We had added flexibility for international usage and are getting some good feedback on how to make the code even more compatible with other address and payment systems.  Expect the project to become more international friendly as it grows.

How Can I Find Out More About Ubercart?



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