MiniVend—the Electronic Shopping Cart
When managing an ISP, you will eventually need a solution for electronic commerce. Many possible solutions are available, but the problem is that they are either big and expensive or small freeware that does not include all the necessary options. I heard about a system called MiniVend, released under the GNU General Public, and decided to try it out.
MiniVend is a full-featured electronic catalog system (commonly known as a shopping cart) with on-line ordering capability. It is designed to provide an interface complete with SSL security and full database support.
Some of the main features of MiniVend 3.0 are:
Multiple catalogs allow one server to run many shops, so it is ideal for an ISP.
Security is provided through SSL for credit card ordering and PGP for mailing of orders.
It has a well-developed database integration with SQL support, including ODBC.
A very powerful search capability is provided with fast binary search, range searching, numeric and alphanumeric search sorting with reverse, numeric and case-insensitive options, etc.
All aspects of the appearance can be controlled. MiniVend supports frames, and the pages can be built on the fly or pre-built for heavily used items.
It is very flexible, with sales tax, discount and freight calculation, easy price adjustments and much more.
Cookie support allows users to leave the shop and come back without losing session state. It works well with all browsers and includes CyberCash support.
Easy administration is possible with automated installation and configuration, and off-line and on-line database builds.
MiniVend is a client/server system. The browser talks with a small application that in turn talks with the MiniVend server through a socket. For this reason, you don't have to load the MiniVend server for each user session, which might overload the system.
I don't know how the name came to be—there is nothing “mini” about it. It is a full-featured electronic commerce system that can meet the needs most people have for such a system. MiniVend is powerful and correspondingly complex. It can easily scale from a few items per catalog to a million items or more, with excellent performance. If you have only a few items and don't intend to grow, MiniVend is probably overkill.
The key issues are ease of use and flexibility. The system should do what is needed without too much administrative work and also include all your desired features in an easy-to-use manner.
Options that are a must include:
The ability to exchange data between internal and external databases. The product information will normally be kept in a company database of some kind, and entering data by hand would be cumbersome, to say the least.
Automate the order process as much as possible. The ideal situation will be one where you only have to feed the order into your system, with all taxes, freight costs, etc. handled by the software.
A method of handling discounts for selected customers and for volume sales should be available.
Feedback should be sent to the customer by e-mail when an order is made. This helps to catch any errors made by the system or the customer.
Security for payments is also an issue. The system needs to use SSL and perhaps another encryption protocol when it sends data to and from the database.
Good documentation and support is needed. The documentation should be so well-written that it can get you started quickly (in a matter of hours); the support should get you past any show stopper.
We all have different needs, and each person will have a preference as to what goes into a system for electronic commerce. I like a system that does only what it is supposed to do: handle product information, searching and ordering, while leaving domain name registration and chat rooms to their own specialized tools.
Whenever I have a choice between commercial and Open Source products, I always try out the freeware first. Of course, there is the issue of price, which in the case of Shopping Carts can be a very big issue. Access to the source code will in most cases guarantee that the system is more error-free, because users can have a look at the code and suggest solutions to any existing problem. After all, the users are the people who know where the trouble is, and they are normally more motivated to find and correct it.
However, it is not only a choice between commercial and Open Source systems. Other Open Source products are available, but MiniVend stands out in the features category. It is simply incredible how much functionality is provided and how easy it is to configure. All the configuration options I could think of and more are included.
Also, MiniVend is easy to use with several merchants, and I can use it with my Apache 1.3 with no problems.
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