Magento Beginners Guide… Its a Book for Magento Beginners, No-Really

Magento Beginners Guide

Anyone who already knows me knows I have a ridiculous amount of books; mostly e-books thesedays (the future-wifey takes exception to a book-based house-invasion) and mostly for reference. I am by all definition a book whore.  So when PACKT offered to send me their latest so I can review it and didn’t stipulate any real rules other than linking to their site; what the hell may as well.

[Skip To the Conclusion if you want the Skinny]

The book arrived this week and I sat on my couch flicking through while watching Come Dine With Me (sad yep) and on first review its a good beginners guide to Magento; a good one line summary for this? Imagine the Magento Wiki, with the step by step instructions, that doesn’t suck and actually works.

The book follows the standard PACKT format of providing a complete detailed contents and a ‘what the book covers’, ‘who its for’ and the ‘Conventions’ blah de blah; you just want to know what the books like.

The introduction i imagine will be read by about 5% of people buying this book; which is why I’d personally have put a picture of a dog or something interesting there. They put an introduction… Magento’s a nice system, best part is its free and if your new to working with Magento or not-so-new but equally need help that doesn’t involve trawling through the Magento forums like a hungry dog, then the books for you, god only knows its cheap enough to be worth your time. There I’ve saved you reading page 5.

From therein the book becomes more interesting (yep from page 6 to 242). Covering everything from setting up your site to managing it. The system requirements are wrong (PHP 5.2.0 or newer) good luck to anyone who wants to use Magento (at time of writing) on a PHP 5.3 server as it won’t work due to depreciated functions. No fear though, most servers wont be running PHP 5.3, I’m just being pedantic.

The Installation Guide

The installation guides thorough but I was a tad surprised to see that it spends several pages explaining CHMOD when Magento provide a script that will “cleanup” after you upload the Magento files; which if your wondering via PHP CHMOD’s all the files/folders to their correct ownership, though I’ll point out here on uploading the site the permissions tend to be right anyway. I was also surprised that the Magento Downloader script wasn’t included as a method of installation; we all know its the marmite of PHP-Script installers but when it works it works really well, when it sucks, well you can hear the obscenities from my house for miles. Even so the Downloader makes a users life a lot easier.

Not to sound too pissy here but there’s a fair chunk of this chapter that deals with DreamHost, which is fine, but there are a fair few chunks that are DreamHost specific and not to put too fine a point on it if your looking at standard shared hosting for setting up a Magento site with more than 400 products (combined total) than your not that serious about setting up a Magento Site; there’s no other way of saying this, Magento is a resource whore and needs to be fed a decent setup. Anyway grouch over, the installation guide bit is too specific in parts but still a useful guide, and I don’t agree with mentioning hosting providers in a book.

Categories, Attributes, Taxes, Simple/Super/Related Products in Magento

I’m going to say this is really handy; one of the biggest pains clients have come across is getting to understand the seemingly huge array of “in-terms” in Magento. What the hells a Configurable product in comparison to a Simple Product; though I will say now that in my opinion the configurable products should of preceded the simple product chapter, more so when you consider that the book says its a step by step guide, I’d sure as hell hate to create 30 shirts in different sizes only to realise I could of don’t it super fast with one configurable product.  The explanations are concise, the details and screenshots really simplify the instructions being given to a point where a novice client could do it without asking me, and I think, happily get it right.

In general, these chapters are great. Nothing overly wrong with any of it, I don’t agree with the chapter ordering on that bit, but not many people read books front-to-back anyway.

The Rest

The customer relationships chapter is a good overview of setting up Magento to use the email addresses that you want to use to setup your customer facing information such as customer account options. Once again well detailed and the instructional, it does miss out (well purposely sidesteps) the email-template changes that I’d say are essential, at least essential if you don’t want to send emails out with DEMO STORE on it.

Conclusion

Bar a few initial misgivings and a small amount of missing useful information, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer my clients this book with there development as a helpful step-by-step guide to getting started.

If your starting your own Magento site and fancy a helping hand its a great helper to getting past the parts that’ll take the most amount of time. A perfect companion for anyone new to Magento or about to take over a site created for them by a developer.

Splitting this down into a list (lists are great when your lazy)

Why its Worth Buying/Borrowing/Robbing your neighbour for

  • The book covers 95% of what you’ll need to know to get your site up and running.
  • Chapters are written in an almost tutorial style, so you don’t need to be a web developer to get going. Its an easy Starter for all.
  • Screenshots and lots of them, which means there’s not piles of heavy text, and with an interface like Magento it really helps to have a reference image to avoid your eyes and ears bleeding.
  • Quizzes at the end of each chapter for review-based learning; something I expect to see more in ‘Learn Some Programming Language in 21 Days’ but handy if that’s how you learn.
  • The whole book makes it easy to get started with one of the most complex, yet most powerful e-commerce systems going.
  • It contains handy little troubleshooting blobs. You’ll get used to troubleshooting fast with Magento.

 

What I would of likes ~ Stuff that you wont find in the book.

  • There’s no review of the Magento Plug-in System (ala using MagentoConnect)
  • Installation only shows the upload method rather than downloader (probably down to time of writing etc)
  • Payment setups all a bit too American, UK Setup generally involves plug-ins if you want to use anything more than PayPal/Google Checkout
  • No guide on sorting out the email templates (you can find this in the wiki)
  • Any Advanced(ish) Magento stuff, but then again you wouldn’t want to find any in a beginners book would you.

 

Well worth your cash, get a copy :o) and don’t forget to back it up with the WIKI and the FORUMS on the official Magento Site. If you need it quick get the e-book; though you cant stick post-its to e-books.

Sample Chapter + Index
http://www.packtpub.com/article/magento-beginners-guide-table-of-contents
http://www.packtpub.com/files/magento-sample-chapter-3-categories-and-attributes.pdf

Thanks to Jasmine at PACKT for the copy.

 


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