Monday, May 30, 2011
Broadleaf Commerce Vs. Apache Ofbiz
At first, around 2-3 years ago, I gave up on using Apache Ofbiz, because it seemed that I wouldn't be able to be "productive" with it for weeks, because of its complexity. But I noticed of Broadleaf Commerce a few months ago and I find it very interesting. The technology stack suits me a lot ( spring, spring-mvc frontend, GWT backend, hibernate on jpa spec, maven, etc.), if it utilized git and github.com for SCM, I wouldn't have anything to criticize. On the other hand they got rid of flex from backend which makes me happy :-) The principle of building customized shopping cart on this platform is very straightforward, but it expects a developer with some experience too.
First off, I'd like to mention that e-commerce out-of-the-box solutions (this applies especially for non-US businesses) are simply not able to fulfill specific needs. If you look around, you see tons of PHP shopping carts (install & go) that allows you to run a cart, but you have to live with all the disadvantages that result from the "universality" of the solution. Payment, taxes, accountancy and shipment is locale specific. They have mostly terrible architecture, missing modularity, horrible UX and tons of other idiosyncrasies... Prestashop is not that bad from what I've seen and been told.
Then there are Java e-commerce solutions like partially opensource Konakart or opensource shopizer and jadasite. Jadasite looks quite alright, but it is out-of-the-box, it doesn't even have a shell or ant script, no maven...imagine you would need to change payment or shipment module... no way. I just refuse to work with applications that depend on eclipse WTP anyway...
And finally, there are solutions like Apache Ofbiz and Broadleaf Commerce. They are not out-of-the-box solutions (well broadleaf coffee shop demo is almost production ready for US), but rather platforms. A developer utilizes them to put a custom solution together, not develop/program/code but rather "put it together", which means : infrastructure setup, beans/services/entities adding, overriding, merging, extending or changing an existing module to adjust it to a concrete region, etc. Complexity of Apache Ofbiz makes you waste a lot of time, in my opinion. Unless you are being paid for that familiarization, it's a big problem. As to Broadleaf commerce, I find it much easier. The documentation could be more actual / current though. But I think that for a developer who is new to these two platforms, choosing Apache Ofbiz means much more investigating and learning the internal working than the actual results and it is very demotivating. But in regards to Broadleaf Commerce, I kinda see everything after 2 hours of reading through the codebase.
I tried to investigate Ofbiz and I came to conclusion, that for my needs (shopping cart) it is not worth it. Its entity and service engines, workflows etc. and the way you're setting up the platform seemed very J2EE non-standard and I felt lost! Then I realized that it is probably inevitable, because how else should e-commerce platform of this caliber look like? It just can't be done as it is in Broadleaf commerce. You simply have to spend weeks learning how to become productive with it... Whole weeks ? Yeah I'd have to deliver the entire e-commerce cart myself. It's advantage is that it is 10 years old, it is roofed by Apache foundation and it has relatively big community around. The disadvantage is, imho, that its main contributors are employees of companies that doesn't allow radical changes to it which causes defensive programming and not much of a radical refactoring that would be beneficial for the platform (at least I got the impression). This is not a problem for experienced Ofbiz developers, but it's quite a roadblock for newcomers.
I spent a couple hours looking at source base of Broadleaf Commerce and I see very clearly what would need to be done to setup a maven project (webapp) that represents e-commerce cart and that just deploys to a container with broadleaf platform libraries as dependencies and works ! You can see that a few minutes after svn checkout ! There is a demo project that you are supposed to copy/use as your new site/eshop. You just override/add/merge what you need to (controllers, services, entities, jsp, css, entire modules) simply via spring configuration or filesystem changes and this way you build up your custom e-commerce cart. There is one thing that I would appreciate though : in addition to the demo site there should also be a maven archetype with default/classic template, infrastructure setup and default workflows and modules, that a developer just deploys and starts to modify. Or a theme or two would be nice. Another important point to mention is, that a good knowledge of Google Web Toolkit is great advantage, because you need it for developing backend / administration. Also Broadleaf Commerce seems to be easily deployable to Cloud Foundry for eventual scaling or other cloud-like needs. And finally, I think that this is the only and ideal e-commerce solution that would be relatively easy to integrate with Portals like Liferay or WebSphere and I'm not talking about just embedding it, but about building an e-commerce cart portlet with Broadleaf framwork. It would be tough integration job, but there is definitely no better or suitable candidate for that.
I would like to see and I wish Broadleaf Commerce a growing community because this software deserves attention.