Magento was coaxed into the public realm in 2008, when eCommerce was dominated by names like ZenCart, Shopify and OsCommerce. It proved to be an instant success, filling a hole that was being felt by online retailers yearning for more flexibility, scalability and security. Within months of its original release, household-name companies had migrated their eCommerce operations to Magento. In 2011, eBay bought the company, and owned it until 2015.
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At the time of writing, Magento’s free Community Edition powers just over 25% of eCommerce sites; its paid version, Enterprise Edition, accounts for a further 4–5% of online retailers. This puts it ahead of WooCommerce, the WordPress eCommerce plugin, at about 24%, and makes Magento the top platform.
As with all software, Magento has undergone numerous improvements and iterations, its open-source nature helping create a stable, demand-led platform. The original version reached 188.8.131.52 in October 2015, and there will no doubt be others, but with the release of Magento 2.0, the company has signalled a fresh start, a new platform rebuilt virtually from the ground up rather than a patched-up version of 1.0.
Why the new version?
The main driver for the new version is simply that technology and shopping habits have moved on since 2008 in ways that only the truest visionaries predicted. The iPhone was about a year old but the smartphone industry was in its infancy; tablets were some time off; and the prevailing connectivity speeds were 3G (with many handsets still 2G) for mobile and about 3Mbps for fixed broadband. Omni-channel marketing was unheard-of and, indeed, would have been impracticable under these conditions.
Customer-facing technologies are only part of the story. Since 2008 there have also been huge leaps in operating systems, computing power, browsers and languages such as jQuery, PHP, HTML and CSS, all of which are integral to Magento 2.0.
So although Magento 1.x is coping admirably with the current digital landscape thanks to regular updates and its inherent flexibility and ease of integration and extension creation, it’s essentially based on technology from the Windows Vista period. Enough said.
What developers will notice
As soon as they lift the bonnet, developers will quickly realise that the engine has changed considerably.
The most noticeable change is that the whole directory structure has changed to the kind of simple, more intuitive design that comes when you’re allowed to start from scratch again.
The range of technologies utilised by Magento 2.0 has grown, and is now a snapshot of current web technologies:
Full page caching
Apache 2.2 or later
PHP 5.5.x (minimum requirement PHP 5.4.11)
Magento UI Library
With a heavy nod to omni-channel marketing, Magento 2.0 no longer has to be a single installation on one server. Individual interlinked components can now be installed on separate infrastructures, thus giving retailers with complex demands (e.g. a physical store-front, a warehouse, a distribution centre and pop-up stalls) the ability to nimbly go about their business.
For developers, it’s worth pointing out that the Certified Developers certificates will probably need to be updated through re-examination if they are to design, develop, consult on, audit and offer support for 2.0 installations. There will inevitably be a lengthy period (of probably well over a year) as retailers switch over to 2.0, and many will take even longer than that, so Magento certificates will retain their relevance for some time to come. Note, however, that Magento certification necessarily involves a good degree of proven competence and real-world, hands-on development on the platform.
Scalability has always been important for Magento, which has always sought to be the retailer’s partner on the journey from one to one million customers, and scalability remains at the heart of the operation.
Finally, while security has always been a prime concern to retailers, in these days of social media a small breach can be devastating. Retailers and developers alike will be glad to know that PayPal, Braintree, and Authorize.net payment gateways come out of the box with Magento 2.0, and with the Enterprise edition there’s also WorldPay and CyberSource.
What’s in it for consumers and retailers?
The change that will be most noticeable by the casual shopper will be the speed. Because of more advanced caching technology and other back-end advances, pages will load much more quickly and users accessing the site will have a much reduced demand on resources. Full page caching used to be available only to Enterprise customers, but in 2.0, it will be in Community too, a massive boon for rapidly growing startups and a smart move by Magento seeking to secure long-term customers.
For those that want to get online with the minimum of development, there is also a brand new default theme called Luma, a modular, fully responsive design (yes, images too) with more typographic control.
There’s also a polished new user interface that makes it clearer and simpler for retailers to manage their stores and measure stock and revenue streams.