Practical Ecommerce

The PeC Review: Magento User Guide eBook

Magento Commerce is becoming one of the most popular and, perhaps, most exciting ecommerce platforms available. But with all of its online retailing prowess comes some level of complexity that at least a few merchants find daunting. A new ebook seeks to make using this powerful ecommerce platform easier to understand.

Four stars With advanced, built-in features like product reviews, product image zooming and panning, wish lists, price and inventory alerts, customer and sales management, sales tax rules, dynamic shipping options, and more, Magento Commerce has attracted in excess of 750,000 downloads, garnered an excellent reputation, and, one imagines, has heard at least some complaints that the platform can be hard to implement or understand.

To help these would-be-Magento users who find using the platform daunting, Varien, Magneto Commerce’s developer, has released a 222-page user guide ebook, explaining many of the platform’s set up and maintenance steps in some detail.

Our Purpose in Reviewing this eBook

Each week, “The PeC Review” looks at products (including ebooks) or services that could help an online merchant improve his or her business. Our goal is to both identify and then rate these products or services, providing you with some good decision-making information. This week, I purchased and downloaded Varien’s The Official Magento User Guide, flipped through the virtual pages, and found a great resource for novice users, earning this ebook four out of a possible five stars in this “The PeC Review.”

Video: A Quick Look at What’s Inside The Official Magento User Guide

Step-By-Step Instructions

Aimed at a non-technical audience The Official Magento User Guide offers storeowners—even those completely new to Magento Commerce—an overview of the platform and provides somewhat detailed step-by-step instructions.

As an example, the guide invests 50 pages in a detailed explanation of how to set up a catalog, seeming to cover every possible detail with text, pointers, and graphics. In fact, having already worked with Magento, I found some of the detail tedious, but for a first time user the content provides a level and exactness that I have not seen in similar documents.

The guide also walks a Magento user through every step of installing the platform (a stumbling block for some) in enough detail that I am pretty sure my 88-year-old dad—who can barely check email—could manage to get an instance of Magento up and running on a server.

A Clear Purpose and Description

The guide also does a very good job—and this was no surprise—of selling Magento’s value proposition. The first 50 or so virtual pages are devoted to explaining what Magento is and what features its front and back ends offer. This overview was helpful, and even reminded me of a couple of features that I had overlooked.

Next Time Make Videos

As good as the guide is, I would like to see a companion video tutorial series. Magento could sell it for $99.00, and offer the guide free.

Bottom Line

The Official Magento User Guide is a terrific resource for anyone wanting to get familiar with this excellent ecommerce platform, earning it four out of five stars in my review.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 12 )

  1. Chris "Cartel" English June 3, 2009 Reply

    Nice, especially on the day that Magento releases version 1.3.2.1. I wish I would have had this earlier then I might not have migrated my store to Prestashop.

    It was just taking way too long to do the simplest things. I’m definitely going to be downloading this.

  2. AmericanDictation June 4, 2009 Reply

    I bought this book, as well as William Rice’s book on Magento. I found both drastically lacking in in-depth information on how to configure Magento. These books are good at presenting a very basic overview on how Magento works, but if you really want to customize your store – and particularly if you want to create multiple stores within a hierarchy – neither book delivers.

    Most of what I’ve learned about configuring Magento has come from the forum postings and other resources. These books have become doorstops for me.

  3. Armando Roggio June 4, 2009 Reply

    @AmericanDictation by configure you mean…?

  4. AmericanDictation June 4, 2009 Reply

    @Armando Roggio:

    From the Magento promotion copy for the book: "our User Guide empowers our ever-widening customer to utilize the platform for all of its vast capacity."

    On pg 14, the book states it doesn’t cover the very items I bought the book to help me with: multiple web sites/stores/views, custom themes and skins. While Page 149 covers changing Transactional E-mails, it should have included a table showing all the various e-mails and templates that needed revision (revising these is actually a very labor-intensive operation, made only palatable by another user who contributed a SQL script to change these in the database). When replacing the product image placeholders, no mention is made as to what the sizes should be.

    I don’t think these shortcomings fulfill the promotional promise to "utilize the platform for ALL (my emphasis) of its vast capacity."

    And while these omissions would be tolerable if the on-line help worked, most times when clicking the "Help for this Section" link, it resolves to a Missing Page error at the Magento Web site.

    Understand, after evaluating many, many solutions, I still think Magento represents the best solution of the open source solutions available today. I am disappointed that the configuration is more complex than it has to be and that documentation is sorely insufficient.

    My humble suggestion would be that the promotion of the book clearly state that it is a "Beginner’s Guide." It is certainly not a complete guide to Magento (which, I will state again, is an amazing open source product).

  5. Armando Roggio June 4, 2009 Reply

    @American Dictation

    I can certainly see why you are upset. And were I in your place, I would probably feel the same way.

    Having given the guide a very positive rating (and I am still recommending it), I feel the need to explain. I did not have your expectation. Simply, I don’t expect a users guide to include information about template configuration or even template location. That sounds more like a developers guide to me. But I can see why you feel the way you do.

    If you are still having issues with the email templates or replacing the default product images, I may be able to help. I have done both without issue.

    Thanks for reading.

  6. AmericanDictation June 5, 2009 Reply

    @Armando Roggio

    Thanks for the feedback, and the offer to help. I’ve solved both already.

    You’re right in labeling this solely a User’s Guide, and if so intended for the store owner alone, then the book does a pretty good job (although I still feel many of the areas were only briefly explained). However, if this book is only intended for store owners and not developers, why include an installation section? Surely, most store owners can’t safely manage the installation of a such a solution on a server.

    I suppose my mistake was assuming that the "user" of a platform is a developer, not the store owner.

    The book, for me, should be either a Store Owner’s Guide or a Developer’s Guide, or both. Unfortunately, it is neither to the fullest extent. It was helpful in learning more about attributes, product pricing, etc., but many of the configuration functions I had to do, I had to learn through laboriously searching through the forums and postings.

    (BTW, when you do search the Magento Forums, the results all show the same promotional copy as the "snippet" under the article heading, instead of the lead paragraph or relevant copy relating to the search.)

    With a purported 500,000 downloads, I suppose I expected that someone would have by now produced a weighty tome (comparable to Dreamweaver CS4 Bible and the ilk) that would give developer and user alike everything necessary to maximize Magento. Your reviewed book is certainly billed as such on their Web site.

    Thanks again for the frank and friendly discussion. The book does have its place, I suppose; it’s just not the place I needed most.

    One final comment: the book is very well laid out and easy to read, which is unlike many technical books. I did appreciate the way it was designed, and for those tired of eye strain, this book is a welcomed relief. It also does a great job at demonstrating the most powerful features of this platform. For those contemplating Magento as a solution, it’s worth the price just to better understand what this platform can do at the store front level.

  7. petax June 15, 2009 Reply

    I have to comment that the only positive thing I can say about the "Official Magento User Guide" is that it saves the tortuous experience of trying to find and view the online documentation. There is nothing in the book that you can´t find on the Magento site, and sadly a lot of the information is ‘lacking’ in both places, or features are not even covered. You’d expect that importing and exporting products using a spreadsheet would be essential reading for anyone wishing to run a shop with more than a few score products. Well good luck, your best bet is the forum and input from other users, magento seems reticent to deliver this information. Which is crazy, as the dataflow feature, although not perfect, is very powerful once you get the hang of it.

    This is the tragedy of the situation, Magento is a fantastic application which deserves all the hype, but you have to be very experienced in this kind of thing, (and by that I don’t mean a PHP/SQL developer although it helps), just an advanced computer user who builds and administers websites. You also need to be clairvoyant, as neither this official manual nor the official documentation website are going to answer many of your most basic questions. As a previous person commented, the manual refers you to the website, and a pretty empty wiki. In fact the end of the story, so to speak, is that if you need to know anything else go to their website, ask on the forum – where for the most part it is the blind leading the blind, Magento themselves are not offering much assistance.

    The Official Manual is in my opinion simply a funnel through which frustrated but keen users will finally wind up paying Magento for support, it’s a neat trick. Pay 19 dollars for information which is pretty much identical to that available for free from their site, you wind up no better off than you were before, and unless you have great resolve, you’re going to put your hand in your pocket for official support or give up on it all together.

    Conclusion, the manual is like a thriller just when it starts to get interesting it has a missing page, or even a chapter. Quite literally a waste of money. I think the 3rd party offerings are going to have much more going for them, I have also read and used "Grow with Magento", it covers the importing of data from spreadsheets and much more not covered in the official manual, and although still a work in progress it is considerably more complete than the official guide, and the good news is that when finished, which can’t be far away now, there shouldn’t be any missing pages. Google "Grow with Magento".

  8. AmericanDictation June 15, 2009 Reply

    I just read through portions of "Grow with Magento," as well, and this was much more the type of guide I was looking for when I wasted $$ on the Official Magento Guide and Rice’s book. Sure, it’s not a polished layout and such, but I’m using it now to go through and review all the configurations I suffered through before to make sure I’m not missing anything.

    My advice is: if you’re going to buy one book, consider "Grow with Magento." It’s a PDF book (fortunately I can print 2-sided to save paper) will serve me as a desk-side reference. Still needs some fleshing out of the Multiple Store set-up section, I think, to be perfectly clear (in fact, I would recommend that this be discussed more in the beginning as one begins to plan for installation), but at least NOW I have some information with which to work!

    Kudos to James Ballotti, the author.

  9. Jared Brickman September 2, 2009 Reply

    I can appreciate needing descriptions for all the functionality of the back end. The installation guide is very handy.

    But this is my primary frustration with Magento (much like American Dictation): there is a great need for developer/designer documentation. Even just give me a cheat sheet of codes for the different templates/modules and I’ll be happy.

    Magento is awesome, but I feel like its power is trapped in that I do not know it’s basic code.

  10. Jared Brickman September 11, 2009 Reply

    Update: Dropped $25 on James Balotti’s "Grow With Magento" ( http://ipicpublishing.com/magento/index.php/grow-with-magento/grow-with-magento.html ) and it has been much more helpful than the official guide. Particularly with concepts regarding the content management system and design elements.

    Also, if you’re confused about Magento’s structure, use the Firefox ad-on "Firebug". The element inspector is a lifesaver when trying to understand Magento’s CMS.

  11. Armando Roggio September 11, 2009 Reply

    @Jared Brickman,

    Have you tried turning on [template hints](http://www.practicalecommerce.com/articles/1037-Web-Design-Tips-Configuring-Templates-Adding-a-Product-Grid-in-Magento-)? I found it to be a much better way to understand the CMS than either Mr. Ballotti’s book, which is really for novices, or Firebug.

  12. dfediuk April 10, 2010 Reply

    [Magento User Guide in Russian (русский перевод)](http://magento-forum.ru/topic/70/)

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