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An Open Letter to Magento’s Leaders

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First off, congratulations. It’s been a heck of a year so far. Breaking away from eBay, the engineering release of Magento 2, and the coordinated launch of real businesses on your new platform. Most organizations would be lucky to pull off one of these in the same time frame. It’s great to see Magento moving swiftly in the right direction, and its a testament to the assembled team that you’ve accomplished so much.

Of course, if that was all I had to say I wouldn’t be writing an open letter.

As it stands right now, in Spring 2016, Magento 2 is too hard, (bordering on impossible), for an average user to get started with.

I’m sure you’ve heard similar complaints from similar quarters for a while. I’m sure you’ve heard similar complaints about all software for the entirety of your careers. Technical folks always have something to complain about, and for the most part we’ll grumble, and then get on with the work of overcoming whatever it is we were complaining about. If you’ve been doing this long enough, you know its part of the job.

If you’ll indulge me though, the reason your employees/contractors/consultants, partner agencies, and third party extension developers will get over their grumbling and overcome whatever technical challenges there are is because they’re all financially motivated by compensation, client revenue, and product revenue. i.e. it’s our job.

This leaves out one all important group: Magento’s future open source user base. Magento 1, for all its issues (issues the current engineering team has done a fine job of solving), had one all important thing going for it. Anyone on the planet could download Magento 1, install it on their computer or inexpensive commodity hosting, and get started. This may not have been suitable for actually running a system long term, but it was suitable for new developers learning the platform, and for semi-technical merchants to take their first baby steps on to the platform.

Right now, this isn’t true for Magento 2, and from the outside looking in it’s hard to tell if this is a deliberate strategy decision, or if it’s something that was left on the shelf for another day.

If this is a deliberate strategy decision, it would be a gigantic mistake.

The effects wouldn’t be felt immediately — but every time a new developer, IT sys-admin, or semi-technical merchant tries to download and install Magento 2 and fails, a small bit of doubt will enter their head. Over time the available talent pool will shrink as these potentially-new-Magento-community members chose other platforms that are easier to start with.

As existing Magento 1 merchants approach that platform’s end of life, they (or their staffs and independent agencies) will also take Magento 2 out for a spin. When they fail, a few may turn to the Magento partner program or ECG for help, but far more will take a long hard look at competing CMS platforms with e-commerce components (WordPress, Drupal, etc.), at more generic framework solutions (Zend, Symfony, Laravel, etc.), or at one of the many cloud/SaaS based platforms. The feature set and suitableness of these platforms pale when compared to Magento 2’s, but the simple fact these platforms can be installed almost anywhere, by anyone, make them a far more compelling choice and easy sell.

Solving this problem isn’t rocket science, or even computer science, but it’s also not something you can check off a list and move on to the next goal. It takes a small expenditure of dedicated human capital inside the organization, and it takes an ongoing commitment to make sure that Magento 2 remains easy to start with for everyone. It’s not about gathering a list of requirements (file permissions, mod_php support, 1-click hosting support, etc.). It’s about starting with the experience of that new potential platform user and removing the obstacles that come up as they come up.

I know there are folks inside Magento chomping at the bit to get started on this sort of work, and folks outside the company ready to lend their support. If you look at the right places you can already see their work having an impact. Now that Magento’s free of mega-corporate constraints I’d urge you, Magento’s leaders, to give those folks the reins, and to make this sort of work an official priority.

No one doubts the high level commitment and investment Magento’s made to open source — all that’s required now is follow through and execution to make sure that investment pays off, and is more than just a marketing bullet.

Originally published April 3, 2016