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BTS -vs- STS - A Discussion of merrits

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I have been researching in the forums to help me decide if I want to use a templating system and, if I do, which one to use. From all the posts I have found so far I have seen a lot of positive things about STS. However it also seems that 90% of those positive posts are from the STS author. That's not particularly a bad thing because it reflects the willingness of the author to support his code. If you take out all the posts from the STS author I think that BTS tends to have more positive comments than STS. But then BTS also has many more negative comments.

 

I think when considering this topic there are three objectives to keep in mind. Here is what I am looking for.

 

1. The option that provides the most flexibility in making changes to sites and building new sites is very important. It has been well established that providing a new look and feel in a site on a regular basis is important to attracting new customers as well as holding on to existing customers. Plus you want to spend your time supporting and attracting customers. Not modifying your site.

 

2. The option should provide an easy and simple means of building custom sites and adding new functionality to a site that takes advantage of all the capabilities of osCommerce AND the add-ons that are available. If a template system makes it difficult to use the various functions of osCommerce or new add-ons it becomes difficult to accomplish item 1.

 

3. Finally I would be looking for an option that has the least impact on the base code of osCommerce if at all possible. This means both the code itself and the efficiency of the code. A change as significant as a templating system should be thoroughly reviewed and tested to make sure everything is solid and functional.

 

One other factor in choosing this or any other Contribution is the support that is available. It is preferrable to be able to get feedback from the author. But even if it is a group who are using that Contrib and can answer questions is better than no support.

 

I would appeal to users of the STS and BTS contributions to provide some feedback regarding their experiences with STS and BTS. Comments from the STS author are welcome but I would request that those comments be kept short. Preferrably one short paragraph or less. Please don't post a 3 page justification of why we should use STS. You have already done that in other threads. That is not what this thread is for. I am hopeful that we can get some real comments from actual users of these contributions regarding their use of STS and BTS. It would be nice to get short responses from the STS AND BTS gurus providing feedback on any specific issues.

 

One other request regarding this thread. Please don't ask for support for specific issues here. There are support forums for these contributions. This thread will hopefully discuss the merrits and technical issues of each contribution not technical problems that need to be resolved. Does that sound fair?

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STS is clearly the better choice between the two. BTS is basically useless unless you plan to resell templates, like some of the forks. For a regular shop, it doesn't provide any useful advantage and needlessly obfuscats the code. And since it requires some knowledge of the code structure of oscommerce, you would be better off just editing the files directly, if you already have that knowledge. If you don't have it, then BTS wouldn't help you at all in the first place.

 

Jack

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Thanks Jack..

 

I have read in a few posts that STS tends to slow down a site. Is this true? Does it go through a generate cycle each time a page is displayed? Or does it generate an intermediate page that gets cached for subsequent displays?

 

Also I have read that BTS separates the HTML structure from the PHP structure. I understand the problems that can cause with other contributions. Being a Java developer that is extrememly logical to me. Being a developer I don't have a problem with digging into the code. As long as it had its advantages.

 

Jumping to a conclusion here it would seem to me that a sysnthesis of both systems would be ideal. Separate the functional PHP code from the HTML skeleton and CSS. I have worked a bit with Joomla. Although I haven't dug into the code my impression is that it's built in template system follows the separation approach. It's template system is pretty neat.

 

I tried installing BTS. Ended up with errors. I haven't researched the issue or attempted to get some forum help yet. That seems to be where the bulk of the criticism of BTS comes in. You would think the oscMax group would take ownership of BTS since they have implemented it in their product. But they don't exactly have a high quality type of individual involved over there. Ask a question and you are more likely than not to get insulted. They act more like a high school geek squad than serious professionals. So BTS is getting pretty weak.

 

Next I'll try installing STS and see what happens.

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STS does add extra code that has to be handled so there will be some extra load. But I think it is minimal to the point of not mattering nowadays.

 

Jack

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I have read in a few posts that STS tends to slow down a site. Is this true?
I believe that Paul Mathot did a test of this a while back. You might find it in one or more of the BTS packages. As I recall, all three methods (stock osCommerce, STS, BTS) had similar times.

 

Does it go through a generate cycle each time a page is displayed? Or does it generate an intermediate page that gets cached for subsequent displays?
Neither STS nor BTS offer any page caching integration. I believe that the normal caching methods should still work, but don't quote me on that. I haven't tried caching with STS or the BTS. The part that stays the same from page load to page load with the STS is the template. Since the template is just a static HTML file, I'm not sure what would be cached.

 

The way that the STS works is it generates the normal osCommerce page with the normal HTML and uses the PHP ob handler to capture part of the output. It then trims off the HTML that it doesn't like and uses the captured pieces to fill in values in the template file. Conceptually, the STS is wasteful. It generates an entire page to use only part of it. In practice though, the waste is entirely PHP time and is a very small part of the overall page generation.

 

Also I have read that BTS separates the HTML structure from the PHP structure.
Well, it starts to do so. Essentially how the BTS works is that it divides each file into three parts: a data part, a common HTML part, and a page specific HTML part. The data part is essentially the part of the original file that occurs before the HTML starts. The common part is the header, footer, and columns for each page. Note that this includes the head section. The page specific HTML part is what renders the central portion of the page.

 

Beyond that, the BTS makes very few changes to the code. If you put the BTS files in a diff tool with the stock osCommerce files, it basically shows a bunch of lines that are the same, and then a bunch more that are in the stock file but not the BTS file. Unfortunately, there is still layout and logic integration in that.

 

I understand the problems that can cause with other contributions. Being a Java developer that is extrememly logical to me. Being a developer I don't have a problem with digging into the code. As long as it had its advantages.
I haven't had any problems installing contributions with the BTS. Since it basically just splits the relevant portions of the file into two parts (contributions usually don't change the common part--more about that later). It's just a matter of opening two files to make the changes rather than just one. It's not a mindless activity where you simply follow the instructions, but it's not exceptionally difficult either.

 

With a contribution that does change the common part of the page (e.g. Jack's Header Tags SEO), you need to make the changes in the common template. This actually demonstrates the power of using the BTS. For Header Tags SEO, part of the instructions are to open as many of the files as you want to have use the system and make the same change in each file. The BTS specific instructions say to open one file and make the change to that one file. The STS instructions say to open a file and change it and then have you make three other changes to make that change work.

 

In general, that's been my experience of the two. The BTS has you make the same changes but in different places. The STS has you make new changes to enable the change that the contribution would make. If someone else has already done the STS integration, you are back to just following instructions. If not, then you need to have PHP knowledge to integrate the contribution into the STS -- unless you are fortunate enough that the contribution only changes existing output that the STS passes through.

 

The STS is good at allowing someone who knows HTML but not PHP to change the osCommerce layout. However, once you have it installed, you are limited to the following options: only installing contributions that are STS compatible; learning PHP and the STS so as to be able to modify contributions to be STS compatible; paying someone to integrate contributions with the STS. Obviously, the second option makes a mockery of the original reason to install STS. However, for those who are comfortable with the idea of paying to have non-STS compatible contributions integrated, it does provide the easy layout changes.

 

The BTS is good for someone who either likes changing among different layouts or who simply doesn't like making the same change to thirty odd files. Like the STS, it also requires that you understand a bit about PHP and how the BTS works in order to integrate contributions (especially those that add new pages to the catalog side). I don't believe that it has ever claimed to be good for people who don't know PHP, and it isn't. It's designed for a developer to use to make changes in one place and have them affect the entire site.

 

If the goal is to be able to easily allow store owners to integrate contributions, then it doesn't really matter how you change the layout of the site: manually, with the STS, with the BTS. Making significant layout and HTML changes will break existing contribution install instructions because the existing 2.2 series code does not separate layout and logic. Therefore, contribution install instructions will tell you to find the logic embedded in the existing layout and change it. If you change the layout, then the markers for the instructions are lost as well.

 

The obvious solution would be the osCommerce 3 version. Its presence will keep there from being a BTS for v3 (there might still be an STS, as the purpose is different). If the goal is to have a template system for which all contributions will be available, this will be the only game in town. Of course, it hasn't been released yet, so the contribution support is not there. However, contribution support for v3 will grow, while 2.2 will start to wane.


Always back up before making changes.

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This is very, very good input. Exactly what I have been looking for and not been able to find anywhere.

 

For me the most important thing is to be able to provide a mechanism that allows me to present a changing look of my store front to the end user. It has been established that having a fresh look on a fairly frequent basis helps to retain customers. If a website has the same look month to month and year after year it gets boring. I know it can be argued that customers get used to a certain way of doing things and complain when that changes. But the vast majority prefer the changing look. It gives the impression that you are constantly adding new things and prompts them to look more closely at your products.

 

This approach does preclude simply coding your look and feel into the base osCommerce code itself. As I said in my initial post, one criteria is not to be spending an inordinate amount of time working on osCommerce itself. So having a mechanism that allows me to easily create new look and feel without major effort is a primary goal. For me it would even be acceptable to have a round robin of templates that get randomly selected for each visit to the store front. At the very least I want to be able to quickly go in and change the active template as often as I want. With several templates immediately available.

 

Easy implementation of contributions is preferred but not essential. After all, installing a contribution is not going to be an ongoing task once the initial website is up and running. I am in the process of selecting the contributions for my initial website. I suppose that it is unfortunate that the template system need to be implemented first. That just complicates all the other updates. But it is really more of a one time effort. Or at least maybe not more than once or twice a year. I had initially picked the osCMax release as it had BTS and most of the other contribs I was interested in. But when I asked a question on their support forum I got ridiculed because I am using Windows. So I'm not interested in dealing with kids playing at adult activities.

 

So I am starting from scratch. I have no problem with that. But knowing that the template option has to come first I don't want to find out after a week of effort that I picked the wrong one. I am sure that there are many others out there that feel the same way. There is good and bad about either option. Knowing what that is makes the choice much more intelligent.

 

My thanks to everyone who has responded. It would be nice to hear some success stories as well as failures.

 

One other question. Since STS appears to be more active I would make the assumption that there are more stock templates available for STS. Is this a true assumption? That is not a critical criteria for me. I find that 99% of all templates basically have the same set of items on the page and just change the color scheme and header. I want templates that actually change the overall look and feel as well as varried content. So I see myself working on templates myself. Which option would you say it is easier to build new templates from scratch or through cloning?

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Main difference i have found between STS and BTS

 

STS is more for just layout,

BTS is more for coders/layout

 

The amount of people i have seen in one page checkout support thread having problems getting it to work with STS and having to hire a coder to add extra code to get it to work

 

I have never had that problem using BTS and adding one page checkout, ok i have to split the file but that no biggie.

 

There is no way to get Infobox admin contribution to work with STS, unless you do a lot of recoding of that contribution, where as with BTS no recoding is necessary

 

It is a lot easier to add java code with BTS than STS, not saying you cant with STS its just easier with BTS

 

BTS have you to do some minor code changes to any new info boxes you add, but its not hard to do

 

Both have their merits and downfall

Edited by steve_s

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"It has been established that having a fresh look on a fairly frequent basis helps to retain customers."

 

established by whom?

 

I have learned this through the years researching various topics for my own work. I develop enterprise level business applications on the web. To maintain the interest of your customer base it is better to have a new fresh "look and feel" on a fairly regular basis.

 

I have come across this recently while performing research getting ready for my own entry to eCommerce. Several drop shipping websites I have visisted have a lot of "do's and don'ts" regarding how to build a successful eCommerce website. Two biggies on most of these lists are keeping your website clean and simple and providing a fresh look fairly frequently.

 

I know this is somewhat vague but you learn things as you go through your career. I don't stop to keep notes on where each fact comes from so I can specifically quote it later. This can easily be argued either way. Personally I always felt that if you come up with a solid, easy to use design it would be best to stick with it. But after reading articles from various experts it seems just as logical to have multiple designs.

 

I'll give you a scenario. You've had the same layout for 6 months to a year. Your regular customers have gotten used to this layout so they know exactly where to go to obtain specific items. So they never spend any time just browsing. One day a repeat customer brings up your site and things have changed. (Hopefully the new layout is just as easy to use as the previous one.) So that customer spends some time browsing the site. Maybe they end up buying some items they would never have seen on the old site because they knew how to go straight to an item on the old layout.

 

One more scenario. No matter what you do there are going to be folks who don't like a particular design. They hit the main page from a Google search, are turned off by the look and feel and immediately leave the page. By changing the look and feel occasionally you might start turning those new visits into customers. Existing customers are less likely to be turned off by a look and feel change.

 

It's up to each store owner to do what they feel is in their best interest. But there's nothing wrong with learning new approaches and the reasons behind them.

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Main difference i have found between STS and BTS

 

STS is more for just layout,

BTS is more for coders/layout

 

.......

 

It is a lot easier to add java code with BTS than STS, not saying you cant with STS its just easier with BTS

 

BTS have you to do some minor code changes to any new info boxes you add, but its not hard to do

 

Both have their merits and downfall

 

I guess that was my main goal in starting this thread. I do agree that both seem to have their merits and downfalls. But it is not easy to discover exactly what they are. I was hoping to eventually have a thread where someone could go and gather enough information to decide which one to use.

 

Most of the feedback about BTS is that it takes a lot more PHP coding. So far what I have found is a total lack of technical details. Did anyone every create a "how to" document on creating templates for BTS? Or does each store owner have to go through that process each and every time. Based on what I have read I think BTS could be the best solution for what I am trying to accomplish. But I don't want to go through a massive effort just learning how to make it work. I want to get my store front up and running.

 

There is little or no support for BTS. Would some of the advocates for BTS be willing to form a support group that would start generating some valid documentation and start maintaing the code again? I know there was a recent release of BTS supposedly to support v2.2rc2a but I don't see much of anything else going on. There needs to be some template efforts going on for BTS to make it accepted.

 

Is it even worth it with v3 coming out with it's own template system?

 

I am getting ready to try STS. If I can get multiple templates implemented easily and without a lot of pain and agony I'll probably go ahead and go with that. But I will be interested in the state of template management in osCommerce.

 

I do appreciate everyone's feedback.

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From a coding standpoint BTS is easier to use , if you are not so php savvy but do know HTML well then STS is easier.

 

But then again it might be shooting yourself in the foot, because if you want to add further contributions/add-ons later then adding them to a STS based store is more difficult again.

 

 

 

If you don't need any "extra" functions right now, then it might actually make sense to use 3.0Alpha5 which comes with a template system as default.

Edited by toyicebear

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Burt's answer earlier in this thread is kind of what I was looking for but maybe others have something to add.

 

There is absolutely no need to install either STS or BTS. Both these are unnecessary as it is as easy to simply make your design changes to a stock oscommerce.

 

In the past (we are talking years ago), I created the -same- site using stock, STS and BTS. STS came out the worst of the three, however since then STS has been recoded and so my testing from back then is now null and void. As I recall, stock osc came out on top!

 

However, using stock osc does mean a little more work (eg to remove a column, you have to amend 30 files) - but I found with a search and replace tool it can be done in seconds.

 

I think what I am trying to say, is this;

 

don't forget plain and simple stock osc - in addition to sts and bts

I have a need to set up a new store and I don't have any active ones right now (ones that are actually selling anything). I've decided to start fresh and for the first time I've thought about using a templating system so I've been doing some searches to see if there is any real reason I should.

 

I'm not worried about messing around with code, I've been doing that long enough but I did a few mods for phpBB and came to really like their system which is completely template based.

 

But... reality intrudes, I don't want to use version 3 for an live store and I can easily live with the structure of V2, I understand it quite well even if I'm not really that fond of mixing php and HTML any longer.

 

So the question is, should I bother with a templating system and spend time fooling around with that or just stick with what I know?

Edited by AlanR

Local: Mac OS X 10.5.8 - Apache 2.2/php 5.3.0/MySQL 5.4.10 • Web Servers: Linux

Tools: BBEdit, Coda, Versions (Subversion), Sequel Pro (db management)

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Well, you said I couldn't post unless I kept it short....

 

Most of the negative comments regarding STS is based on the original (2003) Simple Template System v1. That release is night and day compared to v4.6.

 

Personally, BTS cannot compare to STSv4.6. There is no comparison. Who cares if you can't use Infobox Admin? STS has its own Infobox Template feature. That's the kind of ridiculous comparisons you get with these types of threads.

 

The best comparison is to install it on a test site and see for yourself.

 

 

 

 


Bill Kellum

 

Sounds Good Productions

STS Tutorials & more: STSv4.6, STS Add-ons (STS Power Pack), STS V4 Forum STS Forum FREE TEMPLATE

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There is absolutely no need to install either STS or BTS. Both these are unnecessary as it is as easy to simply make your design changes to a stock oscommerce.

 

If you are intent on choosing one or the other, I'd go for STS - simply because BTS is hardly supported by anyone. STS has a userbase and a person who does his best to help out.

 

In the past (we are talking years ago), I created the -same- site using stock, STS and BTS. STS came out the worst of the three, however since then STS has been recoded and so my testing from back then is now null and void. As I recall, stock osc came out on top!

 

However, usign stock osc does mean a little more work (eg to remove a column, you have to amend 30 files) - but I found with a search and replace tool it can be done in seconds.

 

I think what I am trying to say, is this;

 

don't forget plain and simple stock osc - in addition to sts and bts

 

 

hmmm...what if all I want to do is change the html layout for info boxes in a vanilla osc2.2? If there really is no need to install BTS or STS, then how would you advise someone in going about that? I only see a complex box class that mingles the php with the html code for each box.

 

That is my reason for trying to decide which template system i wish to use. How else can this be done without hacking the box class????

 

thanks

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hmmm...what if all I want to do is change the html layout for info boxes in a vanilla osc2.2? If there really is no need to install BTS or STS, then how would you advise someone in going about that? I only see a complex box class that mingles the php with the html code for each box.

 

That is my reason for trying to decide which template system i wish to use. How else can this be done without hacking the box class????

 

thanks

Hi

 

if that is all your after then go with this contribution

http://addons.oscommerce.com/info/7263 convert osc to css now you can easily make changes to alter layout

 

Steve

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