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Google Products plugin for Hikashop variants
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Hikashop is a feature rich e-commerce platform for Joomla. Many of it's more advanced features are provided through a system of plugins, one of which is designed to generate the XML data needed by Google Merchant Centre. The feed extracts product data from your shop to populate the sponsored "Google Products" when displayed alongside organic search results.

Artist Papers in Google Products

Hikashop Google Products Variants

However I found the Google Products plugin bundled with Hikashop (as of version 2.6.1 Business) had a number of limitations that made it unusable for my project for Artist Papers. Notably it doesn't support product variants. Product variants allow you to have a parent product which describes all the common features of an item, then the customer purchases variants of that product such as different size, colour etc. This avoids a lot of duplication within your store and is easier for customers to navigate.

The original plugin also has serious performance limitations causing php timeouts with anything other than a few hundred products. After some tweaking of php timeout parameters I was able to get it to complete (taking several minutes) with a relatively modest six hundred products.

A solution to these problems wasn't going to be available from Hikashop (see forum thread here) so, having promised the feature to my client, I adapted the plugin to work for Artist Papers. I posted this news on the Hikashop forum and was contacted by Hal at boutique shoe retailer elevate your sole who had also been looking for a solution that would work for variants in his Hikashop store.

elevateyoursole ruby shoo

elevate your sole's requirements were quite different to mine with many more products (about 1600),enough to cause my first version of the plugin to time out, and needed to pull in pricing and other information from the parent product with the only variant characteristic the shoe size. With further modification and an extensive rewrite to overcome the performance issue the plugin now works on that store too.

For Google's specification for the xml file format and the various parameters see here

Other key features of the plugin ...

  • Can use parent product sku as group id
  • Can use parent pricing for variants
  • Can add variant characteristics to title

The rewritten plugin, while successful in these two instances, is not likely to work for everybody. As Nicolas of Hikashop points out in the forum thread, it's difficult to make a plugin that works in every case as there are so many different ways of using variants within Hikashop, so to help other Hikashop users with variants get their inventory into "Google Products", and at the same time develop this plugin further while spreading the cost of development between those that need it, I am offering customisation of the plugin to work with your shop. If you have an online store built with Hikashop using variants then you need this to get into Google products. Contact me to discuss your requirements and pricing.

Windows XP End of Support: Questions answered
IT Management
Written by Ian Edwards   
Monday, 31 March 2014

wnxp_logo.jpgIt can't have escaped your notice that 12 years after it's launch Microsoft will be ending support for the venerable Windows XP operating system on April 8th 2014. The last new security updates for XP will be released on that date. This of course includes support for XP Mode under Windows 7 which is essentially XP running as a virtual machine.  I know many people still run XP in a variety of applications and for a variety of perfectly valid reasons and really don't want to be forced into upgradiing hardware or software just yet - so what does this mean in reality? Here I've tried to answer some frequently asked questions ...

Q: Will my Windows XP machines stop working on April 8th?

A: No

Q: If I have to reinstall a machine from my original disc will I still be able to download the updates from Microsoft?

A: Yes, auto update will still work, there just won't be any new updates.

Q: Can I build an installation disc incorporating all the updates since SP3?

A: Yes, you can downlaoad a batch file from here which in turn will download all the updates, and then slipstream an installation disc with SP3 and the later updates using nlite from here Not the easiest thing to do but it is possible.

Q: Will I still be able to download Microsft Security essentails for XP after April 8th

A: No, but if you already have it installed virus updates will be available.

Q: By running XP am I exposing my system to security risks?

A: Theoretically yes, in practice this depends on your application and risk profile. If you are running XP as your main desktop for web browsing, email etc then you really should have upgraded by now. If however you are keeping XP going for a niche application, or to support hardware that doesn't work with later versions, then assuming your other security measures are up to scratch, the risk is probably minimal.

Of course over time you will find it increasingly difficult to find hardware and drivers to run XP so please don't plan on running it forever!

More info:

Firefox mobile O/S from Mozilla
Mobile Technology
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 28 November 2012

ffxos3.pngThe mobile operating system market is getting even more interesting as Mozilla (makers of Firefox) enter the space as announced back in July.

What is different about this operating system is that it is entirely browser based using Mozilla's "boot to Gecko" technology. Aimed at lower end lower cost smartphones the project is gaining international support and will offer an entirely HTML5 based mobile ecosystem giving HTML5 applications access to the hardware fuctionality of the device, currently only possible with native Apps. The Firefox O/S will alos be entirely open source and standards based.


more info: Firefox mobile O/S from Mozilla

Review: Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ V2
Written by Ian Edwards   
Tuesday, 27 November 2012

readynasv2.jpgThe Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ V2 is one of a family of NAS (Networked attached storage) products from Netgear. NAS units are designed to add disc storage to a network in place of, or in addition to, a traditional file server. Units of this type are however becoming more and more capable and rival the traditional file server in functionality.

Like most units of this type the Netgear ReadyNAS is Linux based. If you are not familiar with Linux that shouldn't be a concern as the operating system is hidden (too well hidden as it turns out) from the user behind a graphically intensive but quite pretty java based user interface.

Read more... [Review: Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ V2]
Small Business Accounts Software Review: Kashflow
Written by Ian Edwards   
Thursday, 19 November 2009

One of the biggest headaches for a small business, or a business start-up, is keeping control of your finances. Often what happens is that initially you keep records manually or on a spreadsheet but as the number of transactions increase (all being well) this gets more difficult to manage so your thoughts turn to accounts software packages. Most of the small businesses I encounter using purpose built small business accounts packages have either Sage or Quickbooks.

Up until recently Microsoft offered their own small business accounts software (the starter version of which was conveniently free) but they have recently announced they are dropping this product, their argument being that small business can manage with templates in Microsoft Office and bigger businesses are catered for by their Navision ERP suite. I am afraid I don't agree with Microsoft's argument there. Spreadsheets are not the perfect tool for managing small business accounts for a number of reasons (see also my post here ) and it's a big jump to Navision which is not cheap to implement or run. Microsoft's decision is probably more a reflection of their failure to significantly challenge Sage or Quickbooks in the SME market coupled with a realisation that the trend is to move these applications online.

The market leading small business accounts products (Sage and Quickbooks) have been around for a while in various editions and are favoured by accountants, and that is probably their shortcoming. Accountant friendly does not equal small business friendly. In terms of usability they are quite technical from an accountancy point of view, and they come as a licensed product which you install on premise. On premise installation incurs cost in infrastructure and maintenance and puts the onus on the user to manage backups.

My specification for small business accounts software (and I am talking here about very small businesses (ie the one to three man bands that are a significant part of the UK economy) is ..

  • Always and instantly available: I want to be able to access from anywhere easily and quickly so that I can input transactions on the fly.
  • Easy to use: I am not an accountant and don't have any plans to become one.
  • Secure: Secure both in terms of access and reliability of data and backups.
  • Automation: I would like to be able to automate the sending of regular invoices and regular bills.
  • Inexpensive: I don't want to pay the earth for this and ideally would like to find something open source and therefore free to use.
  • Modest capital investment: I don't want to have to spend a lot on servers or software licencing up front.
  • Regular update: I want a product that is updated seamlessly to accommodate changes in law or the addition of new features.
  • Comprehensive reporting and simple year end procedure.

 A relative newcomer to the small business accounts software market which meets most of the above requirements is Kashflow . This is a UK developed and hosted product instantly provisioned by signing up online, it isn't open source and it isn't free but it is inexpensive and doesn't require upfront investment. You access Kashflow through your browser, so no software installation is needed and updates to the product appear frequently and instantly (there have been 5 significant feature updates so far in November). Kashflow offers a 60 day free trial which is long enough to do something useful with the product and really check it out.

Kashflow does currently have some limitations. There is only one user account so you can't have different users with rights to different parts of the system (eg sales and purchasing) and although you can give your accountant access to the system you have to give them your username and password. It's not good practice for two users to share the same login credentials under any circumstances. Multiple user accounts is a feature that has been requested by users so I would expect to see this in Kashflow before too long. Also there is no checking of password strength when you register so make sure you use a good (obscure) password.

If you are worried this limits Kashflow's scalability (which it does at the moment) or are reluctant to build your business around a relatively new product then Kashflow gives you an exit route. All data can be imported and exported as a CSV file and you can set a periodic backup which emails the data to you as a Sage compatible bunch of CSV files.

The feature I really like though is the ability to setup repeat billing and repeat purchases. If you invoice customers regularly for a service (eg support contract or rental) you can easily setup the invoice to be sent automatically at the required intervals, and you can include variables that customise the invoice by, for example, inserting a date range relative to the invoice date. Repeat billing works in the same way, so regular monthly bills are entered automatically.

If you have found this review useful you can say a small "thank you" by using my affiliate link here, which will also gain you a 10% discount if, after your free trial period, you decide to sign up to Kashflow.