Actinic Business 8 review
Software upgrades often turn out to be little more than bug fixes with a couple of extras to justify charging for it. Actinic’s version 8 upgrade to its suite of “internet shop in a box” software is a different story, though: the whole range has changed significantly, as has its pricing and the options it presents for the developer community.
The Business online commerce product was already capable of some impressive feats. Via a database and some templates, you could – and still can – build a fully functioning e-commerce website with advanced features, as well as a full order-processing system to help you deal with the orders as they come in from your website. The product uploads the website files and downloads the orders from either your own server or one of the many Actinic Hosting ISPs.
This new version sees a vast improvement over previous incarnations. Most of the previous foibles have been addressed, providing a flexible way of producing an internet-based shop with full order-processing capabilities.
With so much that’s different, let’s start at the money-making end – the web shop features. There’s a new way of displaying lists of Best Sellers, Related Products, Also Bought and New Products. All these help to suggest other items the user may want to buy, even if they didn’t realise it themselves – a great addition.
The whole user interface has been improved too, with dockable information panes allowing you to customise the look of the user interface. The designs Actinic provides for you to choose for your web pages have been revamped significantly to be more contemporary and professional in appearance, using CSS for much of the design, although the old designs are still there if your site uses them. Some may be surprised that tables are still present in the pages, but Actinic insists this is currently necessary for reliable rendering, although they may well disappear with future versions.
There have been huge changes to the design environment if you want to customise and get down to the code level. In Design mode, once you click on an item in the Preview window, the area of the code that applies to it will be highlighted in the code window – no more guessing what controls what. You can even add your own dynamic code if you’re familiar with PHP. Code colouring also helps with reading and understanding, and there are drop-down libraries to help with the selection of Actinic’s predefined variables.
There’s been an overhaul behind the scenes too. Credit card details stored with the orders on the machine that has Actinic installed are now encrypted, and there’s also an option to force the user to log into Actinic whenever it’s accessed. The VAT reporting has been improved to please the accounts department as well as customer accounts, and different prices can be displayed based on the customer. The marketing department gets some new features too, with an engine that will auto-generate mailing lists. With an extensive filtering system, all sorts of lists can be generated from received orders.
If you want to sell downloadable products, such as software or PDF documents, Actinic’s digital download module and one-click order processing have been bought down from the high-end products throughout the range. This last option speeds up the processing of orders by allowing the several stages of processing an order and printing the reports to be automated to a single click. To make the order-processing department’s work easier, Actinic has now included price editing on all order lines and, to keep the packing department happy, barcode printing has been included in all products.