With the number of available web scripts and applications exploding, the process of finding the one that perfectly fits your needs and requirements becomes more difficult than ever. A slick marketing campaign and carefully-chosen screenshots can persuade you to make a purchase or download the script before you have fully investigated. To help you avoid this, we’ve put together some tips to guide you in making wise choices in both paid and free scripts.
Do your homework before buying or downloading a script. The first step is to search for a listing page on HotScripts to see if any reviews are available. If the script has not been reviewed on HotScripts, you can use Google to search for reviews, blog posts, and other comments made by users and those on related communities. Don’t necessarily take any reviews you find at face value, but use the information presented there as a means of thoughtful investigation of the script.
Before you hit the “buy” or “download” button, make sure that you can actually use the program. There are two parts to this. First, ensure that your web hosting package includes whatever programming platforms or databases are required by the script. Some scripts will not work under some versions of a platform or programming language. Furthermore, certain scripts require that you install add-ons like Apache modules, Perl modules, and PEAR packages. If you are unsure about the requirements, contact your web hosting provider for more information. Second, remember to verify the user requirements to be sure that you already have — or can easily acquire — any specific software, version of a web browser, or additional plug-ins that will be needed.
3) License and Agreement
Every scripting package is bound by a license and end-user agreement. These documents will describe the copyright of the script as well as what can be modified within the script. If you are not familiar with the software license, it is worth checking Wikipedia, which maintains a list of commonly used software licenses. In addition, we have published an article called “Understanding Script Licenses” that explains the different types of licenses available.
Always look for a demo or some screenshots of the script you are planning to buy or download. This will allow you to get a real feel for a working version of the script before you purchase. If no demo version is offered, this may be a warning sign of a less-than-stellar piece of work, since most serious vendors or developers will offer a demo on their site. In addition, always question the developer about their demo to ensure that what you see in the demo matches the version that you intend to download or purchase — quite often demos are based on a higher-tier version of the script, and might include some paid add-ons that you hadn’t realized would need to be purchased to get the same functionality as the demo shows. For very simple scripts, screenshots may give you a good idea of how the tool works.
5) Support and Documentation
Luckily, the quality of the support and documentation offered by the script’s developer is something that you can easily test and ascertain before buying. Check out the help documentation and other detailed information provided to ensure that it is easy to understand and suits your level of expertise. Since almost everyone will claim to have fantastic support, contact them before buying with a few questions about the product. By doing so, you will get a good idea of the level of knowledge of those responsible for support of the product, as well as the general response and resolution time that the developer provides. If the application you are buying is a mission-critical one, remember to check if they provide phone support, which might be a key factor in your decision to purchase.
For open-source projects, which are increasingly popular, it is unlikely that you will receive free email or phone support. Some developers offer paid support, which you can investigate, but that’s usually limited to larger projects. Instead, do some research to see if the project has an active forum or user group to which you can post questions, and then take a look at responses and the general level of satisfaction displayed by users.
6) Upgrade & Bug Fixes
Regardless of how flexible or robust a web application is, upgrades and bug fixes should never be ignored. Check with the vendor to see how upgrades and bug fixes are handled. Will these be provided for free? How quickly are security vulnerabilities addressed? What is the process for notifications? To double-check, use a site such as Secunia, which lists vulnerabilities of popular web scripts. You can, for example, do a quick search for the software you are planning to purchase to see how quickly a patch was issued by its author. Another tip is to look for a roadmap or version history of the script to check on the release dates of available versions to get a feel for the life-cycle of the application. A script that is regularly updated indicates that the vendor is serious about his product and its longevity.
The coding of a script is a clear indication of its quality. You may or may not have access to the code before purchasing, but it is vital to ask the seller a few questions. Is the source code open or encrypted? What forms of documentation are provided? How difficult is it to modify the source code? Are there any coding styles or frameworks that are used? A code that is well structured, organized, and documented will save you a headache should there be a need to further customize it for your specific needs.
Use the above guidelines as you evaluate scripts and web apps that you are considered purchasing or downloading. A little time spent looking behind the shiny graphics and compelling sales talk can save you both money and even more time when it comes time to put your new script to the test on your website.