CMS: Open Source or Propertiery?

I originally planned to write a long, boring post but since I forgot what I was about to say, here’s a second attempt. 

CMS’es, or Contant Management Systems, come in many forms and shapes.  They’re usually associated with their Open Source flagships like Joomla, Drupal or WordPress.  But as of late, I see that more and more companies are selling their “own” CMS.  Or, in some cases, they claim to “build” their own CMS when all they do is adapt an existing CMS a bit, and then sell it as their own.

While everyone’s got the right to try and make money, I strongly prefer Open Source solutions (as if that wasn’t obvious from this blog content).  Let me try and explain why, by comparing Open Source solutions with their commercial counterparts.

Note: When referring to commercial CMS’es I mean both CMS systems which you’d have to buy, or which you can buy as part of a “hosting package”. 

The price

One of the main differences, is the price.  Open Source solutions are free, which make them a great solution for people on a budget.  Commercial solutions obviously cost you money. 

Of course, if you’re counting on someone else to build your site for you, and he’s using an Open Source solution you’ll paying them, as well.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But at least Open Source solutions give you the option to do everything on your own.  CMS websites based on an open source solution are often cheaper.

Let me toss you an example.  There’s this guy I know, who sells his own CMS.  I’m not going to give a link or a name, because I don’t feel like “feeding” the competition (and I don’t like his product).  But just so you know, a license for his product costs over € 300.  For that money, you get a tool; with which you’ve got to build your site for yourself.  Which – let’s be honest – is easy to do, but the results are websites that don’t really look attractive to me.

On a side note:  Open Source solutions allow you to do some experimenting.  It’s simple to install Joomla, Drupal; Wordpres… on a server or on your own PC to see what they’re capable off.  For a commercial CMS, that’s just not true.

The support

It’s not uncommon for people to experience issues with a CMS, as simple as they might be.  Back when I started 3 years ago, I had no clue how Joomla worked.  And the book I was reading at that time, didn’t really made me any wiser. 

But because Joomla was a well-known and well supported solution, it was easy for me to find all the help I needed on the internet.   I quickly discovered the forums, the knowledge Base, and even more important:  I discovered that there were quite a lot of articles to be found on the subject of Joomla.  For Open Source solutions, it’s generally a rule that the support is quite good, because the “community” will gladly help newcomers with their issues.  For tools like Joomla, there are even sites available in most of the major languages. 

When you’re working with a commercial CMS, there’s only one person (or company) you can rely on, and that’s the company that created the product.  You’ll have to depend on the hand full of employees that watch the forums or try and respond to your e-mails.  In some cases, you might not even get a reply at all.  And when you meet the makers in general, they’ll be easily offended when you dare to question features of their product. 

Expansion is key

When you start a website, you have certain ideas that you want to work out.  Once those are worked out, you’ll be satisfied for a while.  But you’ll want more, in the future.  That’s where open source shines.  The open source solutions can rely on quite a lot of volunteers that develop extensions and add-ons for your favorite CMS.  There’ll also be people with a passion that will translate the tool so people speaking their language can have a better experience. 

Joomla is a prime example of this.  It’s available in more and more languages; and like I said in a previous post it’s possibly to use an entirely localized version.  And the amount of extensions you can choose from are amazing.  Quite a lot of them are free; and there’s always the option to buy commercial add-ons for your template.  Some examples of great commercial add-ons, created by a hand full of developers are AcyMailing, Allvideos or RokTabs; just to give a few examples. 

With a commercial CMS, you’re restricted to the CMS as-is; often with the possibility to add a handfull of add-ons.  Most of the time, these add-ons will have to be bought, as well.  Either way, you’ll be limited to what Company X has come up with.

Moving on

My last point is that Open source solutions can be moved between servers; whereas commercial CMS’es are usually restricted to one server or even to the company that’s selling the CMS to you.  Solutions like Joomla can easily be taken to another server; in case you’re moving between hosts or moving from a development environment to a production environment.  And if you’ve chosen to let someone else build your site for you, it’ll be easy for another company to pick up where the other left of, if you chose an Open Source solution.

Conclusion

Some of you will probably say that I’m biased.  Maybe I am.  But I’m convinced that using Open Source solutions offers quite a few advantages over commercial solutions.  Sure, there are downsides to Open Source solutions – from time to time there might be security issues – but in general the benefits of using an Open Source CMS outweigh the disadvantages. 

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