Open source CMS platforms are very popular nowadays, mainly due to the perception that they are affordable and flexible. However, whether you should opt for an open source or a proprietary platform largely depends on your unique needs, and an open source CMS may not always be best.
If you’re struggling to decide whether open source is right for you, in this article we sum up the main benefits and drawbacks of these platforms, and the types of scenarios in which you may be better off choosing a proprietary solution.
Defining Open Source and Proprietary CMS
To start off, a few words on what each type of CMS platform entails.
An open-source CMS is a platform built by a community, using a code that is readily available for anyone online to use, modify and distribute.
These platforms are built collaboratively, typically by a large group of people and for free. As a user, you can download an open-source platform for free, install it on your host of choice and use it to create a website based on your own goals.
A proprietary CMS is a platform developed privately by a company using code that is exclusive to them. This code is then licensed to companies for a fee.
Companies providing proprietary CMS platforms typically also provide other types of services, such as training and support. Many such companies also design and develop the websites for their clients.
Benefits of Open Source
1. Frequently updated
Because of the collective nature of open source platforms, these are typically updated on a very regular basis by diverse members of the community. Open source CMSs with large user bases are especially efficient at this. By being updated regularly, many open source platforms are in touch with the latest technologies, which gives their user base more options when it comes to building their website.
On the other hand, software bugs are typically also promptly fixed, leading to better web performance for users.
2. Cost effective CMS
Open source CMSs are free and available to everyone, with no licensing fees. For this reason, open source platforms can be quite affordable. When in need of new features, these don’t normally need to be developed from scratch, as there are often plugins available that you can purchase.
However, bear in mind that when you consider the complete cost of ownership, an open source CMS solution may not necessarily be cheaper than a proprietary one; this will largely depend on whether your needs are simple. If your solution is quite custom, for example requiring new custom integrations or modifications to the core code in the mid- to long-term, an open source CMS may not be the cheapest option available.
An open source platform allows you to do anything you want with the code you’re provided. You can make any modifications, making these platforms extremely flexible. You can also update your website at any time, as long as you have the resources available, without having to negotiate this with a proprietary company.
Templates are often available, enabling you to more quickly build a site without having to go through the costs of design and development.
Open source CMS platforms are also typically built to be expanded, whether by integrating new plugins or developing your own features.
4. Multiple resources available
Finally, open source platforms are often familiar to a great number of developers, meaning that you can work with multiple developers at different points of time, and you can be confident that they will know how to build your site without any need for training.
Drawbacks of Open Source
As outlined above, there are many benefits to open source platforms. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that an open source CMS is the right solution for you specifically. You may find that an open source platform is unable to address key needs of your company’s. Here are the main drawbacks of open source solutions:
The most common criticism we hear regarding open source solutions is security. As mentioned earlier, open source solutions operate on a code that is readily available to everyone on the web. Of course, the security implications this poses on your website’s security can be considerable.
A developer who is familiar with the code of the platform you’re using could potentially identify any security vulnerabilities your site has and take advantage. And if your site deals with sensitive information, the consequences could be significant for your company.
The danger, of course, depends on the kind of data that you’re dealing with. If, for example, your company operates an Ecommerce site and deals with payment information, an open source solution could pose a very significant risk, so a proprietary solution may be the better choice.
2. Development costs
As cheap as everyone believes open source CMS platforms to be, a lot of people do not stop to consider the costs that can arise in the mid- to long- term. If, for example, you require a feature that doesn’t already exist as an add-on plugin, hiring developers to develop them could be extremely costly. This applies especially to more complex features and extensions of your site.
Even if a feature is already available and you are willing to purchase it, it may be incompatible with your site, requiring you to seek a developer to establish an integration between the two.
Modifying your website’s code can also bring its own set of challenges when it comes to platform upgrades, leading to even more costs.
If you are building a site that will require new and/or complex features, a proprietary solution may be a safer and, ultimately, more cost-effective choice for you. If you are still unsure of what shape your site is going to take in the mid to long term, a proprietary platform may also be the better choice, as it will give you more flexibility in adding new features further on (provided that your proprietary CMS platform is willing and able to provide that kind of service).
3. Inconsistent quality of development
If you are working with multiple developers to build your site, which is common with open source CMS platforms, a great drawback is quality and consistency. This is because not all developers will approach the build in the same way and not all will be of the same quality.
Especially if there are customizations involved, a single developer may carry them out in a particular way that might not be easy for the following developer to take over or make changes to.
4. Limited support
Finally, a very significant drawback of open source platforms is the lack of support. As we mentioned, open source CMS platforms aren’t owned by anyone, which means that there isn’t a company behind it ensuring that the platform works for all their clients.
This means that your staff must carry out any development or support work as it comes up. Of course this can lead to additional costs and resources used. Similarly, if your content editors are feeling stuck with the platform and are unable to carry out a specific, they won’t be able to just pick up the phone and call support.
But perhaps the biggest risk is website downtime. If your site is down, and there is no support to count on, it is up to you and your employees to fix the problem as soon as possible. If the issue persists, this could lead to significant revenue losses for your company.
Benefits of a Proprietary CMS
If you think a proprietary CMS might be a better solution to your needs, here are some of the benefits that you could be benefiting from.
All the best proprietary CMS platforms offer support, typically 24/7. This means access to a support team whose job it is to exclusively provide support for a single CMS platform, so that they are best equipped to deal with your unique issue.
Support can give you the peace of mind that the risk of website bugs and downtime will be significantly low, and that if they do arise, they will be fixed faster than they would an open source platform. Support also allows your employees to simply pick up the phone and immediately be able to lean on someone to solve their issues. Oftentimes the people you are talking to are the same people who built the particular features you are experiencing issues with, resulting in faster and more adequate support.
Another benefit of proprietary CMS platforms that is often overlooked is the consistency it provides. Unlike open source, the code for proprietary CMS paltforms is written by a single company and body of staff. This means that every step of the way, from design to implementation, is carried out under a single vision and team. The result is that these platforms are much more cohesive and consistent than open source ones, offering a better and more intuitive user experience, and making it easier to train staff.
At the same time, proprietary CMS companies often tailor the vision and direction to the very needs of their customers, ensuring that these can always achieve their own visions. Submitting bugs and report issues is also a smooth process, as the submission process is typically clearly visible and available to customers.
Finally, many proprietary CMS companies actually set up your website for you. Of course the extent of their involvement will largely depend on your agreement and on the platform itself, but if you don’t have the internal resource and would like the company to do it all for you, this is often possible.
Many proprietary companies will provide different services depending on your exact needs, so that you can create your own designs for them to develop, or have your own developers build the site themselves using their platform.
This applies to partners too, as many proprietary CMS companies have a network of partners that they regularly work with. This can bring additional resources and benefits to customers, allowing them to better achieve their vision and fulfil their exact needs. When choosing a CMS company, this is definitely something to keep in mind.
Things to look for in a proprietary CMS
If after reading all this you are ready to consider a proprietary solution, here we’ve outlined a few elements to keep in mind when making a decision! This will help you on your research and allow you to tick some essential boxes, so that you end up with a solution that’s right for you.
1. Upgrades and new features
The first thing is, is the CMS company in touch with the latest technologies? Will you be able to take advantage of new features that your competitors are adopting? If your CMS doesn’t currently provide them, are they willing to develop them for you?
2. Search engine friendliness
Is the platform optimized in a way that allows your website to be search-friendly? This will be essential to your marketing and SEO purposes so don’t overlook it, or you could be looking at additional work and cost during development.
As we saw above, flexibility is a key selling point of open source platforms. It is, indeed, a very important aspect of a CMS platform. So when looking for a proprietary solution, ensuring that it is built to be extended is key. Will you be able to easily integrate systems with the platform? Is the CMS company willing to build the appropriate APIs to do this? Do they provide any other products apart from content management, such as Ecommerce? Do they have any new products on the pipeline that you may want to take advantage of?
4. Ease of use
When it comes to website updates, is the CMS platform easy enough to use? Is it built for editors or for developers? Will your internal staff be able to update content themselves? To what extent will you need to rely on the company’s developers and support team for design or content updates? Is there an additional cost incurred?
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