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Proprietary vs Open Source Content Management Systems: Which Is Best For Your Site?

January 18, 2018 0 Comments RSS Feed

Open CMS, RoadWordPress is the most prominent example of a content management system released under an open source license by a community of collaborating developers. Craft CMS and ExpressionEngine are proprietary products developed by a single company which funds the development of the CMS by selling licenses to users.

Web hosting clients don’t often think about development methodologies and business models when they choose a content management system. They think about the capabilities of the CMS, how well its features match their needs, and what other people who use the same CMS say about their experience. But the way a project is developed can have an impact on user experience, and it’s worth taking a moment to understand the difference.

WordPress is built by a large community of developers, many of whom don’t get paid for their work. WordPress can be used by anyone, and they don’t have to pay a cent. WordPress users are free to look at its code, to change it as they see fit, and to build products on WordPress without asking permission from anyone. The same is true of other open source content management systems.

Proprietary content management systems are created by developers and designers who are paid for their work. Typically, the CMS is a product of a profit-driven company that builds the CMS to appeal to a particular market. Users have to pay a license before they can use the CMS, and in addition to the ability to use the software, licenses are typically accompanied by other services, including support.

Which is best for your website? When I’m choosing a CMS, I think about whether the specific benefits of choosing a proprietary vs. an open source CMS make a difference to the project.

The cost of a proprietary CMS is typically a fraction of the total cost of the project, but if the site owner is price sensitive, WordPress may be the best choice. If I know the project will involve building complex features that require making changes to the content management system’s internal code, open source is perfect. If I want the client to be able to take advantage of a vast plugin ecosystem and wide variety pre-made themes, again, I’d go for WordPress. These are all consequences of WordPress being open source, but it’s the consequences I’m interested in, not the cause.

For example, Craft CMS targets a specific market: it is designed to provide an incredible developer experience. Craft does not prioritize the experience of a non-technical site owner who wants to build and deploy a website as quickly as possible. I probably wouldn’t recommend Craft CMS to a non-technical freelancer or small business owner who intends to do much of the management work themselves. WordPress is perfect for that segment of the CMS market. But a developer building a complex custom content management platform will have a more productive experience with Craft CMS than with WordPress.

It’s not whether a CMS is proprietary or open source that influences my choice: features, user experience, and support are more important. Whether a content management system is open source or proprietary is of less concern than whether it is the right tool for the job.

Posted in: Content, General