Open Source vs. Proprietary Content Management Systems

Topics: Compliance, Cybersecurity, Managed IT Services, Security

In today’s web-driven world, the ability to easily and efficiently manage your web content has become paramount. As a result, we have seen a sharp increase in use of Content Management Systems (CMS), which allow content editors to quickly and easily change website content without the need for web coding knowledge. There are two different types of Content Management Systems available – Open Source and proprietary Content Management Systems. Which one is better? There is no definite answer to this question; rather, you should choose based the best fit for your organization. Both have their advantages and disadvantages to consider before making your decisions. Let’s take a look at some of the important things to consider when shopping for a Content Management System.

    • Support – When choosing a CMS, you must anticipate the level and kind of product support you would expect in the future. A proprietary CMS typically offers direct support for their product. A customer can call the CMS vendor and place a support request, and each case would be handled with individual attention. An Open Source CMS tends to rely more on community support. Here, support questions can be posted to a forum and community members can help each other.
    • Security – Web security is always important, of course, but you may need a different level of security depending on the purpose of your website. If you are storing customer information, for example, you cannot afford to have open vulnerabilities. One of the advantages of a proprietary CMS is that everything (generally) is approved by the CMS vendor. Any plugins or extensions that provide functionality are developed, approved, and tested to work with the current CMS version. The same may not hold true when using an open source CMS. Since an open source CMS is community driven, anyone can (and is encouraged to) write add-ons or plugins that can then be adopted by anyone. While this may be great because it offers a larger set of available tools, the downside is that unless you audit the plugin code line by line, you must trust that the developer of the plugin has not put anydangerous or malicious code. Even though a review system may be great as a reference for the confidence you can have in an add-on, it is not the same as the guarantee given by a company, where someone can be held accountable.
    • Updates – Open source platforms typically have a different release cycle than proprietary systems. As a result, updates tend to be pushed out more often for an open source CMS than for a proprietary system. Great new and anticipated features may become available for an open source CMS that may not be available to a proprietary CMS unless a license is purchased for the next version. That can have its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you can rest assured that bug fixes and other changes are being pushed out quickly, but you must also worry about the repercussions of updating your current version. Not all the plugins and extensions are updated with every update, which may cause your site to break.
    • Cost – Cost is often a key factor when choosing a CMS. We’ve left this as the final issue because the cost of a CMS is more than just licensing fee. Initially, a proprietary CMS will undoubtedly be more costly. If the budget for a web project is tight, then it may make sense to save on this initial cost. However, the additional long term costs cannot be disregarded. How much additional time, materials, and resources may be necessary in the future without a support contract? Could a barrage of updates and incompatibility of future plugin versions result in a costlier CMS in the end? Perhaps, but those are risks that need to be weighed before making a CMS decision.

In the end, choosing the right CMS is all about the right fit. Things that may be a high priority for someone else’s site might not be the best for yours. It is imperative to take the time to lay out a solid plan and weigh the importance of the differences listed above for you or your organization. How much did you budget for your site? How often do you plan on updating it? Is security a critical issue for your website? The price of a license does not necessarily guarantee a better CMS. If you take the time to plan everything out, you will surely find a CMS suitable for you.