Open source or commercial - which CMS is best?

Author -  Labyrinth Solutions

In short, our view is;  if you are a developer or employ in house developers who intend to get ‘under the bonnet’ to tinker and modify with the code, then open source will most likely be the best solution. A commercial system typically denies developer access to the code.

However, if you want marketing people, and other non-technical people to manage the site and you don’t want the added expense and time delays with developers being involved, then a turn-key commercial CMS such as Contegro will probably provide the best solution.

Still not sure? – the points below outline some other considerations that should help you decide which option might work best for you.

  1. Open source advocates generally cite the benefit of the user being able to make changes to the core. But the user runs the very real risk that they will be taking the CMS down a unique route, with the customised changes affecting other areas of the site too. This can then make updates and fixes to the site difficult to apply, involving more and more specialised help from developers – rarely a cheap exercise! As that becomes an obstacle, it tends to mean that these updates and fixes don’t get applied to the site, resulting in the CMS environment becoming dated and issues being left unresolved. A commercial CMS generally restricts access and changes to the core, therefore providing a consistent platform in which to apply updates and fixes to keep the environment up to date with the latest technology and feature offerings.
  2. A commercial product’s viability is typically dependent on the provider’s ability to deliver solutions that the end clients require, and then to provide support and on-going development. Open source projects are often ‘developer’ focused rather than end user, and therefore the drivers are around the developers requirements. In addition, for the reasons mentioned above, open source projects often tie in the developers to a greater extent with the general upkeep and on-going support of the website. The result –timeframes and on-going expenses around the upkeep of the website can soon away the perceived benefits of open source.
  3. Support services. A commercial CMS provider has so much to lose if they don’t provide excellent levels of support and training for their products. This can often be lacking with open source providers. Further, if you’ve been using an in house open source developer to customise applications particular to your requirements, real issues can arise when the developer leaves taking their knowledge with them. Often their work is not as documented and forward planned as with commercially focused developments.
  4. Supposedly Open Source is cheaper! Perhaps short term, but again, for the reasons above not necessarily long term. Also, a criticism levelled against commercial CMS’s is the on-going annual fee. It is important to note that not all commercial CMS systems charge an annual license fee or where they do this often relates to maintenance and support. When you consider the cost and peace of mind that  annual maintenance agreements provide versus the cost of contracting a developer when changes and updates are required, it maybe the more cost effective option.
  5. With a commercial CMS, there is accountability – generally before any release, they will have gone through many rounds of testing. After all, there is a name to be sullied if the product fails! In addition, if there are defects or issues, you know precisely who to talk to.  Often accountability with open source developments is much harder to track down, especially as many of the ‘community’ developers are not professional developers, merely ‘hobbyists’.
  6. A commonly cited strength of open source is that it has a much wider install base and is therefore tried and tested. However, a good commercial system that has been around for at least several years, will also have a tried and tested client base. And remember, it’s not always the number of clients that count,  it’s the satisfaction levels of these clients that really matters!
  7. Open source applications are typically developed for the 60 – 70% of common functionalities, meaning that further development work is required to achieve precisely what the client might need. Commercial applications on the other hand, certainly in Contegro’s case, are written for the 90 - 95% of common functionalities within each module. This means the solution is generally a turn key solution from the start and the need for any development modifications minimised.

So, we’ve discussed quite a few reasons now regarding the conceptual choice for your CMS. Whatever your initial preferences might be, our suggestion is always to ask the various providers to demo their CMS platforms to you. As it’s you who will be managing your site ongoing, does it present well? Does it look easy enough for you to use? Does it have the flexibility you want? Does it contain work flow options? Our advice is to ask as many questions as you can at the demo, don’t just sit back and allow yourself to be taken through the standard demo routine. Asking questions outside of the norm will really reveal how flexible the system is.

please contact us if you want any further help.

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