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Five Mistaken Assumptions About Website Development Projects: Part 4

opensource This guest post from John Canestraro, our Vice President of Interactive, is the fourth of five posts on the mistaken assumptions about website development projects.


Assumption 4: An open source content management system (CMS) is preferable to an off the shelf (commercial) CMS

Often we get requests to build a site using an open source Content Management System (CMS).  There are a wide variety of open source products available and they are extensively used today.  The “thread” of thinking behind this is usually some combination of the following:

  • Open Source is inherently “good”
  • It is cheap
  • If other people do it, then it is good enough for me

We have developed several projects with open source products and have some observations concerning their use. 

Open source products as their name implies are quite extensive in functionality.  They provide all manner of capability and function.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  You are likely to find the capability you need and in many flavors.    has to be a considered decision….Which editor to use? Why this one versus that one?  Multiply that by many times concerning all of the various functions/modules that you need in order to fulfill the needs of your web site and just “configuring” your CMS is a sizeable task.  Commercial CMS’ tend to not give you such wide range of choice.  The decisions have been made for you.

A variation on this theme also relates to the website development.  Recently, one of our clients had an open source site they operated.  When the developer moved on, they decided to update the site and tried to find a replacement developer.  However, the custom configuration and setup of the site was so complex and undocumented that a new developer found it impossible to decipher.  This client ended up moving the site to a commercial CMS.  This may not have been just an open source problem, but it was certainly a contributor

Open Source products are inexpensive to acquire and primarily work on industry standard platforms (also inexpensive).  While this is very appealing to many, you must also consider that open source products are continually being updated and patched.  So it is important that someone take the responsibility to keep up with this activity and be sure the software is kept up to date and patched properly, especially when security issues are identified.  If you do not have some sort of IT support (internal or external), this can be a burden.  Commercial products on the other hand tend to follow a much more structured approach to upgrades and security updates.

Bottom line

Utilizing open source should be a considered decision.  In our experience, those organizations that have strong IT Support who are willing and able to maintain the environment are best suited for open source.  If on the other hand, you prefer a more “turn key” operation then a commercial CMS may be a simpler and easier in the long run.

Do you have open source stories or experiences that you would like to share? We’d love to hear from you!