Open-Source vs. Proprietary: It’s Not Always About the Money

It’s time to build your website, and one of the first things you need to decide is also one of the most important.  Do you choose one of the popular Open-Source systems (like WordPress or Joomla) and get your hands dirty, or do you use a Proprietary system and pay someone else to get their hands dirty for you? 

But perhaps the more important question is… What’s the difference!?

A lot of people think the difference is “Free vs. Pay,” but it’s not that simple.  The technical definition is that Open-Source systems make their source code available to the user, while Proprietary systems don’t.  That means that developers using an Open-Source CMS can modify and update their sites themselves, while users of Proprietary systems leave it to the company that maintains the system. 

Open-Source CMS

The most popular choice, but don’t let that sway your decision – they’re popular because they’re often free.  However, their popularity isn’t negligible; more users, combined with the availability of the code, means that any programmer can add to it, which means a Open-Source CMS will generally have a lot of extensions and plug-ins to choose from.  This is pretty essential if you’re looking for something customizable, but keep in mind, the more custom add-ons you want to buy, the less “free” it becomes.  If you’re serious about how your site looks, you should shake the idea that an Open-Source CMS is not going to cost anything.

Proprietary CMS

Don’t really care how your website is built as long as it works?  Proprietary systems “lease out” existing templates for a fee so you don’t have to stress about the technical aspects of your site.  However, that also means you can’t customize it how you want.  But are Proprietary systems worth the cost compared to the free alternatives?  That depends on which one you use. A good Proprietary system functions smoothly and will update often.  A bad one won’t. 

So which CMS is better?  Again, it’s not that simple.   The first thing you need to know is what you want.  Once you’ve figured that out, it’s just a matter of seeing which system can give it to you. 

When to Use Open-Source: 

  • You are a tiny business with an even tinier budget.  In this case, you just can’t beat “free.” 
  • You are not afraid of code and feel comfortable making the upgrades you want by yourself.  Techies love Open-Source systems the same way mechanics love scrap-yards. 
  • You may need to move your website to another platform later on.  Exporting data is rarely a problem for Open-Source. 

When to Use Proprietary:

  • You don’t have a lot of time to spend building your site. If your time is constrained but your budget is not, this is the choice for you. 
  • Your industry requires a very specific type of site that you can’t build yourself.  Proprietary systems offer that “right-out-of-the-box” functionality. 
  • You don’t want to worry about bugs, updates, security, or hosting.  Proprietary works best for technology ostriches. 

The Bottom Line

If you want to do it yourself, use an Open-Source system.

If you want someone else to do it for you, use a Proprietary system.