This article was posted on Mashable (6 April 2011). I am posting it as is, because it is well written and gives an in-depth analysis of the difference between most of the web development tools out there. This article addresses a question that I get asked every day. I hope this is useful to you. It was written by Lisa Wehr. She is the founder and CEO of Oneupweb, a leading digital marketing agency representing some of the nation’s most recognized brands for more than 15 years.
The goal of any web development agency is to deliver a website that not only looks attractive but is also manageable. It seems there are new contenders vying to be the top content management system (CMS) every day. Making it easy to add products, articles and just about anything else is a mandatory development skill today. Inevitably, the question always arises: “Do we download something free and open source, or do we buy a solution?”
Ask developers and they’ll probably explain they have favorites from both realms. However, most marketing execs and decision makers aren’t as familiar with CMSs, let alone quick to name drop their most preferred. Feel overwhelmed or torn by CMS choices? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of developing within both open and closed source systems. And for further direction, let’s scope out the top open and closed source ways to manage content for both ecommerce and general content sites.
Open Source vs. Closed Source
Open source means there are a lot of people working on the software. Plenty of individuals are making sure the code is solid and that the software is easy to use. Documentation is usually easy to find, and there are plenty of people out there writing “how-tos,” which make design and development easier and even fun. You can count on regular updates that are continually improving the product. Open source systems let you see what makes the software tick, and you can often change it to suit your needs. Use this to your advantage when it comes to differentiating yourself from the rest of the pack.
However, because of the popularity of open source systems, many people are familiar with open source code, which creates a higher risk for hacking. If you choose to design in an open source system, your development team is going to need to put time and work into preventing third-party tampering. This difficulty will scale based on many factors such as how many people need to have access to sensitive areas of the site (like the admin panel).
Closed source software usually equates to better security and support. For an ecommerce site, it isn’t necessarily more secure to go with a closed source system, but unlike open source systems, developers don’t have to spend as much time securing code. If a developer runs into any issues in a closed source software, providers are more than happy to offer you support. This is a convenience, because it cuts down on the development time and cost.
Unfortunately with closed source, the barrier to entry is a lot higher. A smaller community means less experience and collective knowledge. This usually equates with much higher costs across the board. You often have to pay for the software or service, and if your support package doesn’t include it, you end up having to pay someone else for their expertise.
Top Open Source CMSs for Product Management
Three of the top open source CMSs for successfully managing ecommerce sites are: Magento, osCommerce and Zen Cart. All three of these CMSs provide well-structured source code, which allows for easier collaboration between developers and designers and an overall smoother workflow. It’s important that developers have access to a rich architecture that makes plugin and extension development a snap, while designers have access to a powerful, templating system.
Top Open Source General Purpose CMSs
It seems that there are hundreds of these out there. With its humble start as a simple blogging platform, WordPress has grown into a full-blown content management system. The community supporting this gem has made it into a powerhouse capable of handling just about anyone’s needs. Some big names are using this CMS: The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Ford, to name a few. Although WordPress has achieved notoriety, both Joomla and Drupal are also big names in the open source general purpose realm. Some of the biggest sites online are built with Joomla (Living Well Magazine) and Drupal (The White House, The Economist). Developers and designers have a number of possibilities when creating websites in WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.
Top Closed Source CMSs for Product Management
Top Closed Source General Purpose CMSs
Where to begin? Many of the closed source content management systems offer different prices for different needs. There are services out there such as CushyCMS for individuals or small companies with mostly static content, and there are the big kids on the block such as Telerik and Sharepoint that operate on Microsoft’s .NET Framework.
In the end, it all boils down to the abilities of your in-house tech staff and your budget. Many enterprise companies design with open source because they have qualified developers. If you don’t feel that your team is ready to take on extra challenges, then closed source (and its built-in support) may be the best route. Although closed source companies will offer support, they may not always offer you programming support. For instance, they may outsource a job for you. The very best design work is created with confidence, so be sure you’re working with a CMS that you feel secure in.