Open Source or Proprietary? That is the (Website) Question

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March 12, 2014; WiredImpact


It’s the age old question when considering a content management system (CMS) for your new or renewed website: Is it best to go with open source or proprietary software? David Hartstein, writing for WiredImpact, suggests that the right answer is pretty obvious. (If you want some basic definitions of the terms “CMS,” “open source,” and “proprietary,” please consult his article directly.)

Why Harstein prefers an open source CMS: 

  • “Choosing an open-source solution gives you a lot of flexibility moving forward”
  • “Many of the open-source systems out there are updated all the time by their community…but with a proprietary CMS, you’re relying solely on the company to update their system. If you decide to seriously entertain a proprietary CMS, be sure to ask the developer how often they update it and how you can report bugs.”
  • “You can typically get more for your money with an open-source solution…For most of the major open-source solutions out there, developers are constantly building new features directly into the system or releasing plugins to extend their functionality.”
  • Most open-source content-management systems are enhanceable. “They come out of the box in a pretty basic way with the intention of being reworked to suit your needs. They’re meant for you (or more likely your programmer) to build upon them. They’re flexible, allowing you to integrate existing plugins or develop pieces of functionality from scratch.”
  • “Many software developers create ways for you to integrate your website with their system. For instance, you may use a third-party application to manage your donors or volunteers. Massive open-source systems like WordPress often command some of the first integrations available.”
  • Some worry that your website might be less secure with an open-source system, but “in the right hands, it’s definitely possible to make an open-source CMS very secure. Your developer can start by doing basic things like always using secure passwords and making sure your system stays updated. There are consistently updates to open-source CMSes to address known security issues. By keeping your system updated, you can help ensure you’re protected. There are also a variety of steps your developer can take and plugins they can add to boost the security of your site.”

And if you are concerned that in going open source you are picking the less expensive and, therefore, less savory option, Harstein points to some similar small-potatoes types that use WordPress, including BBC America, Sweden, eBay, Inc. and The New York Times Company.—Ruth McCambridge


  • David Hartstein

    Thanks a lot for sharing our post Ruth! We get asked about the open source approach all the time, and as you can probably tell, we’re big fans of it.

    Really appreciate you helping to spread the word.