Open source does not always compute

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By Werner le Roux, managing director of Flux Interactive

Companies today are faced with a serious decision that can have significant
consequences when it comes to choosing a Content Management System (CMS).
On the one hand, there are many open source solutions that are offered free of
charge, as well as proprietary solutions developed and sold by companies for
profit.

The easy choice for many is to opt for an open source solution as they are
free, all that is apparently required is to download it, install it and it is ready to
use. To a degree, this is true and many bloggers and even large organisations
have chosen open source systems and are using them successfully. However,
free is not always the best, or the cheapest option. Open source CMS systems
work well and have been proven in the real world, but there are three caveats
businesses must consider before jumping onto the open source bandwagon.

The first is skills. If the plan is to use the vanilla CMS provided by the open
source supplier, all that is needed is the technical staff capable of installing,
maintaining and using the product. If the right staff are not at hand, or specific
changes or updates are needed, the skills required are few and far between,
and costly. Developers of proprietary systems have a financial stake in ensuring
their systems are supported and well maintained, and that customers can find
the skills they need easily and cost effectively.

The second is customisation. There are, of course, thousands of developers
creating plug-ins to meet almost every need for all open source CMS systems,
but these developers work at their own pace. They deliver bug, security and
version updates on their own schedule and do not adapt to the needs of their
customers - especially non-paying ones.

Once again, proprietary CMS developers must make sure their systems are
easily customisable if they want to retain their customers. They also need to
make products and services available for bespoke development as this is a key
feature many customers require.

The last is updates. There is no synchronised updating of open source
systems. The developers of the main CMS may release a great new update, but
the plug-in developers may take longer to release compatible software. This
leaves the customer in a position of having to use older, possibly insecure
versions of software until all the components they use are updated to the same
version.

Proprietary vendors are in control of their systems and release well-tested
updates. Moreover, they are more likely to ensure backward compatibility in
order to ensure their customers are well taken care of.

Open source CMS systems are good quality and reliable systems and they
definitely have their place in the market. However, taking note of the three
points above, it is clear that open source is not the solution to every CMS
requirement. Once companies have ascertained what it is they need from a CMS,
they are then in a good position to consider their options and decide which
product will deliver the best business value - and this includes more than simply
the purchase price of the software.

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