Digital Insights

Open or Closed Source: Picking the Right CMS Platform for Your Business

Published: April 13, 2015

One of the earliest and most critically important decisions you face when creating a new website for your business is the choice of which content management system (CMS) platform will be used to build out your site. Your decision will affect the design and features available on your site, the time required for development and design, and the cost of building your site as well as maintaining and updating it in the future.

For the vast majority of marketers, the choice of CMS platform essentially comes down to two options:

  • Open source
  • Closed source

A third option, reserved for those companies with unlimited resources and truly unique website requirements, would be a totally customized solution built from the ground up.

What is an Open Source CMS Platform?
An open source platform is one where the source code used to construct the program is accessible to everyone with an understanding of basic coding. Anyone with a technical background is free to alter the code to suit their needs however they see fit. Open source CMS platforms, themes, and plugins are typically free to download and use, although there are usually a number of paid premium theme and plugin options available. Most open source solutions are supported by a worldwide community of developers and programmers who freely offer their ideas and advice to all comers.

Defining a Closed Source CMS Platform
The source code for a closed source CMS platform is generally not accessible to anybody except the original developers who license and control the use of the platform. As a result, modifications to the original program tend to be limited as are the options for customization to meet individual needs. Closed source platform developers typically charge a recurring annual licensing fee, in addition to fees for support in excess of the maximum number of hours specified in the licensing agreement.

How Open and Closed Source CMS Platforms Compare
1. Flexibility – While open source CMS platforms offer almost unlimited flexibility in creating highly customized website solutions, this requires some familiarity with the open source platform in question as well as a working knowledge of writing code. Choosing from a variety of available plugins may be an alternative to writing your own code, but may present compatibility issues that need to be addressed.

Closed source platforms typically offer significantly fewer customization options than open source platforms, but the ones that are available can usually be made with a simple drag-and-drop or point-and-click action without the need for a technical background.

Security – Because open source platforms are so easily accessible, security can be a major issue. Extra precautions will have to be taken to harden an open source site against third-party tampering.

Closed source platforms are much less susceptible to hacking attacks and typically have far fewer security issues than their open source counterparts. Securing closed source code is usually a quick and simple fix.

3. Cost – Most popular open source platforms have a large community of developers and programmers who provide their technical skills and advice without charge, except for premium design themes and plugins.

Closed source platforms are typically developed by for-profit companies that charge hefty annual licensing fees for access to the platform software. Because the pool of talent with technical expertise in any given closed source platform is limited, the cost of hiring qualified help, should you need it, could be substantial.