Let's get one thing straight: we are huge fans of open source. So this is going to be a bit one-sided. We would strongly recommend open source software over proprietary software.
This post is going to focus on open source web development, but you can apply the reasoning to anything.
First, let’s cover the basics:
Open Source Software is where the software’s code is made publicly available for inspection, modification and distribution by anyone. Its primary value is collaboration, which enables communities to develop the code efficiently to support swift updating and testing.
The opposite of OSS is closed sourced software, which is legally owned by a specific organisation and only they, or their representatives, can manipulate the code.
Proprietary software is made available to users through a paid-for license, so a universal example is Microsoft Office. OSS, on the other hand, usually has a license agreement that specifies that whoever modifies the code must release the code with the platform and without a license fee attached to it.
Sounds pretty good, right?
We usually suggest Open Source Content Management Systems (CMS) to our clients as an option for their website. By choosing an open source CMS, like WordPress, Joomla or Magento you can build a site that performs well and looks great but has content that can easily be updated by their employees.
An online shop is a prime example of this. You want non-developers to easily update product pages, like adding products, information and images. And you don’t want to have to rely on a developer(s) technical skill to make any amendments.
Of course, proprietary CMS systems are capable of the above, but here are some extra benefits of open source that you just can’t ignore. Let’s dive in!
Through proprietary systems, software updates will run at the speed of their developers. And the unique requirements and features that you want produced may not be their number one priority. By using open-source software, you can have a system developed around what you require, prioritising development and functionality that will improve the quality of your site for your users and your administrators.
It’s not free but it is cheaper. First, you don’t need to worry about license fees. With open source products, you don’t need to pay for the software. You can put most of your budget toward design, customisation and support. You will have to consider the license agreement, which may limited what you can do with the product. But these aren't usually much of a problem.
By definition open source is 'open,' which means that the code is open to everyone and you can see exactly what you are getting. A service provider can claim that their software meets your criteria, but you only have their word to back it up. Openness enables better auditing and quality control, which will give you more confidence in the system.
Because proprietary systems are commercially available, you will be using software that is not built with your internal systems in mind. Therefore the systems may not be 100% compatible. At least the customisability of open source allows you to build the code to fully integrate with your software, and you won't be affected by a mismatch in data flow.
You’ve got a worldwide community of developers that work within the software, so there’s a lot of functionality currently available through plugins and other features. This means that you don’t need to spend a lot of time developing the core code. You can utilise the brains of developers around the world and build something more bespoke from there.
You may think that sharing code makes you more vulnerable to hacking. But the benefit is that more eyes will be looking at your code. With an international community of developers behind it, a lot of bugs will be fixed and a lot quicker than an in-house team. You should also be relying on QA’s to test your code for any error anyway. So, if anything’s the cause of a breach of security, it will be down to poor systems management.
Simply put, open source code can be developed a lot faster rate than proprietary software. This can be put down to sheer numbers. Open source can take advantage of more people looking at the code and developing it, to create features and plugins and to fix bugs, while a proprietary system is limited by the number of developers a company has employed. This means that you can improve your software at your own pace.
There is a lot of flexibility on these platforms, which enables you to amend and adapt the core code. A developer familiar with the system can harness other people's work and customise it to your needs. So a business can have a system that is fully integrated into their systems and built around their unique requirements. And you don't have to adapt to a piece of software that isn't built for your business model in mind.
You can take advantage of a community to support you. There's so much information available on the internet to provide you with more information on the available platforms. You can easily access tutorials and documentation via YouTube, forums, groups and wikis on providers like Joomla, WordPress and Magento. But if you don't have the expertise to do it yourself there are also so many support services that can design and develop a site. Even if they are not completely familiar with the code on your site, they will be able to navigate it quite easily.
And most importantly, you are not tied-in with a particular company. As long as you have ownership of the fully assembled system you can work with any developer or development company at any point. The disadvantage of proprietary systems is that they are not freely available as a company owns the software. If you want to leave that service provider then you will have to build a new system, which will be costly.
All this being said, you may find that a proprietary system may work better for you. These are simply some of the reasons we usually recommend open source to clients.
Open source still requires developments, while proprietary software will be 'out-of-the-box' (to a degree). But the true value of OSS is that it’s collaborative and the speed at which it is developed and updated will almost always be faster than proprietary software.
Do you need some advice on choosing an Open Source CMS?