In the modern fast-paced world of web development there is an ever-increasing requirement to build websites faster, easier and yesterday! Consequently, some website managers are now weighing up the options and benefits offered by both proprietary and open source content management systems (CMS).

Before choosing, you should firstly have a basic understanding of what a CMS is and why you should use one.

What is a content management system?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a Web application that uses a database or other methods to create, edit, and store HTML content in a manageable way. Content is created and edited in a secure administration section of the website with the result finally displayed to the viewers of the site within seconds.

Why you should use a content management system?

There are many different reasons for using a content management system, but one of the main reasons is to have the ability to create and edit content in a simple and easy way. It should be noted that content does not always equal text. Sometimes the content you need on a website is, for example, a contact form or a user authentication system. Offering such specific and potentially bespoke website facilities is where your research into open source and proprietary systems becomes vital.

A well designed and implemented CMS will allow you to spend more time focusing on the design than on the implementation of unique and specific extensions to functionality - this is where a proprietary system wins every time.

Free is not always the cheapest option!

At netXtra we pride ourselves on providing the right CMS system, tailored exactly to the client’s needs - whether this means developing their new website around our own in-house proprietary system (netXtra CMS) or an alternative open source option.

At this point we should offer a word of warning - developing a website using an open source solution, such as Drupal, just to save money is a risky strategy and can ultimately turn out to be a costly one.

There are many benefits in opting for open source - the big one being no licensing fee.  Open source is free to download and use in any way you desire. The problems start should you desire a feature that is not straight 'out of the box'. This is where the balance tips back towards proprietary - typically an ever-evolving system that covers 95% of all the functionality required.

What about the open source support communities?

Open-source platforms like Drupal have massive global communities of developers. If you're having a problem with your CMS, odds are that several people have already come up with a solution and posted it online for you to read for free. This does provide a huge amount of flexibility in as much as you are not tied down to one developer and fixes and additional add-ons can be found and installed at a relatively low cost. However, this approach does also have its down side. With every unique 'home brew' module comes the chance that there is no developer documentation to support it later, if required. What's more, once it's installed there is no guarantee that it will continue to work if you update your CMS version.

At this point you're probably thinking that open source is the way to go - no license fees, large communities of developers releasing modules for free and the freedom of taking your website to any developer at a later date. Job done... open source it is then... well not quite!

These are all great options, but are they really as good as they sound?

Unless your provider of the open source option is also going to provide a support package, you are completely on your own! This is all fine until something breaks or stops working. With a proprietary CMS you are almost guaranteed to be offered a support package, which should include full support, as well as, of course, the set up of your new website. Yes, there is likely to be an associated annual cost involved. However, knowing that that you have someone on the end of the phone, day or night, to fix any errors, is more often than not worth the small price tag per year.

With open source comes the very fact that it's 'open'. Everyone knows the code to your website and even what version of the CMS software you have installed. This does also leave your site open to potential security risks and vulnerabilities.

How long are you planning on having a website?

This may seem like a strange question to ask, but there are obscure open-source CMS's whose medium and long-term futures are uncertain. To be extra sure that your open source CMS won't become obsolete, we recommend picking one of the higher-end ones, rather than little-known systems that haven't been around for long.

When to use open source and when to opt for proprietary CMS

The divide is reasonably balanced, with each system offering comparable pro's and con's depending upon the client's specific requirements. As a general rule-of-thumb, the more standardised and out-of-the-box your website will be, the more likely it is that an open source CMS would fit the bill. However, this is often not the case.

As a website's functionality becomes more bespoke in it's development, so does its requirement for specialist short, medium and long-term support. In these instances it should be remembered that a proprietary CMS supplier's knowledge and experience is fully traceable throughout its development life-cycle, and therefore makes it a far better option going forward.

The key is in the initial planning and not to be blinkered by the website's immediate cost or long-term transferability. Support, traceability and experience are too often secondary considerations - or not even considered at all! This short-sighted approach can add unexpected costs to a website's maintenance later down the line.

So when looking at new content management systems, be sure to take a step back and if required, take advice. As with most things, one man's meat can be another's poison!

Thinking about a new website and not sure which CMS route to take? Give us a call on 01787 319393 or contact us via our website, for full impartial advice on what website management system is best for you.