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Why Open Source?

One of the most exciting changes taking place in business IT is the adoption of open source software. As open source projects mature, they increasingly threaten to uproot proprietary systems. This opens up new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses. A company of ten can now use the same systems as a company of 10,000.

A great example of this shift is the web content management system marketplace. Flexible open source CMS systems such as Drupal (external link), Joomla (external link) and Plone (external link) are now competing directly with expensive proprietary systems - and winning. In this article I will quickly highlight five reasons I believe that the trend towards open source CMS adoption will only accelerate in the coming years.

What is open source software?

Open source software is not just software that is given away for free. It is software in which the source-code is "open" for the public to view, download, re-distribute, modify, and improve. This is a very important distinction from freeware, which is normally still owned by a company and cannot be modified. In contrast, open source projects allow anyone to contribute, with the best ideas and code being implemented in the project itself.

Many projects have diverse and thriving developer communities around them, with developers scattered across the globe. All work towards the same goal: creating software that is truly the best in its category.

Advantages of using open source software

Aside from the fact that there are no licensing fees (and thus often a lower Total Cost of Ownership), there are plenty of other advantages associated with using open source software, particularly for web applications:

Scalability

Thousands (or even millions) of people use any given open source application. This means that thousands have tested the code you are using. It is unlikely that your site will outgrow a system that is used by organisations much larger than your own. Why try and write your own system from scratch when you can build off of such a solid foundation?

Variety of Extensions

Open source projects allow developers to add their own features in the form of additional contributions (often called modules or extensions, depending on the system). Due to its collaborative nature, open source systems often have many more available contributions when compared to their proprietary counterparts. Chances are, what is useful to one is useful to another. And once a new feature is developed using open source software, it becomes available to anyone else using that open source software. For instance, the open source Joomla and Drupal content management systems both have over 1,500 contributions that add extra functionality.

Strong Developer Communities

Using open source means that you're not alone in creating a website. Whether you are a webmaster or a seasoned developer, there are thousands of others who have encountered similar problems. Many of them share their solutions online. There are also active online chat rooms and forums to discuss the software you are using. The answers you need are just a web search away. By contrast, trying to "go it alone" to create a website is an exercise in frustration, as you are the only person able to find a solution to the problems faced.

Free code. Consider how long and expensive it would take to develop many of the open source content management solutions available today. Based on the amount of source code available, if you were to build a CMS like Drupal it would cost more than $28 million dollars (523 people at $55k a year). With open source all of this code is available for free.

No Vendor Lock-in

One of the biggest problems with proprietary software purchased from a vendor is that it becomes necessary to continue buying from that vendor - even if your satisfaction goes down. If it is even possible, switching to a new system is time-consuming and costly. IT managers who use open source can be confident that there are many possible vendors from which to gain support. You even have the option to modify and maintain a separate version of the software yourself if that better suits your company's needs.

Conclusion

The savings alone are worth the switch to open source. One good example is the guitar strings manufacturer Ernie Ball. This company saved $80,000 just by switching to open source software.

Business is changing at the speed of the web. Open source software allows one to keep up with these changes cost-efficiently. In order to keep up with the business climate, you need a content management system that is flexible and fast. And you need something that can grow with your business without being prohibitively expensive to install and to maintain. There are many vendors that can help you find the open source software you need to build a modern web portal that will be able to change as the definition of "modern" does.