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, says Werner le Roux, MD of Flux Interactive.
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.