By Jeff Kline


Open Source vs. Commercial Content Management Systems (CMS)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

woman making a decision

Your website is extremely important to the success of your nonprofit, which makes the Content Management System (CMS) you use to build your website equally important. The first step to choosing a CMS is deciding if you want to use an open-source system or a commercial CMS. 

(Not familiar with CMS? Check out this introduction to content management systems.)


In order to maintain the integrity of my blog, I must be transparent in disclosing the fact that my company, Accrisoft, uses a commercial content management system called Accrisoft Freedom CMS. And Accrisoft is our sister company. So even though I will try to remain journalistically neutral in today’s post, any readers with children will understand my challenge – we always think our babies are the most beautiful human beings on this planet.


Before I begin discussing the benefits and drawbacks of open source and commercial CMS, I would like to provide a few brief definitions:

Open source CMS are available to the public free of charge. Most open source CMS have their own community of contributors, consisting of web developers from all over the world who create and share plugins for the software. Your web developer can choose from thousands of plugins to add functionality to your website. Popular open source CMS include Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla

Plugins are software add-ons. They are developed separately from the core software and used to extend the functionality of the existing base software. 

Commercial CMS, sometimes called proprietary CMS, are developed and owned by a single company, and users may pay a licensing fee. However, these fees usually cover hosting, web design and support in addition to the actual CMS. Commercial/proprietary CMS don’t accept third-party plugins, but instead come with built-in functionalities, all developed and maintained by the parent company. In addition to Accrisoft Freedom, there is a wide spectrum of popular proprietary CMS, from systems like Expression Engine to IBM WebSphere.


Now, let’s compare the advantages of open source and commercial CMS…


ADVANTAGES OF OPEN SOURCE CMS                Open Source CMS examples

  • No cost to use the software. There’s no startup cost, and no monthly fees for the licensing of the software.
  • The ability to choose from a huge community of website development companies. There are countless digital agencies willing and able to develop your website on an open source system. 
  • Thousands of plugins available to enhance your site’s functionality. Most open source CMS will have a large database of plugins and extensions provided by a public community of developers. Anyone can download and use these plugins for their own website.  
  • Wisdom of the crowd. The developer community of a particular open source CMS will often have its own forum where individuals can bounce ideas, ask questions, and share tips with one another. This “wisdom of the crowd” leads to increased innovation. 


ADVANTAGES OF COMMERCIAL CMS              Commercial CMS examples

  • Web hosting, site maintenance, support and automatic upgrades come included. The hidden costs and hassle of using a “free” open source CMS are actually included in the price of a commercial CMS. 
  • Website functionalities come standard. Commercial CMS don’t use third-party plugins. Instead, functionalities come built in to the core of the software.
  • Consistent, integrated user interface. Due to the fact that the commercial CMS software is designed by a unified team of developers, there is a high level of consistency in the user interface from one module to another.  And because everything is developed under one roof, these functionalities are designed to integrate with one another.
  • Security. The company developing the CMS software has greater control over the security of your website’s coding, allowing them to ensure that there are no viruses unintentionally embedded into your site.
  • Specially-trained support team. A commercial CMS is a business, which means it has trained employees ready to assist you. Instead of scouring forums for answers to questions, commercial CMS users can talk one-on-one with a designated support representative who has access to the backend of your site.


As you can see, there are benefits to both open source and commercial CMS. In the end, it all comes down to which type of CMS best meets your organization’s needs. 


Last week’s post, 5 Reason You Should Be Using A Content Management System, gave you an introduction to CMS, and today’s post explained the differences between open source and commercial CMS. Next week, I’ll go into more detail by comparing Accrisoft Freedom (commercial) to Wordpress (open source). The more you learn about both sides of the story, the easier it will be for you to choose the best CMS for your organization’s website!


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