For every organization, one of the hardest parts of designing a new website is the incessant decision-making. It’s nonstop. From page layouts to navigation to font sizes, every step of the development process introduces a level of uncertainty about whether you’re making the right choice.
But perhaps the biggest decision of all is the most foundational: What kind of software should handle your content management and maintenance? Ultimately, this decision comes down to two options, which can be used in tandem or independently: open source software or a proprietary solution through a software vendor.
Paying a monthly fee and letting the software company’s developers worry about code maintenance and security updates sounds like the simpler option. But open source software offers numerous benefits a proprietary solution can’t provide.
With possibilities for greater flexibility, transparency, and security with a focus on collaboration, open source options like Drupal, WordPress, and Gatsby deserve consideration by every organization.
Security is a shared priority in open-source software
One of the major concerns in evaluating an open source technical solution is security. By definition, the open source option allows full access to the platform’s source code, which may inspire images of the foundation of your project left unprotected and vulnerable to attack.
But instead of seeing open source as leaving you susceptible to the whims of malicious hackers, think of this apparent vulnerability as a point of strength.
In an open source software environment, multiple skilled parties with an interest in the platform’s security are regularly reviewing the software code for vulnerabilities. Within an open source community, each line of code deemed potentially susceptible to hackers is repaired and then published for everyone’s use. Once a security update is deployed, your organization then has the flexibility to perform an additional audit of the code base.
The ability to validate and verify a security issue and its solution offers an additional layer of assurance that proprietary software company can’t provide. Under their terms, there’s no way to independently confirm whether their code is as sound as they claim.
This points to the secondary meaning of open source technology. True to its name, the software is free and available for anyone to use. But that openness also applies to a philosophy where security concerns, quality control, and maintenance updates are conducted with transparency.
This free communication between an open source software’s developers and its stakeholders can also run counter to the principles of private firms. In addition to restricting clients’ access to their source code, they may feel business reasons necessitate keeping security issues quiet.
The open-source community ensures your organization won’t go it alone
The core advantage to open source software is its central emphasis on collaboration and community. With the license agreements of open source projects emphasizing shared resources, customized features created within the software by other organizations are also made available for all users of the software.
This means that your project benefits from the work of other open source users whose customization efforts may also suit your business needs. Or, depending on your resources, these new features offer a starting point for your development team to then further modify to your specifications. Through this collaborative approach, the capabilities of the open source software evolve with each new enhancement. And every user benefits.
Along with sharing past modification efforts by organizations that also use the software, open source communities also benefit from a base of volunteers. Open source software is built around this kind of technical support, which can constitute a philanthropic effort for software engineers driven to lend their unpaid expertise to the project in off hours. Or less-experienced coders will contribute as a means to expand their skillset. For popular platforms like WordPress, this means hundreds of thousands of people are working to improve the software through contributing features, bug fixes, peer review testing, and documentation.
Again, in a proprietary software relationship, only that company’s developers have access to the source code to create new functionality. This means you’re reliant upon your vendor’s business priorities and its upgrade process for any new features. You may have improvements in mind and perhaps a means of suggesting them, but there’s no way to ensure when or if the software company’s goals will align with yours.
Open-source software remains flexible for the future
Depending upon your business goals, a software vendor may offer an out-of-the-box solution that fits your needs. However, over time, your business and its needs evolve. It’s important that your organization’s digital platform can change with you as well.
Under a proprietary software license, your ability to build new features is limited to your terms of service agreement. Consequently, your ability to use their software as effectively as possible can in some cases be hampered by an inability to adjust its capabilities to your needs.
Open source allows for greater flexibility. Along with allowing its users to build custom modules, this approach transforms maintenance and growth into a shared responsibility. This level of engagement from the community also extends beyond changes to the software.
In rare cases, comprehensive upgrades or new products lead to users abandoning a platform or opting to use an older version. Should that happen to your organization, it won’t be forced to find a solution alone as other organizations will likely face the same challenge. This happened with the migration from Drupal 7 to 8. While that software is now on version 9, those who preferred to remain on the older version of the software created and maintained a fork of Drupal 7 called Backdrop.
With open source software, even an apparent dead end allows for additional options.
The value of open-source software outweighs the costs
One frequently cited benefit to open source software is cost. While pricing for proprietary software plans can vary depending on an organization’s needs, open source software is free to use — at least on the surface. But the price difference between to two options isn’t quite so stark. Once you factor in the hardware needed to host the software and the staffing required to handle updates and maintenance, it’s clear that open source comes with its own costs, too.
However, open source software is “free” in other valuable ways. Working on an open code base, your organization is also free from unwanted features while enjoying the freedom to alter the software to your needs.
With a commitment to security and the additional support of a collaborative community, open source software allows for a more flexible experience. How do you put a price on that?
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