Open source or proprietary CMS?

If you are about to redesign your company website you probably ponder whether you should use an open source Content Management System (CMS) or a proprietary CMS of a specific  web design company. This article compares these two options and (spoiler alert) clearly recommends open source CMS as the most practical choice.

Proprietary CMS ties you to the web design company

When you go with proprietary software you marry the company that designed it. You depend on them for support, maintenance and future add-ons. But what if the communication goes sour or the company goes out of business? I witnessed a situation when an organization spent over $20,000 for a website that did not have the required functionality and had to money left to start a legal action. That's not a good situation to be in.

The nice thing about open source system is that you will always find a designer who can take over your website. I tell our clients “If I get run over by a car, you will always find designer to take care of your website. Just keep the file with all the logins I gave you.”

Keeping up with technology

It is a challenge to keep up with the fast changing technology. A company has to make a living – grow business, build websites, support existing clientele. What often happens is that the company simply does not have enough resources to delegate to improving their CMS system. A world-wide community of developers on the other hand has a massive resource of people who are passionate about improving the product and release upgrades so you website is always up-to-date and secure.

Additional functionality

Proprietary software usually comes packaged with certain functionality tailored for specific industry. For example, systems for Chambers of Commerce or community websites. But what if you need a whole new functionality? You pay for it, often A LOT because it is custom development.

When you browse extensions libraries of open source systems you will find virtually any functionality you may need, and the developers are usually happy to adjust the functionality to your needs for a fee.

Variety of designs

And let’s not forget about design. There are thousands of designer that offer themes for Wordpress and Joomla. Company that designed a proprietary software will have a handful or designs but will be able to customize it to their client’s needs. Or, maybe not. We recently finished a project for an organization that had to abandon supplier of their proprietary system simply because they were not able to deliver a responsive design template.


Then there is the cost. You will be shocked to know that open source systems are built by developers who do it for free. Yes, there’s a lot of nerds around the world but you gotta love them! When a company invests into their own system they need to make money. Companies that offer proprietary systems almost always require you to sign up for a monthly service agreement or a license.


Most websites, including those for major corporations and large e-commerce sites, are built on free, open source content management systems such as Wordpress, Joomla! or Drupal (Drupal won a multi-million dollar contract to built all websites of the Government of Australia back in 2014). These systems come with a wide range of components and plugins that can fulfill virtually any functionality you need. There are components for e-commerce, bookings, registrations, membership management, SEO and much, much more. Web designers use templates and customize them to great extend to create the look clients are going for. They are fully upgradable to keep up with the latest technology which really turns them from expense to an investment for years to come.

I may alienate a lot companies but I honestly think that going with an open source CMS such as Joomla! or Wordpress is the best option for most companies and organizations. Unless, of course, they need a specialty software or custom database.

Who We Are

ADWebcom is a creative design agency based in Georgetown, Ontario.
We provide high-quality website and graphic design services and practical web strategies to help you succeed in the online world.