As the world of digital continues to evolve, we have seen such an array of different opinions and outlooks emerging, often making it difficult to make the right decision when it comes to our own digital strategy and approaches.

Perhaps a key dilemma I come across most often is whether it is better to opt for open-source or closed-source development approaches. The truth is that there are strong arguments for both and more often than not your decision should be based on context, your own situation and the type of project you are working on.

This article for me is about clearing up some of the common misconceptions and also providing you with an idea of what kind of things you may need to think about for your projects.

What is Open-Source and Closed-Source development?

Firstly to summarise the difference between open-source and closed-source development.

Open-Source

Essentially computer software or programs where the code is made available for study, change and distribution. More often than not, open source solutions are developed in a collaborative way and evolve over time.

Closed Source

In contrast a closed-source solution refers to a computer program where source code is not shared or accessible for change by the community. This means the knowledge for a particular platform is contained and managed by a core team and will only be developed by them.

In web development we most commonly hear of the terms open-source and closed-source in the context of content management solutions. Do you want a solution that ensures the source code and technology stack remains hidden, or will it be beneficial for you and the evolution of your website if you allow for a more open development environment?

The Deciding Factors

Although there are probably lots more, I always suggest thinking about the following seven deciding factors to help you to establish whether your website needs to be developed in open-source or closed-source languages.

  • Data
  • Integration
  • Flexibility
  • Budgets
  • Content
  • Lifespan
  • Security 

When planning your projects, think about all of the above to help you to decide an approach that is going to best suit your project.

1. Data

Big data is huge business and we will see data and data analytics becoming an even bigger part of the world of web and digital technologies in coming years. Data is also a factor that you should consider carefully when deciding on your choice of technology for your next website. If you are storing large quantities of sensitive information, or customer data, having a secure data storage strategy really is key. Now although this still leans towards the idea of having a closed-source content management solution to protect the exchange of data, with the way the web and software has evolved on the market this doesn’t always have to be the case.

The reason? Although collecting and storing data is very important, you really would never want to be storing data in an open web environment. More commonly than not, your data will be stored elsewhere in software which is already secure, for example your CRM system, Your email marketing system or other software solutions.

Putting this to one side, if you are developing a website that needs to collate data that is sensitive, it is worth consulting with an expert to make sure security is at the forefront at every stage.

2. Integration

When it comes to integration, open-source content management systems will provide you with much simpler integration options, simply because third party systems such as email marketing softwares, CRMs etc can much more easily connect to open systems and have a large demand from global users. With the rapid growth of open-source content management systems such as Drupel, Joomla and WordPress you will more commonly find that integration options already exist for many of the leading third party systems whether its your CRM, Newsletter Marketing solutions or other third party tools.

Integration is possible with both open and closed-source options, but this should be a key consideration because there are cost and time implications to building new integrations between systems.

3. Flexibility

The nature of open source means that it is more flexible. Instead of a single development team working on a piece of code, open source solutions are open to global adaption. This also means that open source solutions will evolve at a much faster rate, simply because there are more people developing on them and a much larger user base.

Of course this does also bring with it risks, because you can’t be certain that one development approach is as good as the other, but the key is making sure that the team you select know their code and can vet any of the plugins and extensions you need to use for your website.

Get the right team and using open-source can open a whole host of great opportunities without having to develop new bespoke functionality at every stage.

4. Budgets

There is no doubt that you will get more for your money with open-source. Less time spent building bespoke functionality means more time spent perfecting user journeys, creating stunning interfaces and focusing on how your content is presented.

If you already know that you would opt for a closed-source solution or even something that is bespoke for your needs, be sure to allocate additional budget, not only for initial development but for ongoing maintenance. 

5. Content

The type of website you are developing and the content which you are featuring should play a part in your decision making. For the most part, if you are developing a website that aims to showcase your brand in the public domain, having a website with an open codebase makes a lot of sense. Open-source content management solutions are much more fine tuned because they have been tested by millions of users and adapted over time. They typically have richer features which give users much greater control over content creation and publishing. If you want to be able to create, deploy and share content across platforms more easily and quickly, I would suggest that open-source is the option for you.

6. Security

Security is a subjective one, because it really comes down to the team you decide to work with and approaches. Even something that is closed-source can be open to security hacks, however choosing open-source does make it easier. With this said it is important to note that open-source content management solutions are used across the spectrum, from small websites and backroom developers, to some of the leading agencies. Security is all about quality of development and also the security measures you put in place.

There is no doubt closed-source is more secure by nature, but there are ways to make sure your open-source solutions have security at the forefront. 

7. Lifespan

In terms of a solution that stands the test of time, an open source solution will typically be a better option  when it comes to evolution overtime, this is for a number of reasons. The first links to functionality and development, with open-source solutions being updated regularly and with new functionality always being developed it’s easier and more cost effective to keep things looking fresh. As well as this, the fact that the codebase is open-source also means that you can more easily move the website between developers. Of course again this is very reliant on how the website has been built.

Selecting the right team, who can build in the right way is again at the core of building a website that stands the test of time whether open-source or closed-source.

In my opinion the simplest way to decide is by reviewing your a own brief and identifying which of the above are most important factors for you. More often than not you will find that if you are creating a website that is for marketing purposes, where you want your content to be in the public domain, open-source will be best for you. Why? Because content publishing, SEO, development and future proofing  will be much easier and more cost effective with a system that is constantly moving with you. If you are developing more complex web systems, that contain lots of data and bespoke integrations, closed-source and perhaps even something built bespoke to your needs could be better, because the system architecture will be defined by your needs.