Open Source WCM / CMS for the Wrong Reasons

Jun 21, 2011

So you’ve heard about Open Source from your IT guys? They love that they can see the code, they can “play with it”. They love all the freely available blogs and wikis, the community has excitement and momentum and you love, in this economy, getting features for FREE. So you want to know if you should consider an Open Source WCM for your new website redesign?

Well, there are plenty of good reasons for using Open Source. We at Oshyn, love Drupal and Jahia for Open Source WCMs.

There are also some bad reasons for choosing an Open Source WCM. Here is my short list of reasons you want to think twice about (not exhaustive, just my top ones for today) — should you be considering OS WCM for these reasons:

  1. Cost
  2. Because open source is cool and everyone else is doing it
  3. Because new features come to open source first and … they're FREE!

COST

If you just consider the cost of the WCM on day 0, then, YES, an Open Source WCM is much cheaper than a commercial WCM. Commercial WCMs can be as “cheap” as 10K on the low end (even cheaper if you don’t want a full WCM) and 150K+ on the high end (this is much less than it was 5 years ago).However, it’s just not valid to think there is no cost for an Open Source CMS.

Here are some items to remember on the OS WCM side of the “cost equation”:

  1. You really should consider purchasing support from a commercial vendor. Many OS WCM packages offer a “support package”. In fact, this has been baked into many vendors’ business models such as Alfresco and Jahia. Acquia is the Drupal support arm. Their support packages are typically relatively modest compared to their Commercial WCM counterparts (typically run 12-20% of the license cost yearly for support and upgrades).
  2. How much does it cost you to implement compared to Commercial WCM? Are there resources or partners available that know the package to assist you in implementation? In general, features are more “baked” and tested in a Commercial WCM compared to an OS WCM (exception being those that offer software for free but charge for support such as Alfresco and Jahia). The installation and configuration of an OS package tends to be much more “manual” and much more sysadmin intensive.
  3. How much time will your developers spend searching wikis and blogs for an answer? If you don’t buy the support from a commercial vendor, you will be on your own looking for answers. Remember, OS WCM might not have as rigorous a QA and Regression testing process as you’d expect from a Commercial Vendor. You had better have chosen an OS WCM with a vibrant community of resources to help :).
  4. What if your OS WCM community loses interest? What will it cost you to move to another platform? You have a similar issue with a Commercial vendor, but if they are successful and making money, it’s less likely they will disappear overnight. For OS WCM, there is very little to stop a platform from disappearing like HyperContent and Mambo.

All the Cool Kids are Doing It!

Are they really? Yes, Open Source does get a lot of buzz and there is much more “organic” hype about Open Source compared to Commercial (although Commercial vendors are getting smarter these days about using the same social media mediums that first made Open Source popular).

Here are reasons using this as your value proposition can be risky:

  1. Business people will see right through it. Your VP and C-level people won’t care how cool a piece of software is, they want to know what the ROI is regardless of the “source”.
  2. Cool kids tend to be fickle; they will hype a product one quarter and shift to another product the next. Trying to predict where the community effort will be placed in 6 months to a year can be a tricky thing. Right now, Drupal is the rage, but 3 years ago, it was one of many and one of the other current many could be the rage a year from now. Commercial vendors will choose a clearly articulated niche where they can be differentiated from other vendors. If an OS WCM product is based on coolness, it can easily be usurped by another set of clever developers.

I want the latest features

Three or four years ago, it was portlets, 2 years ago, it was Web 2.0, 1 year ago it was social networking, now it’s an integrated social media featureset.The features tend to come first to the Open Source packages. The Commercial vendors see what sticks and then build it into their product.

The downside of being the first adopter (as in any technology), is that you are getting something that is somewhat untested. This is true even if you are a first adopter of a Commercial product. The issue becomes more prevalent if you are a first adopter of an Open Source module or add-on. The developer has graciously provided it “as-is”. No guarantee it will work for you or work in the same way. Oshyn has had our share of this with Drupal implementations which has led us to trusting only certain modules from certain developers. If you don’t know which ones you can trust and which versions you can rely on, it’s as good as gambling with your WCM.

Net, Net

Oshyn loves Open Source software. We love it for custom Java development (Struts 2, Hibernate, Spring, Solr, CXF, Freemarker, Sitemesh), we love Jahia for an Open Source Java WCM and we love Drupal for our Open Source PHP WCM. We continue to recommend these solutions and implement these solutions. In addition, we follow a rigorous evaluation process in determining whether a particular Open Source tool is a good fit for a client with the dimensions of:

  • Suitability for the Task
    • Does the technology fulfill the requirements? Is the solution mature and bug free?
  • Ease of Development
    • Are the API’s easily understandable? Is there good tool support?
  • Availability of Documentation
    • Online product documentation, including community generated docs, forums, wikis, etc.
  • Developer Community
    • How many developers are contributing to the project? Does the project have widespread adoption and an active community? Is the project growing or dead? How common are developers that have experience with the technology?

This diagram represents our typical evaluation:

Overall, I believe there is still a definite value/ROI proposition to be made for using Open Source, especially when choosing a Open Source WCM such as Jahia or Drupal. These packages will significantly reduce your time to market for a whole host of features and will reduce your up-front investment in software licensing drastically. They both have great Developer Communities and a plethora of documentation available for all different skill levels of developers, beginners to experts. Jahia particularly, with their unique business model, give you the best blend of Open Source and Commercial by providing a subscription based model with the security of a real Quality Assurance and Support model.

You just have to know what the REAL cost is from the start, include that in your analysis and make sure it makes sense for your company or application.

Resources

Here are some good resources to help you understand the True Cost of Open Source more completely before deciding to jump in. They aren't all for WCM, but most of the tenets still apply:

Check out Oshyn's ebook on Drupal and Social Media.