My colleague Jerry Brito and I are attending the annual meeting of the State Policy Network in Asheville, NC. In the process, we’ve heard a lot of things said about open-source software that we don’t agree with, and some things that are just plain wrong.
The reasons for this are obvious. There are a lot of folks who have an interest in talking down open-source CMS solutions—namely because they sell proprietary, closed-source systems. But, there are non-interested parties out there who have given rave reviews to open-source solutions. For example, Drupal and WordPress have consistently won CNET’s Webware Awards. The White House now runs on Drupal, the New York Times runs its blogs on WordPress, and sites that we have built, including those for CEI, the Mercatus Center, America’s Future Foundation, Stimulus Watch, and OpenRegs.com, are built using open source tools, and they have been very successful. Bottom line, one can’t say that using open-source software is never the answer.
So how do you decide what to use? What you have to consider are the relative merits of each approach. Some web projects may be so unique that you’ll want to have a developer build a custom solution for you. You might also find a proprietary solutions that fits your needs perfectly. However, most public policy groups have very similar needs—publishing and promoting papers and press releases, creating profiles of their experts, highlighting past and future events, etc. For these cases, it’s very likely that there is an open-source solution available at a no cost, and with a large pool of independent developers who can implement it for you. And it’s certainly the case that open-source solutions can be infinitely customized to meet unique needs.
The main difference we want to point out, however, is that when you choose a proprietary solution, you’re not just tied to that solution, but to a vendor as well. Look carefully at their contracts, it will be quite clear that they own the software that runs your website. If you need to change or add functionality to your site, you need to go to that particular vendor. With an open-source solution, there are hundreds of developers you can turn to. You can keep your site exactly as it is, and simply change your contractor. Your platform is not tied to any vendor.
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