Assessing Open Source Web Content Management

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Open source software always seems attractive because of the absence of license fees. However, as we’ll see, not all open source tools are free of cost, and, at the end of the day, you may actually spend more money going the open source route.

The best open source projects represent true community efforts to create software that equals or exceeds commercial rivals. The Linux operating system and unparalleled Apache web server are two poster children for the open source movement.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve seen numerous open source platforms emerge in the web content management (WCM) arena. Today, you can find more than 70 open source WCM packages, although I’d argue that 10 of them have pushed ahead to become true global leaders.

There are many good reasons open source WCM packages have emerged so broadly. WCM technology is comparatively new, and all the big commercial players (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP) were very slow to develop their own capabilities. Many of the key underlying web technologies—such as Perl, PHP, Apache, JavaScript, etc.—are also open source, and they provided key building blocks for content management tools. Finally, the beloved "view-source" feature in every developer’s browser helped accelerate an ethic of sharing that naturally led to the cooperative development of web publishing platforms in the late 1990s.

By 2002, evangelists on the (now defunct) Open Source CMS listserv predicted that open source WCM platforms would soon swamp their commercial competitors. About 2 dozen open source WCM platforms have seen meaningful global adoption, yet commercial alternatives remain as vibrant—even dominant—as ever.

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