Bespoke v’s Open Source Content management systems


We went along to a presentation by Nation1 a few weeks ago and something that was mentioned has made me think about writing this post since then.

The speaker was discussing the pros and cons of a bespoke Content Management System (CMS). Now, in the past using an off the shelf, open source CMS was something that might have tried to be hidden from clients for fear or being asked how we justify costs on ‘free’ software (we never hid it at PoLR I might add!).

Open Source can be seen as cheating by some as the software itself is free but the benefits of using this are what makes it worthwhile and the cheaper option for the client in the long run.

I have even seen a company try to hide their use of Open Source by sticking their name infront of the software name and trying to sell ‘Company Name Joomla’ and ‘Company Name WordPress’ as product.

I don’t see the point of hiding that we use Open Source software. Trying to pass it off as our own as in the case above is a whole other matter of course!

Anyway, the speaker at this event made a great case for both sides so I thought it would be niceĀ  to do a short post on why I see Open Source as the preferred option over bespoke and what we use here at PoLR.

Bespoke CMS

When I started out my career in web design I started by creating a bespoke ASP (Yes, ASP – it was a while ago…) driven CMS that I edited for each client.

Bespoke was thought to equal ‘better’ and a lot of the time there was no question of using anything else (at least with the jobs I was tasked with anyway!) It was a simple system that did the job but looking back there are plenty reasons why it might not have been the best solution at the time. Obviously there are points when ONLY a bespoke system will do but for the purpose of this post I’m referring to Joe Bloggs who just wants to update the odd bit of text and images.

  • I wrote it, I owned it and once I left that job to go to another I didn’t maintain it. I was happy for the webdesign company to alter it as they wanted (I had no use for it in my new job) but I personally didn’t want to be doing that on top of starting at a new place.
  • There were no fancy plugins that could be integrated and every new request had to be handcoded resulting in high costs for the client.
  • You need a new feature? You could wait a long time for quotes and for the developer to look into the CMS and see if it can do what you’re asking.

Open Source CMS

When I started experimenting with an Open Source CMS I opted for Mambo (later Joomla, WordPress etc) and immediately saw the benefits.

  • Installs are faster (letting clients see an actual working site quicker usually equals content faster!)
  • Plugins are available to remove some of the labour which in turn reduces costs for the client
  • The systems are constantly being worked on and therefore updates are released on a frequent basis.
  • Anyone can work on it so if you fall out with your developer then your next developer should be able to quickly and easily get to grips with it (even if they don’t currently use your particular CMS there will be enough resources online to help them learn it).

What CMS PoLR Use

Here at PoLR we have looked at many a CMS and finally settled on two versions that we are happy with, one suitable for smaller businesses and one that we prefer for our larger clients: WordPress and CMS Made Simple.

We gave up on Joomla because we found that clients hated the admin area of it and were point blank, refusing to update their site because it was ‘too complicated’.

These two systems are fantastic for our clients and not one of them is worried about using the software. Training is simple, straightforward and because the system handholds the user it sometimes feels unnecessary!

So there you go, we’re proud to say that PoLR will happily give you a product that you can take with you to another web designer, a product that’s easy to use and last but by no means least, a product that can save you money.

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    • mathewhugar
    • 7th June 2010

    You were right about Joomla. I had it for three clients and I gave it up. But still, I haven't switched to WordPress or CMS Made Simple. I ended up working with the Drupal content management system. My friends and coworkers are already using it for some projects, not very big ones, and it seems to be just fine. They have started creating their own modules and I hope I can get my hands on those as well. Now I have to start having a closer look at WordPress as well to make a comparison.

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