Open Source or Proprietary CMS?

Published on March 25, 2017
Last modified on November 01, 2022

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

What is a CMS?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a platform which allows you to easily manage, create, and edit content in your website or webshop.

CMS are typically divided into two categories: proprietary and open source. Choosing which option to go with for your website or webshop depends on your business needs and goals.

Open Source CMS

  • As the name suggests, the source code is open to the public—allowing other developers and contributors to use and modify the code to fit their needs and requirements.
  • Most open source CMS like WordPress and Drupal have a large number of contributors and developers that build and maintain the CMS. As such, modules are always being updated and the CMS is always improving.
  • A lot of documentation is readily available, given the large developer community.
  • A lot of business owners and/or site managers opt to use this type of CMS because it’s easy to shift to another supplier should the need arise. Because it’s open source, other suppliers will find it easy to take over your website or webshop.
  • Using an open source CMS is generally cheaper compared to using proprietary CMS. You don’t have to pay for any license fees for the CMS itself, you only pay for themes or modules that you want to use to improve your system. You also don’t need to pay for any subscriptions or license fees on an ongoing basis.
  • A possible drawback for open source CMS is security issues. However, this is rarely a major risk anymore, especially for CMS that have huge developer communities where solutions for these security issues are immediately presented.
  • Examples of open source CMS include WordPress, Drupal, and Magento.

Proprietary CMS

  • The developer of a proprietary CMS (aka the supplier) has the exclusive right to the code and it is not readily accessible to anyone.
  • You don’t need technical know-how because your supplier handles everything–from hosting to upgrades to content management.
  • Proprietary systems may take more time when it comes to development as they have less developers compared to open source systems.
  • You might encounter a vendor lock-in where it’ll be difficult and tedious to switch to another supplier because your current supplier might not hand over the source code to you. After all, it’s a huge loss to their business. As such, if you opt for a proprietary CMS, then you have to find a supplier that you can trust.
  • You can only choose among the plugins and functionalities offered by your supplier.
  • There are often large fixed costs such as license and hosting fees, typically at a monthly or annual rate. The costs associated with using proprietary CMS is often much higher than using an open source CMS.
  • Examples of proprietary CMS include Kentico, Sitecore, Shopify.


Peter Skouhus

Peter Skouhus

A Danish entrepreneur who owns 1902 Software Development, an IT company in the Philippines where he has lived since 1998. Peter has extensive experience in the business side of IT development, strategic IT management, and sales.