Varsys - Software and Web Development
Open source and Web design: Caveat emptor

Using open source software (OSS) to create or redesign a Web site should be a no-brainer, right? Maybe, maybe not.

True, open source programs are free, freely distributed and more secure than proprietary ones. But, as Romans used to say, caveat emptor. OSS has as many downsides as upsides, a reality that typically cash-strapped, resource-challenged small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need to research before paying for an OSS-based Web site.

Before starting any Web site project, assess the benefits and risks of open source versus proprietary software. Key issues to consider are reliability, compatibility and cost of development and support versus savings in license fees.

Reliability and Speed

There's a fairly common belief (fostered by its proponents) that OSS is more reliable than proprietary alternatives. In reality, most OSS programs are less reliable and work slower than proprietary Windows-based products.

Development and Support

OSS programs are free, but the development and support are not. You need to determine whether paying a Web developer to create and maintain a customized OSS-based Web site is more or less beneficial than paying a developer to use a proprietary solution. For many companies, the deciding factor is quality of support.

While support is always available in the open source world, it is not always as user-friendly, as it tends to be aimed at developers, not end users. Vendors and providers will offer service-level agreements, 24/7 support, support packages, and help desk services - none of which will be free, of course.


Getting open source programs to work with one another can be an expensive challenge because many are not plug-and-play and require programming. If you're on a tight budget and don't have in-house IT expertise, you'll be better off choosing a solution that offers Web compatibility with your back-end office programs.

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