Wednesday, April 03, 2013

3 Reasons Why Open Source Software Delivers Where Proprietary Software Fails

"Yes, you have to pay a fee for my software but I’m going to make sure that it is available, running fast and up-to-date”, says Michael Assad, CEO of Agility CMS, in a recent article of his. The piece explores the differences between Open Source and proprietary content management systems, voicing concerns about OSS and showcasing benefits of proprietary. I don’t agree with Mr Assad at all: In the long term, proprietary software is dead. The whole model is so deeply flawed that I am amazed that people still buy proprietary CMSs. Let me explain why.

Open Source is the better development model

It starts with how a content management system is developed. Nobody ever sees the source code of a proprietary CMS. It is potentially bound to be horrible, because developers can easily and comfortably hide behind their unintelligible, bad code. They make sure they keep their job. In open source, there will always be people looking at your code - and you know it, so you better make sure it is at least decent.

Developers are artists and craftsmen. They want to share their work and discuss the best way to tackle a challenge. They know of the cost of writing bad software. In an open source company, they will avoid it because their name is attached to the code, for everybody to see. Any future employer can look at how they work and if their skills are any good. Does this help writing better code than in a proprietary company? You bet it does. In your company, developers are probably forbidden to show their code to anybody outside the company. That is bad for them, bad for the code and bad for your product.

Open Source is open and extensible by default

Open Source code is written to be extended, because that is how the model works. Our partners can do fantastic custom implementations and extend the CMS according to a client’s need - because the code is there to look at and to be worked with. Closed Source code is written such that it works for a specific functional requirement (especially if you outsource your development!). In the long term, your software will suffocate on its own gluttony (one example of hundreds: Vignette).

Open Source delivers on the promise

Sales of proprietary software over-promise, and the product under-delivers. Always. Never in my 30+ years in business have I seen it the other way round. Why? Because sales gets paid for selling, so they sell anything the customer wants. Then the primary goal becomes to simply hack the stuff to fulfill the sales promise and there it is - another feature in a bloated mess. As long as a feature runs, it is good enough for sales to sell it. But ultimately, it is another nail in the coffin of your proprietary CMS.

With Open Source, you get the better product ...

So here is the way it works for us: our developers are proud of what they do. They share it with everybody who wants to see it. They have open discussions with those that care to engage (you know Joy’s law: “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”). This means they are happy and motivated to do the work they do. They build the foundation to help others implement anything they need. This is turn means the system is highly adaptable - the foundation for business agility.

A great product almost sells itself. Not as fast as your sales force can press a proprietary system into the market, but it will spread – by word of mouth. Combine this with a sustainable business model - ours is dual licensing subscription, a business model Magnolia pioneered for applications, which meanwhile is pretty common in the OS world. It allows us to keep costs low, double every two years in size and revenue and have a long term perspective on our business and product, which benefits the customers, the implementation partners and us (we actually sleep well at night).

... and Open Source vendors are the better companies.

Incidentally, most companies these days are externally funded (VC etc). Hard to see how the interest of the financiers aligns with those of the customers of a proprietary CMS. Magnolia never had external funding. We can follow our vision independently.

All these factors allow us to significantly invest in the future of our product, which will address the common concern (also voiced in Assad’s article) that CMSs are too difficult to use. For a glimpse into our biggest release yet (scheduled for June 20) look at And we are not talking Wordpress here, but a platform that powers some of the world's most demanding virtual presences. We are simply, slowly but strongly building the world's best CMS. Not saying we are there yet, but we'll get there. And it being Open Source is a big part of that journey.

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