Open Source CMS

Open source web content management systems (CMS) offer a way for web sites to enjoy the benefits of a content management system without the costs of purchasing a CMS program. There are a number of open source CMS programs to choose from, so knowing some of the advantages and disadvantages of open source CMS can help a web site administrator decide which, if any, open source CMS is right for his or her web site.

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A web content management system, or CMS, is a program that provides a way to manage or collaborate on a web site without learning programming languages. CMS programs are popular because they simplify the process of running a web site by automating many of the functions of a web site, such as:

  • Managing a database
  • Uploading media, including text, pictures, videos, and sounds
  • Creating new pages for a web site based on the web site's template
  • Updating a web site to reflect changes such as a new template or links to new pages

In some cases the fact that these processes are automated is a drawback for a CMS, and web sites that require a lot of customized programming may need to employ a web programmer to get the look or functions they desire, but many web site administrators find that a CMS provides them with what they need to run  their web site.

An open source CMS is a content management system that was created using an open source license, such as the GNU General Public License. An open source program is copyrighted, but its license gives others permission to use and modify it free of charge. Generally, users may not claim as their own or sell the open source program to others, though they can charge for other services like installing the program or creating content for an open source CMS. Though open source CMS programs can be modified, they can also be used as they are and, like other content management systems, do not require much if any knowledge of programming languages to use.

The fact that open source CMS programs are free is clearly an advantage, but there are some disadvantages to using open source programs. The biggest one is that most open source projects are developed by a group of users instead of a single corporation, so there may not be traditional customer service, such as a toll free phone number, to go to for help. Instead, user questions are often resolved through online forums. This can be a little intimidating for those with little experience using open source programs, though the online communities for open source CMS programs often provide a lot of helpful information.

There are a number of open source content management systems available. Some of the best known open source CMS programs include:

When considering an open source CMS, it's important to decide what features the CMS should provide for the web site and find a CMS that best fits the web site's needs. For instance, WordPress is best known as a blogging tool, and is specially designed to support blogging, so a blogger might be interested in checking out WordPress, while someone starting an online business would do best to look at other open source CMS programs. Sometimes it is possible to find a good CMS for a particular use by finding out which CMS is used by web sites similar to the one being created. In some cases, an open source CMS will already be part of a web hosting service, so if the web hosting service meets the web site's needs, the CMS will probably also be compatible with the web site.

Some needs to consider when deciding if an open source CMS is the right fit for a web site include:

  • Web site function, such as whether it will be a blog, a forum, or a store
  • Web site design, if templates provide enough design flexibility to give the web site a unified, but not generic, appearance, or if a custom design is necessary
  • Compatibility with media and programs used in the web site, such as databases, and with the site's web host
  • Tools for collaboration and workflow so an administrator or editor can allow others to add information while still maintaining a desired level of control over the web site
  • Security features for controlling access to the site and for eCommerce
  • Scalability, or the ability of the program and the web site to change in scope or time
  • Ad-ons and special functions or features to meet the specific goals of the web site
  • Ease of use of the CMS and the web site for the administrator and for end users, including having a supportive online community to help with troubleshooting

By considering these and other needs and comparing various open source CMS programs, web site administrators can determine if an open source CMS is right for their site.


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