Open Source Web Solutions Vs Bespoke Web Development

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Open Source Web Solutions Vs Bespoke Web Development

Introduction to Open Sourceand Bespoke Web Development

Open source software is created through the process of releasing a software program into the public domain and allowing it to be open to modification by any one. It mandates free redistribution; the software can be used and modified by many other people. There are literally no barriers to entry when it comes to fully open source software, excepting those associated with programming skills and a lack of technological know-how.

If you are trying to decide between open source web development and bespoke web development, this article will show you the pros and cons of both types of website solutions. Web design typically incorporates the following elements: content, appearance, usability, and structure. Developers must take into account front-end and back-end issues. The observable content, such as page layout, user interface, text, graphics and audio, form the front-end of a website. The back-end is concerned with the source code, the scripted functions, and the content management system. Thus web development incorporates different disciplines ranging from information systems, to information technology, to marketing, and design.

Open source web solutions can range from full templates, or to platform or CMS integration. Full templates are complete websites that have been designed to be uploaded for immediate use. As such, they may limited when it comes to the potential for customisation. There are countless templates available on the internet and they come with no guarantee that someone else is not using exactly the same template for their site, or that there are not many other businesses out there with exactly the same site. Cost considerations aside, if a business is serious about building their brand, they should have a custom built website that reflects their brand, incorporates a logo and presents a unique image to potential customers.


What Can Be Achieved With Open Source and Bespoke Web Development Solutions

Choosing between the two types of design can be challenging. Often there may be no clear demarcation with some websites combining both. Developers may build and customise from a template until it is beyond recognition. It is relatively rare for a software platform to be built completely from scratch. Often developers will work with their existing custom CMS’s or popular open source platforms like Joomla! or Wordpress to build a custom website.

On cost, there is a world of difference. Custom websites tend to be much more expensive than generic template websites. There are even generic templates that are free for download on the web. Custom websites can cost anywhere from the high hundreds to thousands depending on the requirements of the owner. Those sites that are fully customised may be worth tens of thousands of pounds. The value that a fully customised website can provide in terms of branding is incomparable to that of a template website. Customised websites allow administrators to have full control in every aspect of the website.

The ‘live time’ of customised websites is much longer than those of templates. While it takes nearly no time at all for a template website to go live, custom made websites need to be coded, designed, and tested before they can go live. Sometimes they can take months to finalise. Template websites may or may not offer more support than a custom designed website. For example, to fix a bug on a template website from a popular open source platform may simply involve downloading software patches online. While websites are not guaranteed to be unique and a business or individual website owner constantly run the risk of customers seeing version of  website at other locations, with a large community of users, testing is often finalised and bug-fixes are readily available. On the other hand, maintenance for custom designed websites may also be fast but may come at a cost.


Combining the Best of Both Open Source and Bespoke Web Development

The custom built website based on an open source platform – ‘the middle path’ – can provide the best level of security. The most popular open source platforms are Joomla!, Magento, Wordpress, and Drupal. Magento is a relatively new player with strong E-Commerce functionality. It is feature rich and very search engine friendly. Magento is accompanied with a lot of documentation and tutorials. Drupal is a website framework that includes CMS capabilities. It is less user friendly but very accommodating to developers. Joomla! is end user friendly and has an attractive interface. Joomla! along with Wordpress, has the most extensive community support, modules and commercial quality plug-ins. Wordpress is known for its blog functionality but since its inception has evolved well beyond mere blogs. It is full powered and can be used to create very professional websites. It is extremely user-friendly and comes with many plug-ins and widgets that are free to download. Pligg is a platform that accommodates social media applications.

For marketing and brand development purposes, these websites are much more preferable to template websites. Template websites do not properly reflect  brand or company and usually come with limited website functionality, and no search engine optimisation. Without the assistance of a developer, the owner of a template website cannot clean out any unnecessary coding that may be inhibiting loading times and other aspects of functionality.

Beyond templates, building a custom website on open source platforms provide scalability and flexibility. Open source software, where it is well supported by a community, allows future growth and adaptation. Custom software platforms may be rigid and not sufficiently adapted to a range of needs, locking the user into these limitations.

Choosing open source and having a custom-built website are not mutually exclusive. Open source platforms provide excellent support and community discussion. Their broad usage means that these platforms have been tested many times before by developers around the world to ensure stability. It often presents less of a risk to build on open source platforms than on software built and designed from scratch. Many other minds have contributed toward its evolution and as a result, it will tend to – but not necessarily always – have better functionality and work better than anything a small team of designers may have come up with in a month.


Security Issues of Open Source and Bespoke Web Development

Open source software is used by many people and security tends to be a priority. Partially a reflection of their longer development period, more often than not these platforms will have any security weaknesses already fixed. If it is any indication of the security benefits of open source software, US government bodies such as the FBI and the CIA built their websites on the open source platform, Plone. 

It is important to stay aware of some of the challenges that open source web solutions can present. Many open source projects are developer-centric, so they may sideline end users’ needs and emphasis those of developers. They may not be concerned with end users or website owners and administrators and provide less than user friendly user interface as a result. Good documentation may not be available, as is the option of purchasing support for obscure or specialised open source web solutions. Software compatibility is not guaranteed and hardware support or compatibility may be limited. Open source software has been described as being more derivative than truly innovative. As code is transparent, anyone can take the code and make a similar product.

The limitations associated with any open source solutions may be overcome with the help of a skilled developer. For example, user friendliness can easily be introduced by integrating a compatible CMS. The issues associated with good documentation, compatibility, and support can be overcome by using a popular open source platform.

On the whole, the benefits of open source web solutions tend to outweigh those of closed or proprietary software solutions. Licensing costs are next to zero and there is no vendor dependency. If the vendor company goes broke, the life expectancy of proprietary software is limited. Though open source is not subject to the same limitation, there is lack of dedicated support from one specific vendor. During a vital stage in  project, this may prove to be crucial. There are many companies who will not risk this and will opt to be tied to one vendor instead. Developers have the right to redistribute modifications and are unbound to any limitations that often apply to proprietary software. This allows web developers to work unhindered on creating great web solutions.



In conclusion, neither open source solutions nor bespoke web design solutions may provide the best result for everyone. Depending on budget, needs and goals of the website and the organisation, a hybrid product may be suitable for meeting cost restraints without compromising on quality. Open source template websites are one of the lowest cost options that are available but guarantee no unique or customisation. Although open source products may be freely licensed, they may prove to be superior software platforms for web design and development. The open communities available to many platforms, better security, scalability and flexibility, cost benefits, functionality, and lack of reliance on a single vendor company for the perpetuation of the software means that although there is no dedicated support from one vendor, developers who specialise in that platform can provide necessary assistance as required.  Any limitations can be address by developers to ensure user friendly administration, compatibility and support.

Author: Amy Chen
Source: Internal
Posted on: February 16th, 2011
Category: General

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