July 25 2017

Comparing Licensed, Proprietary and Open Source CMSs

Thinking about redesigning your website? If so, there are many decisions to make, among them which content management system (CMS) your site will be built on. When choosing a CMS, companies need to evaluate many factors – from price to functionality to security. Choosing between licensed, proprietary and open source CMSs is typically the first decision point, and from there, a specific CMS platform can be selected. Compare CMS for your website strategy graphic

What is a Content Management System?

A content management system (CMS) is software that allows you to create, edit, organize and publish website content. There are dozens of CMS options available, which break down into three categories: open source, proprietary and licensed.

Choosing an open source CMS

An open source content management isn’t owned by a company and instead is built by a group of web developers who are interested in contributing towards the system functionality. The source code for the CMS is available to anyone and developers can then extend and modify the code at any point. Typically, an open source CMS does not have a license fee and the site can be hosted on most servers. One of the most popular and well-known open source CMS is WordPress, with nearly 60%* of the CMS market share, and Umbraco is another popular option.

Pros of open source CMSs

  • Small or no license fee
  • Variety of plugins

Cons of open source CMSs

  • Often limited to templated designs
  • Many are more vulnerable to security breaches 
  • Harder to customize and develop functionality 
  • Most offer little to no support for bug fixes or upgrades

Choosing a licensed CMS

Many businesses choose a licensed CMS, like Kentico, Sitefinity and Sitecore. Licensed CMS' are developed by a company and licensed to users, typically on an annual basis. Licensed CMS' are a more popular CMS choice for businesses that need a more sophisticated and secure website, and who want their CMS backed by a company who is continually upgrading the software. While a licensed CMS is a larger investment for a business than an open source CMS, it also offers a level of customization, support and security that appeals to many companies. 

Pros of licensed CMSs 

  • Highly configurable for custom designs
  • Ability to develop custom functionality faster and seamlessly 
  • Better support and training available 
  • Less vulnerability to security issues
  • Includes built-in tools to easily manage content, SEO, workflow and more
  • Access to more sophisticated technology including marketing automation, email marketing, personalization, analytics, A/B testing and more
  • Ability to select trained agency partners that specialize in that CMS
  • Upgrades available on a regular basis

Cons of licensed CMSs

  •  Requires a license fee which varies depending on the CMS and license level
  •  Quality of and support from a licensed CMS will vary significantly across vendors
  •  Updates to the system are dependent on the vendor, with agency support as needed

Choosing a proprietary CMS

Some digital vendors offer their own homegrown CMS. The biggest drawback to using a proprietary CMS from such a vendor is that you can’t access the source code, which makes it virtually impossible to transfer the ownership or development over to another company down the road. Additionally, with a proprietary CMS, you typically won’t have a choice in where you host your site.

If you aren't sure whether an open source, licensed or proprietary CMS is right for you, contact us to discuss your specific CMS needs. 


* W3Techs.com July 2017 data
  • Kentico
  • Sitefinity
  • Website

posted by
Dawn Melesko
Dawn Melesko

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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