To Open Source, or Not to Open Source, That is the Question

to open source or not to open source

When developing any website, be it a simple blog, an interactive fan page for a band you follow, or an online store – one must at some point decide whether to develop the site utilizing a content management system (CMS) or develop a site from scratch using an open source platform.

Your decision will greatly affect the speed at which you launch, the design of your site, and the features available to your site.  I’m not an engineer and I don’t plan to build a huge engineering team to manage my online stores, so I always use pre-existing, template based platforms such as Shopify to launch my store quickly and get to profitability fast.  Although I stay away from open source platforms, that are many pros to using them as well.

We’ll explore both below, and answer the question, “To Open Source, or Not to Open Source?”

Open Source, Defined


Let’s start by defining “open source.” It is first important to note that the “source” portion of the discussion is “source code or the “text” that makes up a program. Open source, in it’s physical form, is source code that is in the preferred form to which one may make modifications. Open source is also an ideal or philosophy; it’s the belief that once an application is built, anyone and everyone should be able to do anything they want with that code. The philosophy borders on the fringes of spiritual belief for some.

Open source Ecommerce platforms (such as Magento) attract the enthusiasts and hobbyists that are true DIY’ers. Because the source is open for anyone to utilize and build upon, there tends to be a large community of programmers that spend time tinkering, creating, and sharing amazingly innovative, brilliant and elegant solutions for typical (or atypical) client demands. Within this large community of programmers, there will no doubt be sums and sums of “plugins,” which are essentially either “applications” (apps) or “modules” that can then be downloaded, uploaded, and embedded in your CMS, thus modifying Magento or any open source Ecommerce platform to do precisely what you (or the designer) would like it to do.

Closed Source: Content Management Systems


By inference, closed source can easily be defined as source code that is not in the preferred form for making changes and modifications. Content Management System-based commerce platforms such as Volusion, Shopify and BigCommerce let the user make only a controlled number of modifications, typically through drag and drop, point and click actions. The result is an application that is easy to use, but possesses litle-to-no programming language or text which may be altered or manipulated per the desire of the store owner.

The beauty in CMS platforms is the ease of use — if you’re not an engineer and don’t plan to become one, then this is the solution for you.

Let the contestants make their case

Open Source

In the best of worlds, the plugin installation process is easy, all of the plugins are using the latest version of the software, and there aren’t any bad apps for your open-source site. Consider WordPress, their sizable community, and their standard blog pages which can be turned into full-blown websites. It’s free to get started (if you want a domain), and you’re picking from templates – which gives a closed-source kind of feel – but, somehow, hundreds of thousands of bloggers or website owners use these templates and end up with a seemingly endless array of different blog reader (or viewer) experiences. This is because WordPress is open source, the WordPress developer community is large, they develop a seemingly endless number of plugins for the the WordPress CMS, and the documentation required to install and maintain the plugins are pretty strong (meaning the somewhat tech-savvy, non-programmer can probably still manage to install and manipulate these plugins).  

In reality, however, not all plugins ultimately work, nor are they necessarily all that easy to install. This is where a closed source system starts to sound pretty nice. Additionally, since open source codes are known by many programmers throughout the world, there are possible security risks which the shop owner should ensure are addressed by his or her programmer.

Closed Source

Closed source solutions, while not a ductile or malleable as open source solutions, can still be quite elegant. The all-in-one packages come with great features, security, search engine optimization support, hosting of the site, technical support, and a bevy of ecommerce goodness that should make the shop owner and the webmaster as happy as can be! What’s more, these packages tend to offer several different price points (based on the number of products up for sale and the space needed for storing images and videos on your site), along with social media integration, marketing support, coupon creation, mobile apps, full mobile compatibility and even the ability to sell your products globally, utilizing multiple currencies!

And the Envelope, Please…

There’s little doubt in our minds that, unless you are a talented and experienced programmer, or you have a great connection in the open source Ecommerce community, the busy entrepreneur is going to elect to pick an elegant closed source solution. These solutions offer just enough options to allow the store owner to differentiate his or herself from the pack, great bang for the buck, and the “set it and forget it” (not literally) style that today’s busy entrepreneur wants and needs. You want to get your product up for sale, move on to your next endeavor (or vacation) and be able to manage your store with as little time or resources as possible, right?

If you’d like to learn more about each ecommerce platform, check out our blog post about how to choose an ecommerce platform. There’s a wealth of information and insight into the features, prices, etc. for four of the main solutions utilized by folks such as yourself (three of which are closed source): BigCommerce, Shopify, Volusion and Magenta. We even tell you which of these platforms is best for whom. If you are going to take our suggestion and go with a closed source solution, you’re going to want to take a good hard look at the first three we mentioned in that group.

Questions and Comments

Once again, we have reached the part of our program where you, our reader can (and should) participate! The excellent input and the questions you pose in the comments section help to shape the content of this site, so that we can provide the most value possible for you. If you have an inquiry or comment, make sure to leave it in the comments section below.

Here are the questions we have for you. What questions do you have for us?

Have you worked with open source ecommerce platforms in the past and, if so, please let us know some of your experience.

Published by

Jun Loayza

Jun Loayza is the President of Ecommerce Rules. In his entrepreneurial experience, Jun has sold 2 internet companies, raised over $1,000,000 in Angel funding, and lead social media technology campaigns for Sephora, Whole Foods Market, Levi's, LG, and Activision.

4 thoughts on “To Open Source, or Not to Open Source, That is the Question”

  1. Hi Jun, are there any pros to building a more unique website through an open source platform? Do they tend to do better than close source sites due to a higher level of originality?

  2. As an open source platform, does Magento provide store templates as well, and can it serve as a closed source? Or is it solely built for programmers?

  3. What are some examples of security risks that need to be addressed by programmers when using open source codes?

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