02nd December, 2014 by Adam Greenwood

What Is The Difference Between Open Source And Licensed Software?

Obviously one of the main differences is cost, with open source systems freely available and licensed systems charging up front and annual and/or monthly subscriptions but as the old adage goes, do you really get what you pay for?



Open source refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within their community.



Sometimes an organization may charge for a service such as maintenance or support, or special features, but mostly the software will be freely available. This makes it possible for open source software to gain a much larger audience, much more quickly than licensed software. This is obviously good for the user, but also good for the software author, in that their code can be in people's hands that much sooner. Many modules, developed by independent developers or small organisations can be downloaded for free or for a relatively low cost. For example:

  •         Forums
Events  Calendars   Advanced Search engines      Shopping carts

If a developer makes changes to open source software, that version is essentially “opted out” of that version as potential updates to the source code may no longer work with your customized version. So it is not necessarily any more adaptable by its customers than licensed software.

A fairly high level of technical expertise is required to maintain and edit a site created in most open source CMS’ as none that we have seen have a real What You See Is What You Get “WYSIWYG” interface.



A Licensed CMS will be developed by a company that is accountable for their software. They will develop new versions and updates regularly and usually work to a published “road-map”
The source code is not open to development by a community but in many cases, communities of developers and agencies offer support and “add-ons” to that software, much like the app store for Apple and Google Play for Android.
If issues or errors are discovered then the customer will have to wait for the product’s core development team to address them.



This is where licensed CMS’ come into their own, as they have been specifically developed to appeal to the end user that has a budget (Usually the marketing department). For example the envisage Real-time WYSIWYG makes sure that everything an end user adds; from images, content, videos, maps to news and social feeds; look exactly in the editing environment as they will on the finished website.
Licensed CMS developers will generally offer technical support for their customers which can give peace of mind, especially to larger corporate enterprises who do not want to be “at the mercy” of a community of developers.



Open source CMS’ are often developed by a team of passionate people that are creating something for the pure pleasure of it. There are huge libraries of available functionality, but the quality of this can vary dramatically. Some less technical users may find it to be more arduous to use. It is free to own but almost always comes with a cost of implementation and support.

Licensed CMS cost money, from the outset but you are paying for the accountability of an organization for the software that you use. Usability for non-technical users is often much easier.

About author

Adam Greenwood

A natural leader, just don't follow him on the London Underground! Adam uses his burgeoning OCD to make sure that everyone in the team is moving in the same direction.

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