When you enter the world of web hosting, you will find yourself inundated with options. Choosing a hosting company is only the beginning. Even after you have a domain, hosting account, and all of the preliminary tasks out of the way, you still have to build a website. Many options out there are proprietary, sold by commercial vendors and private developers, but in some situations, it is much better for your website and your business to use free and open source software for your website.
What Is Free and Open Source Software?
To fully grasp the importance of open source software, it is important to have a clear definition. Free and open source software is any software that is made available using a free software license (approved by the Free Software Foundation) or an open source license (approved by the Open Source initiative). Most free and open source licenses fit both lists and include clauses that allow users to copy the source code, modify it, and redistribute it to others. This does not necessarily exclude commercial software, since even free and open source software can still be sold.
How Can a Website Be Open Source?
When we talk about making a website open source, it does not refer to the HTML and CSS code, which is, by the open nature of the Web, always open source and available to everyone. On the other hand, many websites use server-side scripting to create dynamic web pages and web applications. In some cases, these scripts are from proprietary vendors or private contractors, but you can also get them from open source developers.
Some of the most successful and trusted websites use reliable free and open source content management systems, such as WordPress (for blogging), Drupal (for general website content management), and Magento (for e-commerce).
Why Go Open Source?
The most common reason for a website administrator to pick a tool like WordPress over something commercial is that it is free of charge. You do not have to pay a cent to download it and install it on any server. While there are commercial installation and management services available, these are completely optional, and the software remains free and open source even if you use them.
Beyond the initial cost, however, free and open source web software offers significant advantages, including the following:
Avoid Vendor Lock-in
If a vendor creates a complex proprietary web application for your website, you will always be dependent on that vendor for updates, customizations, and possibly even the safety of your data, which may be in a proprietary format. If you ever need to switch to another vendor, you may have serious conversion problems.
When you use free and open source software, it is yours to do with as you please. While other software may have limitations on the amount of customization you can do, an open source web application is like clay that you can mold into whatever you want.
Reliability and Security
As the old open source saying goes, “many eyes make bugs shallow.” It is easier for a community of developers to spot security flaws and fix bugs than it is for a commercial company with a closed development model.
This is especially true if you hire an independent developer to create a new application for you. If something should happen to that developer or you are no longer able to hire that person, you are left with software that no one at your organization truly understands how to develop or fix. With free and open source software, it continues to survive even if the developer does not. The source code remains available even if a vendor goes out of business.
The Open Web
There is one undeniable reason why it makes sense to use free and open source software for your website. The web was built on free and open source principles. The code of the web is free and open, and web standards call for websites to be open and accessible to everyone. Most of the top hosting providers offer free and open source software, and it only makes sense that your website should maintain the spirit of the web by keeping your site open.