Open Source vs. Closed Source Web Builder Platforms
Building a website for your small business brings a whole host of decisions. Whether to utilize open source or closed source solutions to build the site is a choice that you might not have anticipated. To help you to choose, here is a comparison between open source and closed source solutions, using the 3 most popular Ecommerce builders as examples; BigCommerce and Volusion, which are closed source, and WooCommerce, which is open source.
Source refers to the code which shapes your site. In open source Ecommerce builders, you can access the code and change it yourself. Closed source means that the source code is locked away - so that you can’t easily change it.
The benefits of open source solutions are primarily flexibility and scalability. You have full control over every aspect of your site’s design, thanks to the open source code. When your business expands, and your monthly sales increase, you can embrace it without being charged more for increased sales volume.
Closed source solutions have their own benefits, too. They are easier to work with for beginners or those who don’t know how to code, with intuitive drag-and-drop website builder platforms and code-free plugins. Closed source websites are easier and faster to set up out of the box. They are typically more secure as well, since the source code isn't open for hackers to practice on.
Closed source web builders include many features that are ready to go without you having to lift a finger.
Volusion offers a host of out of the box features, including:
Intuitive, rich content editor
CSS editor for coding experts
Product category pages
Custom domain name
Built-in promotional tools
BigCommerce has an extensive features list:
Scores of templates
Intuitive code-free drag-and-drop site builder
Conversion and marketing tools
Support for multiple payment gateways
Fully-hosted Ecommerce platform
Full CMS solution
Inventory management tools
Integrated social media
Customizable open API architecture to build from scratch
Open source Ecommerce solutions hold the potential for unlimited features, but you must code them yourself.
WooCommerce brings extensive options to shape your site your way. Its features include:
Hundreds of website themes
Over 400 extensions
Integrated blog options
Embeddable shortcodes to sell products from anywhere on the site
Endless options to add, sort, and filter products and set currency and measurements
Open Source Solutions
At first glance, open source solutions seem more affordable. For example, WooCommerce can come almost free - if you use a free theme and free plugins. Of course, you will have to pay for hosting your website and a custom domain name, but if you are clever at coding, you could adapt your website design and configure free plugins to meet your needs.
With that said, most small businesses are not going to find WooCommerce’s free plugin options to be sufficient. You could find yourself paying for more powerful payment processors, the ability to take bookings, credit card processors like Stripe or PayPal, and other extras, which can quickly add up. Then, there’s the cost of web design support and paying someone to configure your plugins and themes to match your brand. If you aren’t an expert at coder, the cost of getting your free site fully functional could rise quickly.
Closed source solutions
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*Prices last updated December 2017
Closed source solutions appear more expensive upfront because you’ll be charged a single monthly or annual fee for all of those individual extras mentioned above. BigCommerce’s monthly plans range from $29.95 per month for the basic option to $249.95 for Pro, but it includes a branded online store, web hosting, payment processors, social media commerce and, at the higher payment levels, custom SSL certificates. Volusion’s plans are cheaper, ranging from $15 a month to $135, but hosting and Ecommerce features are likewise included.
Another cost to closed source Ecommerce platforms is that either the platform or payment gateway will generally charge you a transaction fee on every sale. If you choose a lower-cost Ecommerce plan like a basic or standard level, you'll also be capped at a certain maximum number of transactions per month, and you'll have to pay higher monthly fees if your business expands to exceed that limit. BigCommerce permits you up to $50,000 in online sales per year on its basic plan, for example. If you use open source software, you can scale up your sales without extra costs.
Essentially, if you can code and design your site yourself, you can save by only paying for the pieces you need with WooCommerce. But, if you’ll be paying experts, you could find that the upfront costs for an intuitive, out-of-the box solution like BigCommerce or Volusion is more cost-effective in the long run.
Open source solutions offer experienced coders plenty of room for innovation and flexibility. You can take advantage of the innovation of others by using one of the thousands of open source plugins, and give back to the online community by sharing your own creations. Open source web builders also permit you to give your creativity full reign when you design your site.
Closed source solutions might seem to hold less scope for innovation, but those new to website building will find plenty of creative opportunity in customizing the many themes using drag-and-drop web builders. BigCommerce and Volusion both make their CSS editor available so that experts can innovate on a code level as well, although not as extensively as with open source.
Ease of Use
What closed source solutions lose in terms of innovation, they gain when you look at ease of use. BigCommerce and Volusion can both be set up and ready to go in just a couple of hours, with all the branding, payment processing options, and marketing and conversion tools you need. There's no need to go crazy in an attempt to integrate your social media networks or import your products because there are apps and tools that do it for you with a click. Even a total web building novice can create an effective and attractive Ecommerce site with an intuitive closed-source web builder platform.
That said, open source solutions are trying to catch up. WooCommerce now offers a code-free web builder option as well as the CSS configuration approach. There are many open-source plugins to perform almost every function from integrating social media to adding payment processors. Installation is not as simple as for closed-source packages and novices may still struggle, but the plugins come with clear instructions so those with limited web building experience can manage on their own.
Closed source web builders are usually seen as more secure. When you build your site on a closed source platform, you're creating the entire system as a whole, which limits the risk of leaving gaps in your security setup and could be a way in for hackers. BigCommerce includes a custom SSL certificate in its two top tiers of web building plans, while Volusion sells a custom SSL certificate for an added fee. Closed source platforms are usually protected by several rings of security and only use software which has been extensively tested for bugs, viruses, and Trojans.
With open source software, there are many opportunities for bugs and viruses to creep into the system. When you fit together many extensions and plugins to make a site, you are more likely to leave gaps in your security setup. Open source software solutions also aren't peer-reviewed, so you have to trust that the developer hasn't embedded any Trojans or backdoor viruses into the software you're using. On the other hand, many more heads are working on the security of open source software. WooCommerce offers an SSL security plugin and various other security extensions. Open source fans insist that as long as you keep your plugins up to date and use a secure hosting option, there is no drop in security compared with closed source software.
The Bottom Line: Closed Source or Open Source Software
The truth is that we can’t tell you whether a closed source or open source platform will be best for your Ecommerce site. It all depends on the level of skills you can access to build and maintain your site, how much flexibility you want for customizing it at code level, and whether you expect to want to make a lot of changes in the future. With our comparison, you can make an informed decision about which type of Ecommerce platform will suit you best when you build your Ecommerce site.