Why you should choose Open-Source

Written by Andrew Thomas

Last week I received a copy of a tender for the design and development of a specialist online community for a Wales-wide user base. Like always reading through the specification I went through a full set of emotions - excitement, disappointment, frustration, love and hate. There was even a decent budget attached to it too. In fact I was buzzing - thinking yes - this is a perfect project for us. It married up with our existing projects and I was still excited having read most of the specification and really felt like a good match.

It was a technically simple project, where the majority of the budget would have allowed us focus on the development of the brand online - making the users experience fit with the needs of the target sector - rather than just developing an exhaustive list of tools and features because they sound good. ...then I turned the page to read that no open-source content management systems were to be used to develop the community an immediate kick to the gut ensued. After all I’ve spent nearly the last 10 years trying to get away from bespoke and expensive enterprise level content management systems. That budget no longer seemed decent and felt quite insulting for the level of server-side development alone that would be required for the project - that’s before considering other elements including project management, planning, ux, design and front-end development etc...

Commenting on this may seem inappropriate or unprofessional, but it's something I feel really passionate about, especially as I read quite a few similar tenders within months of each other. I don’t blame the tender writer or procurement department for being so prescriptive. I can only assume that a similar project that used ‘Open-Source’ had gone badly - there’s nothing like a bad experiences to put you off using a piece of technology or software.

I’m a big believer in open-source and I admire the time and effort donated by millions of people around the world towards it - there’s absolutely no way that Hoffi could compete without using it and being a part of it. It makes our work more cost effective, by building on the tools and features that already exist we are able to build complex applications quickly and really focus on the usability and design of the final product.

Its also important to feedback to the community that’s built the software - for us its Drupal and being a part of the community on Drupal.org is important. Even something as simple as answering a question from another user or sharing some code we’ve written all helps make Drupal great and Open-Source worthwhile.

Of course it does come with its problems - as do all software applications (even the expensive ones) and open-source is no different, but being part of such a large development team allows those risks to be ironed out quickly and following a regular upgrade routine ensures that website’s stay online. Without Open-Source this process would be expensive, which is why I always get puzzled when a tender specifically says NO to Open-Source - I get frustrated and want to ask why, but then I think I’d be just wasting my time as they’d already made that decision to avoid it. It doesn’t matter how good we are with Drupal - we are just another unknown supplier with a ‘rogue’ piece of Open-Source software.

It never feels like the true benefits of Open-Source have been explored, things like

  • Rapid and agile development
  • Develop prototypes quickly
  • Great local support by companies like us and 1000’s of freelancers around the globe
  • Cost effective to build complex applications
  • 1000’s of contributed modules linking to other online services like Google Analytics, Mailchimp and Eventbrite
  • There’s a good range of web hosting options

If you are about to commission a website project please consider Open-Source, there are a strong collection of agencies and freelance developers in Wales and just over the border in Bristol that pride themselves on being part of these Open-Source communities and are able to create brilliant applications quickly and cost effectively.