Open source disruption in the CMS market

How open source disrupted the CMS market

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Photo by Jen Wike Huger

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Open source is increasingly changing the software industry. We can see open source products gaining market share in almost every category today, and this development is continuing at a fast pace.

Although a lot of business people still intuitively think of Linux when it comes to open source software, content management systems played a pivotal role in changing the mindset within corporations. Why? Because the CMS industry was one of the first to largely adopt open source products. Nowadays, the most corporations use open source content management systems for their web platforms. Some of them may not even realize it. 

The old days

Back in the beginning of this century, the CMS market was dominated by proprietary solutions such as Obtree, OpenText, RedDot, and more. I vividly remember these times; clients needed to be persuaded to build websites, and too often business people decided not to have a "web presence". With the upswing of broadband Internet connections, commercial use of the Internet became more important, and because the management of web content was extremely expensive and complicated, web content management systems became more popular. These proprietary CMSes were expensive, which is why they were first adopted in enterprise-class corporations. But as the Internet became more important for small businesses as well, less expensive solutions needed to come to market. 

A decimation of dinosaurs

In 2003, open source content management systems gained market share. With TYPO3 first released on 1998, in 2001, Mambo (the first codebase of what later would become Joomla) in 2001 and WordPress in 2003, companies all around the globe had the opportunity to implement CMS solutions for their websites at literally any license cost.

Whereas in the beginning the missing license costs had been an enabler for smaller companies to enter the field of content management systems, those firms soon realized that open source content management systems had a lot of advantages beyond attractive pricing. Because proprietary vendors merged and were sold, their clients often needed to move to other platforms just because they were locked to a vendor, which remained a problem until relatively recently. In addition to not being locked in with a vendor, customers quickly realized that going with an open source CMS provided great flexibility. Waiting for features to become part of a release was not necessary anymore—everyone with access to development skills is able to make adjustments and extensions.

Decade of growth for open source CMS

These advantages led to an unprecedented growth of open source content management systems. Now, depending on which source you check, the four biggest open source content management systems—WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and TYPO3—dominate the market with a share of more than 70 percent. This growth inspired a lot of other software vendors in other fields who quickly recognized that, by making the source code open, the product can spread a lot faster than by going with traditional marketing initiatives. This is why so many new and innovative software products choose open source as part of their business model. 

Open source vs. Open core

Make no mistake, open source is not what it is used to be. Most of the commercially successful open source companies run an open core model, which means that a basic version of their software is true open source, while they also maintain a version bound to a support subscription. As it turns out, especially in bigger corporations, support subscriptions make business sense.

In some cases, these vendors don't live up to open source principles, such as peer production, socializing in communities, and transparent communication. There is a lot less ideological momentum in open source today, and most of these vendors use open source as a distribution and marketing model. Is this something bad? I don't think so. The world has dramatically changed during the past 12 years, and most of the currently successful open source projects and products cope better with the given challenges than traditional, completely decentralized open source projects.

A way to go

These days we see a lot of traditional software companies moving in the direction of open source. I think people are realizing that increasing technological progress requires more collaboration, sharing know-how, and fostering communities with common interests. This is where open source comes into play, giving conceptual answers to questions about how to organize work and leverage the mutual benefits, while sharing knowledge about products and projects.

Because the main driver for this change is a rapidly changing society, I expect that we will see a lot more open source movement beyond the software industry. Although the software industry is still leading this movement, content management systems helped pave the way for the ubiquitous influence of open source software. 

The Open

This article is part of the The Open CMS column coordinated by Robin Muilwijk. Share your stories about working with open source content management systems (CMS) and platforms like Drupal, Joomla, Plone, WordPress, and more.

About the author

Alain Veuve - Since 1997, Alain Veuve has been involved with various Open Source Projects, IT- and Internet Companies as well as Start-Ups. During this time Alain has guided and consulted various international companies in the matter of their Opne Source e-business endeavours. Currently, Alain is serving as General Manager Switzerland for AOE (, the leading open web solution provider. Apart from this, Alain is a driving the business dimension of the TYPO3 project...