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In this chapter, I am going to discuss many of the terms and concepts that you'll come in contact with while researching or working with content management systems. Being familiar with these terms will make it easier to compare CMSs and give you a greater understanding of how they work. I want to start with a term that you here a lot as you'll be working with content management systems, 'open source'. Open-source CMSs are often listed as a separate category and even have entire web sites dedicated to the latest open-source CMS news and reviews.
So what exactly makes a CMS open source? To understand that, let's take a moment to go back and revisit the evolution of CMSs that we discussed earlier. In the mid to late '90s, an explosion a proprietary content management systems joined the market. A proprietary CMS is one that's developed by a single corporation and then licensed to clients that wish to use it. In many cases, the CMS would be customized specifically for that client and their workflow. As you can imagine, this type of service was not cheap.
At that time CMSs were seen as a powerful solution that was restricted to organizations with larger budgets. Now that's where open-source software comes in. While the term 'open source' gets thrown around a lot, there really is an organization, the Open Source Initiative, that is dedicated to promoting and codifying what open source means. Basically, open-source software is software that is released with licenses that allows the software to be distributed for free and without any royalty fees. Open-source software really began to take hold of the web with the release of PHP in the mid-90s.
Finally, a free general-purpose scripting language was available for web development. This dramatically lowered the cost of hosting dynamic web sites and set the stage for an explosion open-source web applications. It's only natural then the developers would soon turn their attention to content management systems. This democratized the world of web-based content management and made it a lot easier for individuals and smaller organizations to bring content management to their sites. It's no accident that Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress, all free open-source content management systems, are the three most popular CMSs on the market today.
So, does that mean that open-source CMSs are really free? Yes and no. If you're technically savvy, you can download the CMS for free, install it on your server, and begin using it to set up your site without spending a dime. Even better, many hosting companies offer a one-click install that will install the CMS on your server for you, freeing you from having to do that on your own. However, open-source software isn't without its drawbacks. As a general rule, a community of volunteer programmers develops open-source software. That means that updates are frequent, interfaces aren't always user friendly, and documentation can occasionally be hard to come by.
If you use open-source software, you should be prepared to either put in the time yourself to learn how it works or pay for a resource on staff or an outside consultant to make sure your install is handled properly. You'll also need to keep up with its development, so you can be aware of any major revisions and how they might affect your site.
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