Open-source Alternatives to Adobe AEM

Jason Smith

Adobe has been in the creative software industry for over three decades. In recent years, Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) has become a popular enterprise content management system (CMS).

With its wide range of features and extensive UI, AEM is considered one of the top enterprise content management systems in the market. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect platform for every company.

Open-source alternatives to AEM are a great way for companies to save money and increase the ownership of their data. Several open-source options offer many of the same capabilities as AEM but cost less and have greater value.

Open-source vs. Proprietary Software

Before getting into the ins and outs of Adobe, we should first clarify what’s meant by open-source and proprietary software.

Open-source software has source code that anyone can view, modify, and distribute. This means that anyone can contribute to the development and improvement of the software. Open-source software often relies on a community of developers working together to create, maintain and support the software. Examples of open source software include the Linux operating system, Apache web server, and dotCMS.

On the other hand, proprietary software refers to software that is owned by a specific company or individual and is protected by copyright laws. Proprietary software is not open to modification or redistribution by others without permission from the owner. The source code is usually kept secret, and only the compiled executable code is distributed. Examples of proprietary software include Microsoft and Adobe.

One of the key differences between open source and proprietary software is the licensing model. Open source software is typically distributed under a license that grants users the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the software. Proprietary software, on the other hand, typically restricts users’ ability to modify or redistribute the software.

Another difference is the development process. Open source software development often relies on a community of developers contributing their time and expertise to the project. Proprietary software development is typically done by a team of developers working for a company or individual owner.

Why Look for an Open-Source Alternative to AEM?

Adobe’s AEM product is a robust tool that helps manage digital experiences. However, its monolithic nature makes it expensive and unwieldy. It offers smart automation tools, solid development tools, and cloud hosting to deliver content across multiple digital channels but includes them all in one platform.

As such, AEM is often described as an all-in-one solution suite CMS. It comes ready to cater to you and help you work on multiple areas of your digital presence using the same software.

While this sounds appealing, AEM has a few problems highlighting a major issue with the software suite: a lack of flexibility.

  • Not Cost Efficient: Firstly, the proprietary architecture increases the price of AEM. Although this architecture allows the software to offer various digital tools, it also causes you to pay for features you may never need. You will find yourself spending more than what you bargained for.

  • Steep Learning Curve: AEM may put many developers and designers off due to its steep learning curve. That means you will have a hard time getting professionals up to speed when using the software, and the user experience in AEM needs to be more intuitive.

  • Complexity: AEM is a highly complex system that requires significant expertise to operate and maintain. It can take considerable time and resources to configure and customize the platform to suit specific business needs.

  • Poor ROI: While AEM offers powerful features and capabilities, it can be costly to implement and require significant ongoing investment to maintain and update. Organizations may find that the cost of implementing and maintaining AEM outweighs the benefits, resulting in poor ROI.

  • Lack of Composability: AEM may not integrate seamlessly with other software and systems. This can pose challenges when attempting to integrate AEM with existing IT infrastructure. It may require additional customizations and configurations, which goes against the composable architecture modern businesses want to adopt today. 

Therefore, while a proprietary suite CMS sounds like a great idea on paper, think twice before committing to one, as their costs and lack of flexibility have the potential to make website building and digital experience development a pain.

What Should an Alternative for Adobe Experience Manager Have?

An open-source alternative for Adobe Experience Manager should give enterprise companies the flexibility to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace. Open-source software prevents vendor lock-in, ensuring you will always be free to choose the technology stack that works for your company’s particular use case and meets your unique requirements.

Read More: The Anatomy of an Open Source Headless CMS

Best Open-source Alternatives To AEM


Alfresco is a cloud-based content services platform that offers a centralized solution for managing, securing, and utilizing all types of content, including rich media like videos and images. It integrates data and content systems across businesses and allows for the creation of custom content-driven solutions that yield measurable results.


  • Solid support

  • Useful for DAM

  • Good granular permission system


  • Requires a knowledgeable team of developers

  • Slow and sluggish at times

  • Not mobile-friendly

  • Not-so friendly UI


dotCMS is a content management system that blends visual content editing with API-first flexibility to help global enterprises who have sophisticated content requirements create, manage and deliver digital content anywhere. The dotCMS platform is best suited for organizations across industries who manage multiple brands, websites and content types across multiple languages, and need a solution that is secure and scalable for a development team to work with, but also puts power into the hands of the content & marketing teams who regularly need to make content changes.


  • Powerful Personalization

  • Multisite/Channel support

  • GraphQL out-of-the-box

  • Workflows and Permissions


  • Requires some previous CMS knowledge

  • Permissions can get too granular


Enonic is a customizable headless CMS platform that enables developers to structure content, create pages, and deliver digital experiences using their preferred front-end frameworks. Editors have intuitive control over content with visual editing and real-time previewing, which can be accessed through the API and used as data. Enonic also supports content reuse and localization for multi-market brands.


  • Flexible and user-friendly

  • Strong community support


  • Immature tooling

  • Not so good to receive migration from other platforms


Liferay DXP allows companies to create personalized and connected digital experiences across a range of channels, including websites, mobile apps, customer portals, and connected devices. It’s a flexible platform that seamlessly integrates with existing enterprise applications such as CRM, ERP, and MAP. It offers intuitive CMS, user analytics, and site management tools for business users to launch, test, and optimize digital experiences quickly.


  • Easier to integrate

  • Easy to navigate


  • API responses can be slow

  • Support needs improvement

  • Portal concept can be hard to wrap your head around


Magnolia is a powerful and robust headless content management system that enables companies to create custom apps and store their data. It’s a flexible platform available in the cloud or self-hosted, used in DX architectures. It provides multi-level security and is an open-source platform that offers cloud storage and multisite support.


  • Customizable based on user needs.

  • GraphQL out-of-the-box

  • Multisite support.


  • Complex user interface

  • Resource intense if your use case isn’t common

  • Manageing Layouts can be difficult

Benefits of Open Source Over Proprietary Software

A headless, open-source alternative to AEM enables developers to explore the source code and modify it to their requirements, which is impossible on a proprietary digital experience platform like the Adobe system.

Let’s explore more advantages of the open-source model versus proprietary software.

Bigger User Community

One of the biggest strengths of open-source vs. proprietary software is that by opening the source code to everyone, open-source projects build a community of fellow users and developers looking to explore the possibilities of the CMS.


Enterprise businesses need to be quick to stay relevant. An open-source CMS is usually faster to implement than proprietary solutions, enabling companies to deliver digital experiences and increased value to visitors faster.


Open-source software is usually more cost-effective than proprietary software. This becomes much more evident in the enterprise environment where an open-source solution can tip the scales regarding fewer costs for superior or equivalent capabilities.


An open-source content management system lets you start small and test things quickly. This enables you to test a platform before fully committing hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources. An open-source platform allows you to try alternatives at a lower cost, pick the best one, and then scale it to fit your needs.


Enterprise companies must always be on the lookout for cyberattacks. Still, a vibrant open-source community can help mitigate these issues as the community has more possibilities to spot bugs and potential attack vectors before a malicious actor has time to exploit it.

No Vendor Lock-In

Vendor Lock-in is a real problem for companies using AEM because it does not integrate well with third-party applications. You may end up in a situation where you can’t use other software, and attempting to change to a different vendor could be too costly to be feasible.

Why dotCMS Is the Best Alternative to Adobe Experience Manager

Many open-source alternatives to AEM are other headless CMSs that are just that- headless. Choosing a pure headless platform disempowers your marketing teams and prevents them from taking ownership of the company content. This approach leads to a slower time to market and a higher total cost of ownership.

With dotCMS’ marketing-friendly content authoring features, content teams can finally regain control in a headless environment. dotCMS’ NoCode vision gives non-technical marketers the tools they need to create impactful content and digital experiences with ease.

Here are some of the features in dotCMS that make it the best alternative to AEM.

  • User-friendly Interface: Among the other alternatives, dotCMS has the most user-friendly interfaces. The platform includes drag-and-drop page composition for easy editing, content personalization, inline editing, and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editing without having to code.

  • Edit Mode Anywhere: Edit Mode Anywhere allows marketers to preview and manage how their content will look on different devices. With Edit Mode Anywhere, editors can now edit content for different devices and channels, including SPAs, PWAs, and any other frontend apps built using dotCMS’ Layout as a Service API.

  • Personalization: dotCMS personalization engine allows marketers to apply analytics and deliver content that fits each type of visitor. While some alternatives to Adobe Experience Manager can deliver content to a wide range of users, much of that content feels like cookie-cutter content that doesn’t address the needs of different types of visitors. In dotCMS, marketers can tailor their content based on a no-code rules engine that shows dynamic content to customers across other devices.

  • NoCode Workflow Management: Workflow management also sets dotCMS apart from its competitors, enabling project managers to assign tasks and the order in which the tasks must be accomplished. The workflow processes in dotCMS make it easier for a marketing team to collaborate on content, ensure smoother content approval, and keep all parties accountable for their tasks.

  • Push Publishing: dotCMS’ push publishing architecture lets marketers schedule publishing dates, site updates, and remove outdated content from an easy-to-understand user interface. Enabling teams to move content and assets between authoring and production environments easily. The system also ensures that distributed servers remain in sync across various locations.

  • dotCDN: Powered by Bunny CDN, dotCDN is an integrated content delivery network that helps marketers scale their operations, which reduces latency. A CDN-enabled headless CMS gives marketers the resources needed for faster content delivery through a reliable network of cache servers worldwide.

Open source software gives you advantages over proprietary if you’re looking for a good ROI. Discover how dotCMS can help organizations stay recession-proof: How to Recession Proof Your Tech Stack With a Hybrid CMS.

Jason Smith
Chief User Experience Officer
May 02, 2023

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