Why We Choose to be an Enterprise-grade Open Source CMS: An Interview with the dotCMS CTO

There’s no doubt that open source software has grown dramatically in recent years. While large enterprise companies were initially hesitant to adopt open source software, 99% of IT leaders now believe open source software has at least some importance for their enterprise technology strategy. This trend comes as no surprise to dotCMS, as we’ve recognized the enormous benefits of open source enterprise-grade software from the beginning.

With this in mind, I spoke with Will Ezell, CTO of dotCMS, to hear his thoughts on why dotCMS has chosen to remain an open source Java CMS from the start and why enterprise adoption of open source will continue to grow.

Why dotCMS Has Always Been an Open Source CMS 

“As I came of age with the internet,” explained Ezell, “open source software has always been a key component to any software project that I've ever been involved with.” Even the internet itself is open source, and large open source projects like Linux have had a profound impact on the broader technology space. That’s because open source communities foster innovation and better software development.

Ezell believes there are enormous benefits to open source software and the community that surrounds them, and that’s why he continues to promote open source within the company. But that doesn’t mean that dotCMS doesn’t face any challenges when it comes to open source.

Why We Closed the Book on Closed Source

Ezell believes there will always be a pull to become a closed source software company. “You will always get those who take advantage,” he explains, “people downloading your software, using it for free and eating up the bandwidth of the community and company with questions, trying to validate workarounds to features that are part of the Enterprise Edition.” But these are just part of what it takes to have a successful open source business model.

The other challenge Ezell sees with having both the open source Community Edition and the closed source Enterprise Edition is choosing which version new features should go into. He says there’s no science behind these decisions, but they’re crucial for the continued success of dotCMS. “It's really an art of deciding that if we do close source this particular feature or function,” explains Ezell, “is that going to limit the open source version in such a way that it will become un-useful or will have ramifications beyond the fact of just not having that feature.” That’s why dotCMS continues to provide innovative features for both editions of the software.

These factors, Ezell has found, do make closed source seem like the easier route to take at times, but then the company looks back at the enormous benefits open source has brought to the dotCMS community.

A Java CMS That's Also Open Source (It's No Accident!)

“Enterprises are becoming used to using and relying on open-source software as a foundation for their internal software project,” Ezell said. And this is especially true for the open source CMS software.

A Java CMS that’s also open source leverages the community of the software itself, but also the larger Java development community, which has been a mix of open source and enterprise editions under Oracle in the past. Combing both brings a great combination of community support and enterprise-grade technologies that proprietary software could never match — and enterprises are recognizing this.

“Many enterprises have realized that if they are building interesting software libraries in-house,” explains Ezell, “what they are building would actually be better served if it was open sourced itself.” That’s why you have many corporate open source software repos to leverage code contributions from a community of developers and gain new insights from the public on non-differentiating company software.

Beyond the benefits of open sourcing software from a development standpoint, enterprises are increasingly demanding access to the source code for software solutions they pay for. “Source code is just a critical component now,” explained Ezell, “as systems become more complex to be able to internally look through the code to figure out what's going on and if there is a problem be able to debug the problem in-house.” These are things that make access to source code non-optional for enterprises.

There’s also enormous marketing benefits to open source software. “We've seen open-sourcing dotCMS as a real part of the marketing of our software and software product,” said Ezell. That’s because in enterprise sales, it's common for companies to download the software, try some examples, and do an internal POC before engaging with the sales teams. In addition, there are some RFPs that explicitly look for open source software, so as an open source software company there are more opportunities for dotCMS to grow the community.

Openness Is Part of dotCMS's DNA

dotCMS has chosen to be an enterprise-grade open source CMS from the start, and it’s great that open source adoption is growing for enterprise companies. We also have no doubt enterprise adoption and open source community participation will continue to grow, as an open ecosystem suits enterprise-level companies better than closed-source alternatives that seek to technically stifle developers.

The open source community brings innovative features and ideas to the dotCMS community, and for a startup, it's also crucial for growth. “Open source spurs adoption," stated Ezell. dotCMS isn’t just used by global brands like TELUS and White Castle, but also by bootstrapped startups and SMBs looking for a tried, tested, secure, and open source CMS with enterprise-grade features. “That's why we've always tried to be the top open source CMS on the market," stated Ezell.

In the end, dotCMS will continue to develop its enterprise-grade open source hybrid CMS, and foster a community of collaboration and innovation around the Java CMS technology space. Community-driven development is the future of software, and openness is at the core of dotCMS.

September 23, 2019

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