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That and a Million Dollars

At dinner a few nights ago, a friend who works for a large university said she was going to a few days of training on a new content management system the university had purchased. I'd never heard the name before, but she said it was in use at a few other educational institutions. The price tag was more than a million dollars.

I asked if they'd looked at any open-source systems, and she said, "They looked at Drupal, but it didn't have all the features we needed." I didn't dig any further, since no one else at the table was tremendously interested in a content-management conversation, but I did say, "You can write a lot of Drupal modules for a million dollars."

Now, I hope they're successful, but I suspect that within a year or so, they'll be complaining that this new system doesn't do things they need to do, or isn't flexible enough, or isn't compatible with some other system they're interested in. The same would have happened with Drupal or another open-source system, but:

  • Updates would be coming fast and furious from a large development community;
  • Hiring new developers to extend the system would be easy;
  • There'd be no proprietary black boxes to be worked around;
  • There'd be more money to do things with!

There certainly are challenges to using an open-source system. But there are as many challenges to using a proprietary system, and they're tremendously expensive. In these economic times, one would hope that people would put a little more time and thought into seven-figure purchases. That open-source system and a million dollars will do a lot more than just get you on the bus.