Posted: 6/20/2012

The Pros & Cons of Open Source eCommerce Software

Open source software, and in particular open source ecommerce software, has been around for quite some time. Open source first got major exposure when Linus Torvalds released the very first version of the Linux operating system. Since then, multiple industries have seen the rise of "open source" solutions such as Sugar CRM which is an open source customer relationship management (CRM) product to the MySQL database system recently acquired by Oracle.

It was no surprise then to see the concept of open source eventually reach the ecommerce industry. Today there are numerous companies and businesses running open source ecommerce solutions. This blog will focus primarily on the positives and negatives of open source ecommerce software and play particular attention to not only the software itself, but the infrastructure required in order to run it. We will explore the specific needs a company will require when running open source software and also how the "cloud" is impacting companies that produce open source products such as Magento. Finally, we will calculate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) between an open source product versus a proprietary one.


1. Low Cost
It is true that you cannot get much lower than FREE. Most open source distributions of ecommerce software will cost you nothing. Not only that, but with no licensing requirements, your total cost of ownership is zero.

2. No License Fees
If you look closely at the Terms and Conditions for most open source ecommerce software products there are usually no licensing fees required in order to run the solution. This again can have a huge impact on costs and can save you money.

3. Customization Control
With most open source technologies you can customize the solution to fit your exact needs. A developer or programmer can access the source code and help a business make the modifications that need to be done in order for the software to work for your particular business.

4. Modules or "Apps"
In some instances there are companies that build a base open source platform and allow other 3rd party companies and people to build additional functionality on top of their platform. This can help you get more features and capabilities from your open source solution and potentially lowers the amount of time and money you need to spend on customizing your system.

5. Security Updates
Most decent open source ecommerce platforms will offer some kind of patching and security updates or upgrades. These are normally released quarterly and need to be implemented by your developer or consulting company.


1. Staffing Requirements
Obviously most small businesses who end up choosing an open source ecommerce solution will have to maintain and potentially enhance their system. This will require staffing in order to make sure that the system is optimized and running properly. This type of staff can be difficult to source and expensive to a companies bottomline.

2. Security Vulnerabilities
Most open source software can not only be downloaded and used by people with good intentions but also by malicious hackers as well. Its important for business owners to realize that open source solutions provide the complete "blue prints" to how the system works and operates; which is like giving a thief keys to your home in order to break in and steal your valuables.

3. Hosting
Any open source technology will require hosting which depending on your needs can increase the total cost of ownership. Any company that chooses to host themselves should make sure that they go with a reputable hosting provider and look out for overage charges on space and bandwidth packages.

4. Upgrading Issues
When your open source ecommerce software vendor releases updates to their platform, these usually contain changes to security vulnerabilities which should be implemented in a timely manner. These "upgrades" can have issues working with 3rd party modules or "apps" that you might have installed previously causing more time for your development staff or having to bring in expensive consultants.

5. Support
In most cases open source solutions offer little to no support unless you are willing to pay for it. This is normally how the company makes their money. Meaning, the company charges substantial rates per incident or requires you to be on some kind of monthly or yearly support contract. In either case, this is an important factor to consider when choosing to go with an open source ecommerce product.


There are some competing offerings to open source which come in the form or proprietary solutions such as Lead Commerce. In contrast to open source, proprietary platforms come in the form on locally installed as well as hosted or "cloud" based offerings. The cloud is a fairly compelling concept these days where businesses can leverage not only powerful software but also a robust and highly-available server infrastructure to make sure their online storefronts are always online and operate efficiently.

Businesses that choose to go with an open source technology product to run their ecommerce website should be aware of the following costs:

Open Source Software

IT Staff
$60,000.00 per year

$1200.00 per year

Support Fees

TOTAL - $66,200.00 or roughly $5,500.00 per month.

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