North Wales Management School - Wrexham University

What are open source platforms?

Posted on: March 7, 2022
Illustration of two miniature programmers sat next to a large computer screen

Open source platforms are publicly available software products that allow anyone to access their source code. You can inspect, study and run the code, modify and enhance it, and even share it – something you certainly couldn’t do with closed source proprietary software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop.

The decentralised open source software model encourages open collaboration between developers. Often, total strangers around the globe will work together to fix bugs, improve features, add bespoke customisations, and create new functionality, all for the benefit of an open source product.

With this in mind, open source software is a great way to develop your skills as a programmer, work with other developers, and create cost-effective sites, programmes and apps for your projects and businesses – all that work precisely as you want them to.

Is open source free?

Whether you’re a hobbyist programmer in your spare time, or want to modify an open source ecommerce platform’s source code for your own business, open source software is typically free for everyone with no upfront cost.

However, it is worth noting that open source software typically doesn’t come with things like technical support, so while you probably won’t pay for the software itself, you may need to hire a developer for support if this isn’t something you can do yourself.

Other benefits of open source software

In addition to the cost savings and control you have when using open source software, other key benefits include:

  • Enhanced security and stability. We’re all used to bug fixes and updates to our software products and apps; these are an important part of keeping our programmes and devices safe and performing their best. Importantly, these updates are often more frequent with open source products, thanks in large part to the many volunteer programmers who can fix and upgrade the software as needed. 
  • A community of developers. With open source, you don’t have to rely on just yourself, or the individual developers in your employ, to do all the heavy lifting with your product’s source code. You’ll save time and money as part of an open source community of developers, and will have access to forums and other online communities such as GitHub to help maintain and optimise your software, and gain access to things like tutorials, templates, and other updates.

Popular examples of open source software

One of the most widely known examples of open source software is Linux, the open source operating system. The Android operating system, for example, is based on the Linux kernel, and is the most widely used operating system for mobile smartphones.

If you’re a programmer or developer with the know how, you can collaborate on a wide array of open source projects. For example, the Apache HTTP web server is open source, and there are plenty of products for front-end development, too, with open source HTML editors, CSS frameworks and JavaScript projects widely available.

Other notable examples of open source software – which are easy to use regardless of your technical skills – include:

  • Mozilla Firefox. An alternative to Chrome or Safari, Firefox is an open source web browser focused on internet privacy. You can use a number of open source Firefox add-ons to improve your user experience, too.
  • Libreoffice. An alternative to Microsoft Office, Libreoffice is an open source office suite that includes word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools.
  • GIMP. An alternative to Adobe Photoshop, GIMP is an open source graphics editor used for image manipulation and editing.

One of the most popular software licences for free and open source software is the GNU General Public Licence (GPL), which guarantees end users the four freedoms to run, study, share and modify the software – so this is a good open source licence to look for when investigating options for your open source projects, whether they be for startups, online shops, CMS platforms, or so forth.

What is a CMS platform?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a digital system that’s used to manage content. For example, a CMS for your website would allow multiple people to create, edit and publish content in a user-friendly way. 

There are a number of open source CMS options, including:

  • Drupal, a free and open source web content management system written in PHP, which is a well-used open source general-purpose scripting language.
  • Joomla, a free and open source web content management system with applications including discussion forums, photo galleries, ecommerce, and user communities.

Using open source software for your business

From small businesses to big retailers, if you want to create an ecommerce website, there’s a lot to think about. You want to consider:

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to make sure you rank highly against your competitors and other retailers in web search results.
  • Scalability, so that you can accommodate growth as your ecommerce store develops.
  • A strategic marketing strategy for your web presence.

And crucially, you’ll need to think about what platform to use for your ecommerce website. Your ecommerce site is your digital store, so it can be helpful to think about the customer journey, from how products can be filtered and searched, to payment options, and the overall checkout experience. 

If you don’t want to use a closed source proprietary platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, there is a whole host of open source ecommerce software and open source ecommerce solutions available for your online store.

Open source ecommerce platforms include:

  • Magento, an open source ecommerce platform written in PHP.
  • OpenCart, an online store management system. It’s PHP-based, using a MySQL database – which is used to add, access and process data – and HTML components.
  • WooCommerce, an open source ecommerce plugin for WordPress designed specifically for small to large online merchants and ecommerce sites that use WordPress and its plugins.
  • PrestaShop, a freemium open source ecommerce platform written in PHP with support from a MySQL database.
  • nopCommerce, an open source ecommerce solution that bills itself as the most popular ASP.NET shopping cart in the world.
  • OsCommerce, an ecommerce and online store management software programme that uses PhP and MySQL.
  • Zen Cart, an online store management system. It is PHP-based and uses a MySQL database and HTML components.
  • Spree Commerce, an open source headless ecommerce platform used by a number of international brands.

The Open Source Initiative

The Open Source Initiative is a non-profit corporation founded in 1998 to foster community-building, education, and public advocacy around non-proprietary software.

It states that its vision is to support “institutions and individuals working together to create communities of practice in which the healthy open source ecosystem thrives” and is a good resource for open source advocates.

Getting the most from your open source skills

More and more, businesses are relying on open source platforms. According to State of Open: The UK in 2021, a staggering 89% of UK companies run open source software – and more than half of UK companies look for open source skills when hiring.

This makes it an ideal time to consider a career in the high-demand and well-paid digital sector, especially if you have an interest in open source software and software development. It also makes it an ideal time to consider the career-focused MSc Computer Science degree at the North Wales Management School, which can help put you ahead of the competition.

Our flexible degrees are 100% online and part-time, so you can study anytime, anywhere, on any device – and earn while you learn.