The Proprietary vs Open Source software debate is age-old, also in the field of CMS/WCM systems.
It's a debate with no winners, though - least of all the customers who have to wade through confusing (dis)information from both sides.
If you believe the stereotypes, proprietary products are expensive, massive, slow-moving, rigid systems - while open source products are cost-efficient, modular, quick-evolving and flexible. Everyone with a functioning frontal lobe realizes the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Speaking of being in the middle - EPiServer just doesn't fit either mould.
Sure, it's a proprietary product, and they serve enterprise scale customers. But unlike bigger suite-oriented vendors, they employ best-of-breed tactics, and they embrace many traits more often associated with open source vendors.
EPiServer's simply a different kind of animal - busting myths left and right.
MYTH 1: "With proprietary WCMs, you can't try before you buy"
BUSTED! With EPiServer, you can review full versions for free - without hassle.
Once registered, you can create 45-day demo licenses (or 12-month developer licenses if you work for an EPiServer partner).
I'm not talking about crippled trial versions either - these are the full-featured, everything-enabled, real thing. I'm talking CMS, Commerce, Find, and all sorts of valuable add-ons for social integration, SEO, analytics, CRM, DAM, A/B testing - you name it.
Order as many demo licenses as you want, to learn everything you need about the system. No need to become a licensed partner, certified developer or sit through a sales pitch before getting access.
You can download fully functional, customizable, sample Visual Studio projects showcasing CMS, Commerce and Find. If you just want to play around with the UI instead of the code, they offer several fully functional public demo sites.
MYTH 2: "Proprietary WCMs evolve too slow"
BUSTED! EPiServer uses semantic versioning, and releases core updates every week.
Read that again: Every 7 days, developers and customers can get their hands on official, tested, production-ready new features, API tweaks and maintenance fixes for the core EPiServer products and official add-ons. (Of course, security patches are released as often as needed.)
UPDATE: This originally said "every 2 weeks / 14 days". The mistake is mine - EVERY WEEK is actually the correct release interval!
EPiServer has adopted semantic versioning, which means the Core team can push new features (even breaking changes, if needed) without Marketing holding them back.
(In fact, yesterday they released CMS 8, without making a big fuss about it.)
As a result, they have increased motivation to innovate, shortened time-to-market, and a more transparent upgrade path.
How many other enterprise-class proprietary vendors can match that?
Sitecore and IBM infrequently release updates and patches every 4-8 weeks, on average. Adobe even longer: 6-12 weeks.
What about enterprise-class Open-Source vendors?
For the upcoming Drupal 8, a release cycle of 4 weeks has been suggested for patches, and 6 MONTHS for minor features.
For major versions, well - the Drupal 8 core has been in alpha/beta for, what, 2 years? And still no release candidate in sight.
Contributing developers can't port their modules to Drupal 8 until Drupal 8 is stable. By extension, platforms built on top of Drupal (like commercial vendor Acquia), won't be stable until Drupal 8 is stable. Well, I guess it will be ready when it's ready.
(Sounds strangely familiar. My apologies for beating a dead source. Err, horse!)
MYTH 3: "Properietary WCMs are too inflexible"
BUSTED! EPiServer can integrate and bend more than most systems.
Remember, EPiServer has a best-of-breed approach. They have strong, distinguishable core products which are really good at fulfilling their specific purpose, and comprehensive enough to cover 90% of the use cases needed by today's demanding enterprise customers, both technical and feature-wise.
For everything else that isn't core, they have official or 3rd party add-ons, and a very integration-friendly API. You can integrate with any market-leading 3rd party tool or system, including (but not limited to) Active Directory, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, Marketo, Silverpop, Sharepoint, InRiver PIM, Google Analytics, PayPal etc. (EPiServer offer integrated connectors for many of these).
You can modify most parts of the UI, rewrite workflows, hook onto content events, add custom membership providers, expose/consume data through webservices - the list goes on. They even offer UX style guides to help integrations be consistent with the EPiServer look-and-feel.
The inflexibility myth is commonly aimed at All-In-One Suite WCMs, but the Open Source camp will throw this at any proprietary system, including EPiServer.
Open-Source vendors like Drupal argue that their core products are small and lightweight, and that they have thousands of modules to solve small, specialized functions, so you can build tailored systems for every customer.
I definitely see their point, but they rarely mention:
- The core is usually so bare bones that, on its own, it cannot meet the requirements of an enterprise customer.
You would need to add something like 30-50 modules to get a system that matches EPiServer's baseline feature set (corrections welcome in the comments section!)
- Most of these modules are contributed by independent developers, who have no obligation (other than moral), nor any financial incentive, to keep maintaining them.
MYTH 4: "Proprietary WCM vendors ignore feedback"
BUSTED! EPiServer regularly seeks out and acts on feedback from the partners and developer community.
EPiServer core developers and product managers frequently appear at developer/partner/user events, getting feedback straight from the people who use their software. The same people frequently join in on discussions in the community forums, MVP chatrooms and on social media.
Encountered usability issues? Argue your case directly to the UX designers.
Got a feature request? Have your peers comment, elaborate and vote on it. It'll get noticed.
Found a bug? Report it, and the core developers will patch it in an upcoming release cycle (or issue a hotfix).
Want to discuss the evolution of a particular feature? Reach out to the product manager.
Less walls of obscurity - more transparency, trust and ownership.
MYTH 5: "Proprietary WCM communities lack engagement"
BUSTED! EPiServer World is a buzzing, ever-growing hub.
I could rant on about World (in fact, I have).
It's the official source for information about all things EPiServer - downloads, docs, forums and blogs. It's where developers (over 26,500, as mentioned) come to resolve issues, share ideas and stay updated.
One of the explanations for its rapid and steady growth is that EPiServer have managed to cultivate World into a functional hub, eliminating the need for external communities competing for attention. World is so established as the go-to place for info, that users prefer to post there rather than on Stack Overflow.
There are currently over 300 individual bloggers on World. Some have a blog hosted on World, but external bloggers are allowed to syndicate their stuff right into the blogs feed on World. This way bloggers reach a wider audience, and the audience gets the convenience of following one central feed.
World has a scoring system rewarding user activity. Consistent contributors are recognized and promoted to MVPs. Some are even invited to join EPiServer to work on the core.
Overall, there's a clear sense of ownership and passion among community members, which is rare for a commercially licensed product.