How WordPress Demonstrates the Open-Source Advantage.


When considering software for business or personal use, it’s essential to approach the evaluation process with an “Intelligent Interest” to ensure that an appropriate solution is selected. This is true regardless of whether we are considering open-source or proprietary software. Not all open-source software (OSS) is created equal, and a given OSS solution may not be suitable for all situations.

WordPress stands out as one of the most successful examples of OSS and is the most widely adopted content management system (CMS). In this article, we will explore how WordPress exemplifies the features, advantages, and benefits of OSS in general. Furthermore, these characteristics indicate some desirable selection criteria that we can apply to an OSS solution to help determine whether it is appropriate for a specific use case.

Free as in Free Speech

One of the fundamental aspects of OSS is the freedom it provides. WordPress, released under the GPLv2 license, offers users the freedom to use or modify the software as needed. It can be deployed anywhere, whether on premises or in the cloud. As a mature project with active development, WordPress benefits from collaboration and open development, resulting in high code quality as well as enhanced security through the vigilance of it’s extensive developer community.

In the case of WordPress, it is not only Free as in ‘Free Speech’ but also ‘Free as in Free Beer’ which gives the benefit of no-cost as well as Freedom. It’s important to note that it is the Freedom which is important in the OSS value proposition and that we should be prepared to contribute financially to OSS projects that we derive value from in order to ensure their sustainability. Therefore it is the ‘Free as in in Freedom’ that informs our selection criteria, not that it is ‘Free as in Free Beer.’

No Dependencies on Proprietary Software

Proprietary software, often depends on other proprietary components such as databases or operating systems. This introduces additional licensing costs and complexities for the customer over and above that of the application itself. Some proprietary software licensing is so complex and restrictive that it can be difficult to determine even the correct licensing that is required. Often software vendors are not very transparent or forthcoming in discussing the dependencies for their products during the sales and customer engagement process.

WordPress is not only OSS itself, but it is also built upon other OSS components like Apache/Nginx, PHP, and MySQL/MariaDB. WordPress eliminates the burden of licensing costs associated with proprietary software or with the complexities to ensure that the dependencies are correctly licensed. By utilizing OSS, WordPress enables businesses to allocate their capital to areas that provide the most value.

Some open-source projects may offer additional support for proprietary dependencies as there are some use cases where this might be beneficial – a business might want to leverage an existing investment in a proprietary technology for example.However, using an expensive proprietary dependency (such as an MSSQL or Oracle Database) for an OSS implementation when this is not required can be a recipe for a project that is not cost effective.

WordPress is Well Documented

The availability of good documentation is a good indicator of the health and maturity of an OSS project so it is something we should consider in our evaluation.

One of the significant advantages of WordPress is its extensive and comprehensive official documentation. In addition to the official WordPress Documentation, there is also a wealth of books, videos, websites, tutorials, and other materials published by third-party content creators. These facilitate learning for users at all levels of expertise and extend to topics beyond the scope of the official documentation.

Customizable and Extensible

Similar to many other OSS projects, WordPress features a modular architecture that allows for easy customization and extension. Themes provide the flexibility to customize the look and feel of websites, while plugins enable the application to be extended with new functionality.

Extending an existing OSS project offers several advantages compared to building a bespoke application from scratch when an off-the-shelf option is not available. It avoids reinventing the wheel, reduces long-term maintenance burden, and provides a solution that is more widely understood and supported.

For instance, consider a pharmacy needing an ERP system but have a special requirement that they need to integrate with a health insurance provider’s database can adopt a free open-source ERP system that meets most of their requirements and invest in developing a plugin or module to fulfill their unique needs, rather than building an entirely new application.

Freedom from Vendor Lock-In

WordPress has fostered a global community and ecosystem of third-party products and services. Anyone is free to develop products and services around WordPress without the need for an official partner program or certification.

This freedom ensures that the success or failure of product and support providers depends on the value they offer. WordPress users have the liberty to switch to another support provider if they are dissatisfied, preventing vendor lock-in.

In terms of our selection criteria, it’s worth noting that an open-source project must have a sufficient community and support ecosystem to avoid de-facto vendor lock-in due to a lack of viable alternatives.

Supported by a Stable Business or Non-Profit Embracing the Open-Source Ethos

One potential risk that can occur with open source software is that the project may be abandoned by its maintainer or the maintainer may impose changes to the licensing terms that restrict the freedom of use for the software.

Of course this is also a possibility with proprietary software but in the OSS world, there are a some particular circumstances where these situations might occur such as a lone developer no longer having time to maintain a project or when a project is acquired by an organisation that is not well aligned to OSS values.

In terms of our selection criteria, we would tend to favour OSS projects which are backed by a sustainable business or non-profit organisation which is substantially committed to the OSS ethos.

WordPress is backed by Automattic, a well-resourced and profitable enterprise. Automattic’s successful business model is based on providing hosting, support, consulting and other revenue streams does not rely on selling the WordPress software itself. Automattic benefits from the community contributions that stem from maintaining WordPress as OSS. Therefore, it benefits them to make the software available at no cost and makes it unlikely for them to abandon its development or close it off as proprietary in the future.

When selecting open-source software, we can consider the size of the developer, their business model for monetizing the software, and the extent to which they embrace the open-source ethos. This assessment helps gauge the risk of software discontinuation or future restrictions.

Has Modern Software Architecture, Design Practices, and Components

In contrast to established proprietary software that is often tied to legacy architecture, design practices, or components, WordPress, like many other OSS projects, embraces a more modern approach to software development. Here are some characteristics in which WordPress and other OSS solutions demonstrate their modernity:

  1. Web interfaces: WordPress leverages web interfaces, which are more reliable and performant over internet connections compared to traditional desktop client software. This allows users to access and manage their websites from anywhere with an internet connection. Traditional desktop client software may require some form of remote desktop infrastructure when connecting to a remote server, increasing the cost and complexity of the solution.
  2. Scalability: WordPress has an architecture that can be scaled out for greater performance, rather than simply scaling up. This means that as a website grows in terms of traffic and content, WordPress can handle the increased load by distributing it across multiple servers or resources, ensuring optimal performance.
  3. Compatibility with modern technologies: WordPress is suitable for use with modern cloud or containerization technologies. This flexibility allows businesses to take advantage of the scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness offered by these technologies. In contrast, legacy proprietary software may not be designed to employ such technologies or may require significant effort and cost to do so.
  4. Restful API: WordPress provides a modern touch point for integration with other applications through its Restful API. Many OSS applications and frameworks offer a Restful API out of the box, facilitating efficient and streamlined integration with other systems. On the other hand, proprietary software often relies on older and less efficient integration technologies, which can be a barrier to seamless interoperability with other systems.


WordPress serves as a prime example of the advantages and benefits of open-source software and demonstrates a number of characteristics that we might find desirable when considering the use other open-source software.

Its freedom, lack of dependencies on proprietary software, extensive documentation, customizability, and extensibility make it a compelling offering. Additionally, WordPress’s freedom from vendor lock-in, backing from a stable organisation that embraces the open-source ethos, and modern software architecture showcase its reliability and future-proof nature.

Understanding and appreciating these qualities can assist us to make informed decisions when choosing software solutions, harnessing the open-source advantage that WordPress exemplifies.

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