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Is open source kicking SaaS?

Open source vs saas

Everyone loves the idea of open source. It’s all about great software, built by passionate people who really know their stuff, and it’s free! It is free, right? Well, not always, but we’ll get to that. By contrast, the concept of software as a service (SaaS) is a paid solution. While open source software can be incredibly flexible, it can also be demanding of time, energy and expertise. SaaS offers a fully managed, all-inclusive package, but without options to get down and dirty with the source code. The question is, which one of these models is better for your project?

Getting started

Open source provides a constant stream of innovative solutions that are available for anyone to use and modify to suit their own requirements. Because of this, systems like WordPress, PrestaShop and Magento are extremely popular for building websites and online shops. Open source software is initially free to download and install, with additional paid features and functionality available later if needed. An open source platform may require some technical knowledge to get the ball rolling.

SaaS offers a fully-featured product from day one, but with costs upfront, usually in the form of a monthly fee. Setting up a SaaS solution is far simpler than open source, with no software downloads and an assistant to guide you through the process – for example, by helping you easily choose your website layout or uploading products to your shop.

Ultimately, SaaS offers a more user-friendly first step, but experienced users and developers may well have a more specific vision that’s only possible with open source. Open source can also be the cheaper option (to begin with at least).

Updates and security

Open source software needs to be maintained and updated regularly to ensure it functions properly. Security updates in particular need to be carefully monitored to avoid risks. The upside of this is that you can decide exactly when and how your system is changed, based on the required features and functionality of your project.

With SaaS, automatic updates are included, guaranteeing the latest features are always included with no extra effort from the user. This also covers frequent security updates for added peace of mind. In addition, all data is constantly monitored by the provider.

So in general, SaaS offers an easier way for you to keep your projects up to date and secure. That’s not to say top levels of security aren’t available with open source, but it requires more time and energy. Open source also puts you firmly in the driving seat when it comes to picking and choosing updates.

Functionality and integration

A huge range of open source add-ons are available from a variety of sources, such as the original provider of the software and the associated developer community. The only catch is that many of the more useful extras come with a price tag. For example, if you need a customised layout for your site or you want to integrate a payment provider on your shop, you’d need to find (and probably pay for) an external solution. For skilled developers though, the possibilities are potentially endless, with ample opportunity to tinker under the hood and create their own extensions.

SaaS offers different levels of functionality based on how much you’re willing to spend. Need more storage space, products, images, videos or webpages? Maybe you want to add new contact options or navigation, or even a whole new website design? If your current package can’t accommodate you, chances are you can simply upgrade. Some SaaS eCommerce platforms even come with built-in integration for external services like delivery and payment, often included in the package from the start. Yes, open source offers more flexibility, but only if you have the time, energy and expertise to spare. SaaS is easier to get started with, easier to maintain, and just easier in general.

Coming back to costs, the idea of free open source versus paid SaaS can be deceptive. While it’s true that most open source software is free to download, much of the more useful functionality is locked behind a paywall. On top of that, you may need to pay external developers or agencies to handle the more technical aspects of your project. But let’s not be too down on open source, since it’s clearly the way to go for unique, highly personalised projects. Open source may not be perfect, but it’s far from being aSaaSinated just yet (sorry).

Whether you decide to go down the open source or SaaS route, the new CloudNX platform from Fasthosts provides the ideal environment for your next project.

Neal Thoms's picture

Neal Thoms

Author As a content creator for Fasthosts, Neal’s main focus is cloud technology and how it’s transforming everything we do online. He’s worked in the web hosting industry for over five years.