The open source movement has created a sea of free web technology where any developer can update or change bits of code to suit their own needs. This provides a gateway for startups and new businesses to launch their service quickly and globally. Open source platforms include Drupal, WordPress, and Fork, to just name a few.

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But in this article I’d like to explain how new companies can utilize open source for their own benefit. Developers are often more than happy to share their code with the world in exchange for some gratification or support. This can bridge non-technical founders who lack programming knowledge into launching a website online without much help. Open source code is one of the greatest assets to modern Internet technology. The mass of free source code grows exponentially as more developers jump on board the bandwagon.

Recognize your Digital Needs

It is important that you understand needs vs wants. When launching your company or startup you’ll want to publish fast and often with the least amount of distractions. This isn’t the prettiest route, but it does leave the most breathing room for growth and changes if required.

Your company’s needs will be constantly evolving over time. It is up to you and your staff to determine how you can use open source to solve creative problems. These could include building an Ajax contact form or CAPTCHA spam control system. Or you could be deciding on which CMS should be powering your entire company website.

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And this is not even mentioning the other open source scripts you can find online. There are free blog platforms, discussion boards/forums, social news communities, practically any service you’re looking to provide may already be out there within an open platform. So why start the code base all over again from scratch?

The only reason I can think of would be to create an internal set of rules for your developers. But what I’m talking about is a team of 2-4 people who only have a couple developers getting started.

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Beginning with an open source script means you won’t be creating the foundation, but you will be working with a community of other developers who understand the documentation inside-and-out. It’s easy to understand more difficult concepts with less of a learning curve.

Build Off Trustworthy Sources

Web developers can quickly learn who is a talented coder and who isn’t. Be sure to use everybody’s talents properly when deciding which open source software you want to use. Some of the scripts out there are put together very poorly and will not be your best choice.

But if you know there is a large community behind the project it is much more likely to succeed in the long run. Security is also important as you don’t want hackers getting into your system or database. Solutions which have been on the web for years are often much more secure since they have built up a solid reputation for bug fixes.

There are a series of newer Content Management Systems which are just starting to appear in the spotlight. One of my favorites Fork CMS is worth the attempt for anybody launching their own company or portfolio/blog style website. The system is easy to use in the frontend and backend, plus it supports modules and templates just like any other popular script.

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Now I am not suggesting that Fork CMS is the right choice for everybody. But I am saying there are tons of free open source scripts available and you shouldn’t be afraid of performing some trial runs. And of course WordPress is one of the best CMS solutions out there, for good reason. However you shouldn’t box yourself or your company into a corner with a common solution like WordPress if you really want to try out an alternative. We also noticed Shopify has some nice computer web templates if you are interested in checking out their selection.

Join a few Social Networks

When talking about open source programming I think that Github immediately comes to mind. They are the original free social network for developers to communicate and share their code snippets. You can quickly search through millions of code examples which range to include dozens of languages.

If you have the time I recommend setting up a profile on Github and other related networks like BitBucket. Even if you don’t want a personal account you can always sign up for an account under your company name. This will show up in Google searches and also provides some branding for what you do.

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By joining a couple similar networks you also open yourself to meeting new people from all over the world. There are some very skilled frontend developers in HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript who are often more than happy to help with answering confusing questions. But when it comes to support questions I always recommend Stack Overflow as your greatest resource.

Ask Plenty of Questions!

A final piece to mention is learning about open source software after you’ve chosen a package. WordPress developers weren’t born overnight – they have studied for months and possibly years to gain that knowledge. And anybody who is fairly well-versed in HTML/CSS/JS/PHP can do the same thing.

Most scripts powered by open source run with PHP/MySQL but there are some alternatives. If you have never learned a backend language before then I would recommend PHP for the large developer codebase. PHP was built as open source and so there are literally millions of developers worldwide who understand the programming concepts.

And thus, you should never be afraid or give up on your ideas because you’ve hit a roadblock. Sign up for some programming forums, or hit Stack Overflow and don’t be shy when asking for help. Most of the time you’ll learn something new and be able to fix your problem. You don’t have much to lose with the alternative, so I say always ask your question if there’s no other solution you can find elsewhere online.

Closing Thoughts

Web development is very difficult and often stressful for beginners. You need to learn so much about CSS layout styles, browser compatibilities, website hosting, and a whole lot more. Most projects also include a database which can be even more confusing if you’re not familiar with any backend languages.

I hope this article can sway younger web developers to join the open source ideology. You can directly benefit by observing other professional developer’s code and by offering your own codes to the world. By checking in Google you would be surprised how many tutorials and code snippets are available for free. Along with my points above please share your thoughts with us in the discussion area below.

Posted by Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a writer & digital designer/illustrator. He writes about all things web and creative. Check out his website for work samples and follow his latest updates on Twitter @jakerocheleau.

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