A good content management system (CMS) does many things out of the box, but harnessing its full power requires add-on software. WordPress calls these additional units plugins. Magento calls them extensions. In Drupal they’re modules. In each case, they work with the CMS’s API to add functionality. They support e-commerce, analytics, integration with other applications, distinctive user interactions, and much more. We’ll call them all plugins here for convenience. The idea is the same on each platform.
A lot of plugins are available at no cost. You can just install them and use them. Others are available for a license fee. Sometimes, though, none of them will do the job the way you want. There are times when the best option is having one developed specifically for your needs. Custom plugins can create a better user experience and improve site performance.
The choice of free plugins is huge. Some of them are very good; others are junk. For a personal site or a small organization with no budget, they can be a great choice. You just need to be careful about your selections and not have unreasonable expectations.
Some free plugins come from developers who create them for fun or to add to their portfolio. Others are limited versions of plugins which are available for licensing. A few are Trojan horses which dishonest people want to put on your computer.
Don’t expect any significant level of support for them. You may be able to find community support, but publishers aren’t inclined to solve your problems for free. If there’s a paid version, you can use the free one on a trial basis and upgrade to the paid version if you like it enough to get support.
If you want support for an off-the-shelf plugin, you should expect to pay a license fee. When there’s both a free and a paid version, often the only difference is support. The paid version may have additional features, or the free one may put limits on usage. Sometimes you need a license for commercial use; in effect, the publisher uses the honor system but can sue if it finds out.
The fact that the publisher is making money is an incentive for it to keep updating the software and fixing bugs. People who give away software will often move on to something else and stop supporting it. Like everyone else, they have to eat.
With both free and paid plugins, choosing a reputable source is important. First, the publisher needs to be one you can trust to deliver honest and reasonably bug-free software. Check the reviews before downloading. Second, the download needs to come from an authorized source. Anyone can set up a download site and make an infected version available, intentionally or through carelessness.
For many cases, off-the-shelf software will do the job. Sometimes, though, you need more. Your business may need extra functionality or a distinctive user interface. Those are the times you should look into custom development. The money and time to get it is well spent if it boosts productivity and eliminates problems.
These are some of the reasons a custom plugin could be the right choice for you:
- Specific functionality for your business. Every site has unique needs. Generic software isn’t always good enough to meet them. You may be able to do what you need, but not as conveniently as you’d like. When you get a custom plugin, the first step is to explain exactly what your requirements are. You’ll get to review it to make sure it covers everything you want. When a plugin is tailored for your business, you can work more efficiently and have better control of your information. It can give you the edge you need over the competition.
- Specialized analytics. Most generic plugins aren’t strong on analyzing the way they’re used, and everyone’s needs are different. A custom plugin can give you detailed information about user behavior, types of requests, geolocation of inputs, or whatever you need. It can accumulate information and feed it to other software for analysis.
- Better performance. Mass-marketed software needs to appeal to a broad class of users. It does many things which you don’t need, and they can slow performance down or bloat the database. Plugins for the average site don’t always scale up well under high workloads. Custom plugins contain only the functionality which you need, and they’re optimized for your situation. They load faster, perform well when stressed, and don’t deal with data which you don’t care about.
- Confidence in updates and support. When you have a custom plugin written, you can specify in the contract what level of support you require. You aren’t competing with millions of other customers for the developer’s attention. You can expect prompt attention to problems, including code fixes when necessary.
- Better security. Widely used plugins are attractive targets. Criminals spend a lot of time analyzing them for weaknesses, because there’s a big payoff if they find one. If a plugin is on 10 million websites, they’ll try to hit as many of those sites as they can. Custom code on your site doesn’t offer them the same opportunity. It isn’t worth it to the crooks to find its weaknesses. Choose a good developer, and there won’t be many weaknesses to begin with.
- A lower cost than you might think. In many cases, an off-the-shelf plugin will do most of what you need. It isn’t necessary to reinvent it all from scratch. Many popular plugins have APIs of their own, so developers can add custom features to them. You only need to pay for the development of the extras which you need. That means a shorter development time. Combining an off-the-shelf plugin with custom code gives you all the extras you need at a reasonable price point.
Ndevr has extensive experience in application and CMS development. With our help, you can get the plugins that meet your business’s specialized needs and help you stand out against the competition. Contact our consulting services to start exploring the possibilities.