Custom Programming vs. Off-The-Shelf Solution

Lately, I’ve consulted on a few projects which I’ve had to compare using an off-the-shelf script versus a custom solution. As a programmer myself, I typically build everything myself (because I can, and because I’m a control freak). However, I’m learning that there are some off-the-shelf solutions that do the job, and save both time and money.

So what are the pros and cons of each type of development?

Custom Programming


    • Exactly what you want – no compromises
    • Design is not limited by pre-existing programming
    • No hacking things together to make it work for you (aka – Square peg in round hole, or, Frankenstein)
    • Longer to build (in days, weeks, months)
    • Costs more to build
    • More bugs to find & squash
    • Reinventing the wheel (or the checkout process, for example)

Off-The-Shelf Solution


    • Cheaper
    • Fewer bugs
    • Other developers are familiar with the product
    • Does 95% of what you need, but 50% more than what you want
    • Exploitable (if others have the source code, they can find the holes)
The one I wanted to expand a bit on is “Does 95% of what you need, but 50% more than what you want.” What I mean by this is that there are lots of pre-designed systems that handle complex problems, such Magento doing e-commerce, but they always seem to miss a few client “must-haves,” and at the same time include a lot of features the client doesn’t need.

In cases like this, I say it does 95% of what you need, and at the same time includes 50% more features than what you want. The 5% missing may be what pushes a client to a custom solution, or the additional features that aren’t needed may get in the way of a simple problem with an over-complicated solution.

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