WordPress offers two versions of its product: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The following is a brief comparison of these two different products.
The major difference
WordPress.org provides free open-source software that you can download to build your site. However, it's completely up to you how you wish to manage your website and find hosting for it.
WordPress.com, on the other hand, handles just about everything for you, but its features are much more limited than the free code you can download at WordPress.org.
DreamHost WordPress sites use a customized version of WordPress.org code and provides everything you need. If you're hosting your WordPress website at DreamHost, you do not need any additional software from WordPress.com or WordPress.org.
Hosting and other services
Another big difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is where your website is hosted:
WordPress.com — is the official hosting site of WordPress. If you want WordPress to host your site, you can purchase a plan through WordPress.com. You are then limited by the features it offers.
WordPress.org — offers you free WordPress downloads and tutorials. At WordPress.org, you can download your own version of WordPress and host it at any company you like. This allows you unlimited customization options, however it's up to you to manage the website.
When you purchase a plan, you're paying WordPress.com to host your website. There are different plans with different levels of service. For example, the lowest plan displays WordPress.com advertisements on your site and offers limited storage. All plans except the highest display WordPress.com branding on your site. The highest level plan removes advertisements, branding, and offers additional services such as 'SEO Tools', technical support, and the ability to upload your own custom themes and plugins. However, there are no plans that allow direct access to modify the code that runs your website.
Email hosting is also not available through WordPress.com, so you'd need to purchase an email hosting plan at another company.
The good thing about WordPress.com is that it manages your site's updates, backups, and security. You don't need to worry about maintenance.
If you want full control over your site, you can download the WordPress files from WordPress.org. You can then choose any company you like to host your website.
WordPress.org also offers a large selection of tutorials and manuals to help you build your website.
Although WordPress.org code is fully customizable, it's completely up to you to keep your site up to date and secure. You're also fully responsible for backing up your site and finding a company to host it.
The following chart below describes the major differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org:
|Themes||Limited. You only have access to themes WordPress.com offers. Only on the highest level plan would you have the ability to upload custom themes.||Unlimited. Full access to upload and customize any theme on your site.|
|Plugins||Limited. You only have access to plugins WordPress.com offers. Only on the highest level plan would you have the ability to upload custom plugins.||Unlimited. Full access to upload and customize any plugin on your site.|
|Email hosting||None. You must set up email hosting outside of WordPress.com.||Usually included with the hosting company your site is hosted with.|
|Cost||Free up to 3GB of storage space. Higher level plans offer more features at different pricing.||It's up to you to find and pay for a hosting company of your choice.|
|Monetization||Limited. Higher level plans can display ads, but profits must be shared with WordPress.com.||Unlimited. You can monetize your site however you like and keep all profits.|
|Advertisements||WordPress branding and ads display on your site. Only the highest level plans can remove them.||No ads or branding.|
|eCommerce store||Limited configuration options.||Unlimited control over your store and its configuration.|
|SEO||Limited based on available plugins.||Unlimited control over your SEO.|
|Control and maintenance|
|Maintenance||Managed by WordPress.com. You do not have to worry about site maintenance.||Your responsibility to keep your site secure and up to date.|
|Can site be shut down?||Yes. At any time WordPress.com can shut down your site and deny you access.||You are in full control of your site. Only the hosting company you choose to host the site with could potentially shut down the site based on their individual terms of service.|
Which should I choose?
If you're running a very simple website that you do not plan to monetize and don't mind WordPress.com branding and advertisements, WordPress.com is a good choice. WordPress.com also handles all the maintenance so it's a very simple but limited solution.
If you plan to grow your site over time, customize it, or make money from it, then WordPress.org is a better choice. But keep in mind that you are responsible for keeping your site up to date and secure.