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Open-source Software Vs. Proprietary Software

Open-source Software Vs. Proprietary Software

Have you ever found yourself staring at the computer screen real intently reading the words "please enter product key"? It probably needs a license for the continuation of the game. Read this article to know the differences between open-source software and proprietary software.
Vijith Menon
Fact
In 2009, the US White House switched its CMS system from a proprietary system to Drupal open-source CMS.

Open-source software (OSS) is a computer software that is available free of cost. It can be modified by anyone at any time. It comes with certain conditions, i.e., if a developer modifies the code, he has to share the updated version of the software openly. He is not the proprietor of the software, that is still retained by the original author according to copyright laws. It is the most prominent example of open-source development, and often compared to user-generated content or open-content movements. A report by the Standish Group (from 2008) states that the acceptance of open-source software resulted in $60 billion in savings.

Proprietary software or closed-source software requires a fee to activate the license of the given software. Complementary terms include shareware, freeware, and commercial software. Some free software packages are also simultaneously available under proprietary terms. Proprietary software is activated via clickwrap licensing or shrinkwrap licensing. Clickwrap licensing indicates that you agreed to a set of terms and conditions before installing the software. Shrinkwrap licensing is a contract in which the buyer accepts the terms of the software by opening its shrinkwrapped package. Examples include MySQL, Sendmail, and ssh (Secure Shell).

Open-source Software
Open-source Initiative (OSI) was established in 1998 by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens. They are the premier advocates of open-source software. It is a general-type of software that makes the source code available to the public for study, modification, and distribution. This an advantage of open-source software, although it forbids this in principle to ensure the access of the major software updates by the developers. Developers have used the alternative terms Free/open-source Software (FOSS) or Free/Libre/open-source Software (FLOSS) consequently, to describe open-source software which is also free software. Examples of open-source products are the Apache HTTP Server, Internet browsers Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, and the full office suite LibreOffice.

The industries interested in investing in open-source software are cloud and virtualization, content management, mobile technology, and security. Over the next few years, government, education, and healthcare are expected to be the three industries experiencing the most impact from open-source software.
Advantages
  • The main advantage is that it's available free of cost. Businesses can use this to their advantage.
  • All the major fixes to the software are solved by experts who distribute the relative code via patches.
  • OSS reduces the cost of marketing and logistics.
  • Modular systems allow the interface to be updated or add new tools to it.
  • Open-source software is used as a key enabler for cloud computing.
  • It does not adhere to commercial pressure, as that reduces the quality of the software.
  • A study of the Linux code revealed 0.17 bugs per 1,000 lines of code, compared to proprietary software which scores 20 - 30 bugs per 1,000 lines.
  • One can download different customized versions of the same software.
Disadvantages
  • Not all OSS initiatives are successful; for example, Eazel and SourceXchange.
  • Key programmers quit coding and move on to better paying establishments.
  • Unlike proprietary software, you won't find the answers so easily on a public forum.
  • Documentation for end-users is done poorly.
  • Customer support, comparatively, isn't available as promptly for users
Proprietary Software
Proprietary software or closed-source software grants a license to use the software under certain conditions, and is restricted from studying, modifying, or sharing. Examples of proprietary software include Windows, Apple, Adobe Flash Player, Google Earth, and some versions of UNIX.

The end result is that the user doesn't buy the software, but the right to use the software. Source code is not available for users to protect the programs from malicious hackers, as it is considered to be a trade secret among the manufacturers. The fees from sales and licensing of commercial software are the primary source of income for companies that sell these software.

Reference Source License (Ms-RSL) and Limited Public License (Ms-LPL) are proprietary software licenses where the source code is made available. Free software that depends on proprietary software is considered 'trapped' by the Free Software Foundation. In India, one and a half million laptops were pre-loaded with screen savers of a minister. The author of the software included a malicious feature that would 'crash' the device if the laptop owner attempted to change, remove, or modify this.

Complementary terms include shareware, freeware, and commercial software. Commercial software, or sometimes payware, is computer software that is produced for sale or that serves commercial purposes. Commercial packages can be proprietary software or free/open-source software. Microsoft Corporation uses 'commercial software' to describe their business model, but is also mostly proprietary. Proprietary software that comes for no cost is called freeware. Proprietary software may also have licensing terms that limit the usage of that software to a specific set of hardware. Apple has such a licensing model for Mac OS X, an operating system which is limited to Apple hardware.
Advantages
  • It is packaged and distributed in a comprehensive and modular format.
  • The software offers a stable system support if it fails or malfunctions.
  • The software is safe and guaranteed to be safe from dubious threats like programming bugs and viruses, thus providing ease of mind for the user.
  • It is easier to install and use, as the production is planned and extensive research is carried out to ensure users purchase only the best.
  • Furthermore, free updates and latest information on the software are usually provided to the user.
Disadvantages
  • It is usually costly, and has closed standards that hinder further development.
  • With proprietary software, you are reliant on the program's developer for all updates, support, and fixes. Updates may be slow in coming, depending on the size of the development team, and it may take some time to address security holes or other problems. In addition, if the primary developer goes out of business, you may have no further updates or support, unless another company buys out the project.
  • Proprietary software systems rely on the development team for identifying problems, or worse, security loopholes discovered in the wild. Some proprietary developers notoriously rely on 'security through obscurity', attempting to quash information about security weaknesses in order the prevent outsiders from utilizing them.
  • What you see is what you get with a proprietary software package; you simply license it as it is.
  • Any improvements would usually require fees, which is often expensive.
  • Users are not allowed to describe and share the software as that are licensed
When deciding between open-source software vs. proprietary software, it is critical to consider the risks and assess the internal and external limits of the organization. The aforementioned issues can then be used as a guide to make a collective, informed decision.