Open Source v/s Proprietary Software
By Aviral Kumar Goel
A computer is anything with a microprocessor or a chip with the ability to process instructions. The first computers were made to perform basic calculations and did not have a software component as they had only one purpose. But today, the modern computer can perform several tasks including, but not limited to, Video calls, web surfing, creating million-dollar raising PowerPoint slides etc. Each of these tasks is run on the same hardware, namely the motherboard comprising of microprocessor and other components. A motherboard, in layman terms, is a board where the CPU, also known as the brain of the computer, resides.
To perform various tasks on the same hardware, an interface is required, known as the Software. Software is a set of instructions telling computers how to work. Softwares are often classified in various ways based on the categories like the end-user, copyright status applications of the software etc. Today, in this article, we are concerned with software classification in the Copyright status category.
In the Copyright status, the software is classified as Free software which can be used, modified and distributed without any restrictions, Copylefted software which is essentially free software prohibiting additional restrictions on future distributions of the software, Non-Copylefted software is another version of Free software to which restrictions by using licenses can be added
with the author’s permission, Shareware is close source software which can be redistributed and but each user is required to pay example MS Office, and Freeware is another version of Shareware in which users are not required to pay, but it is copyrighted meaning no one else can market the software as their own.
So, where do the Open source and Proprietary software come from within this classification?
Open-source software is any software whose source code is released under several different licenses, all of which have an underlying minimum requirement to acknowledge the software’s original author. Popular examples of open source software are Android, Ubuntu, Firefox. Proprietary software is the with most restrictions which means the source code is not available, users have to pay to use the software, no modifications can be made to the software, it is copyrighted, and no one else can market it as theirs. It is also known as closed source and commercial software. Famous examples of proprietary software are MS Office, MS Windows, macOS etc.
This category is further classified into Community-based open-source software, which hobbyist developers or non-profit organizations develop, for example, Firefox and Commercial open-source software in which a single entity manages the full copyright patents and trademarks, for instance, Redhat. The common feature is that the source code of the software is available and thus can be modified and redistributed.
Since large and communities are backing these softwares, the support is free, and help can be found all over the internet in the form of forums and wikis. The source code is available so that any developer can fix any bugs. Moreover, most of these software have an active GitHub repository on which issues can be posted, and any developer can pick up any problem and work on resolving the issue. The best part is that this connects developers worldwide and enhances a sense of community and collaboration. Even newbie programmers and students can contribute by picking up any issue and get exposure to the software development world. From the user perspective, these softwares are flexible as users can request a new feature and create an issue for the same. Since many developers collaborate on such projects, this also ensures better security as mistakes and loopholes made by one developer can be checked and mitigated by others. The GNU Project was started to boost the culture of open source development, and competitions like Google Summer of Code have helped further this culture. All in all, these softwares are the epitome of the spirit of software development whilst maintaining bonds in the community.
Proprietary software is the one with the most restrictions. Such softwares cannot be redistributed or modified, and their source code isn’t available as well. Users are required to pay for these softwares. Earlier, it was a one-time purchase, but recently, many companies have shifted to subscription-based models requiring users to pay monthly or annually, like for Microsoft Office
and Adobe Acrobat Pro or Adobe Photoshop. Since there is a single entity having absolute control over the software, they are accountable for it not only in terms of bug fixes but also anysecurity flaws and leaks. Users can expect a guarantee of long term support and version control, time and some organisations establish customer support centres. Often these organisations have different models for businesses and involving options to scale and more proactive support. The main focus of proprietary software is user satisfaction and profitability of the organisation.
Open-source software are essential for community development and as free alternatives for students and explorers. Still, at the same time there is a looming threat for smaller projects of reduced or no support if the project leader decides not to take the project further. This leads the users to be left hanging in the middle and thus are forced to abandon the software.
Proprietary software offers stability and accountability. Businesses, in particular, are more inclined towards long term support and security and thus wouldn’t mind paying for these options. As well as the last decade has seen a boom in SaaS (Software as a service) with the likes of Postman and Slack raising billions of dollars. The tech giant Microsoft and Apple business
models have always been proprietary and thus they are held accountable and answerable when there is a leak of data from iCloud or a severe security bug is discovered in Windows. With new data breaches getting exposed every month, it is important that there is someone to hold accountable.
As long as open source and proprietary softwares co-exist, it is ensured that the user doesn’t get exploited by big tech corporations; after all, every MS Office needs Open Office and every Adobe Photoshop needs a DaVinci Resolve!