Proprietary, free and open source software

All software development takes time and expertise, but there are many models for funding software development, and different models of ownership.

Free open source software vs custom but paid-for proprietary softwareComputer monitors showing open source and proprietary software

Proprietary software

Proprietary software (sometimes referred to as closed source software) is software that legally remains the property of the organisation, group, or individual who created it. The organisation that owns the rights to the product usually does not release the source code, and may insist that only those who have purchased a special licence key can use it.

Free software

Free software (also called freeware) is licensed at no cost, or for an optional fee. It is usually closed source.

Open source software

Open source software is free and openly available to everyone. People who create open source products publish the code and allow others to use and modify it. Communities of programmers often work together to develop the software and to support users. Open source products are usually tested in public by online contributors.

Large companies such as Twitter, Facebook and the BBC make use of open source technology. For example, the BBC makes use of MySQL and it creates open source software, such as the program to improve the compatibility of iPlayer on smart TVs.

James Harlow explains what open source software Twitter uses

Open Source Software can be easily adapted to specific nedds, is free to use, but has no guarantees of high qualityAdvantages and disadvantages of open source software
Differences between open source and proprietary software
Open sourceProprietary
LicensingUsers are licensees. They have the right to copy, modify and share the product Users are licensees. They cannot copy, modify or share the product
Cost of productFreeNot free (unless it is freeware)
Example softwarePython, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Mysql, GIMP, LinuxInternet Explorer, Photoshop, Call of Duty, Windows, iOS, iTunes
Vendor lock-inUsers can switch to other alternative open source products, or modify the softwareUsers rely on the vendor to support and update the product
Updates and improvementsA community of contributors with a range of expertise can contribute to the continuous improvement of the productThe vendor is in complete charge of the update cycle and developing new features

Bill Sellars explains why he made his dinosaur model software open source