Advantages of Free and Open-Source Software over Proprietary Software

| | 7 min read

Until a couple of decades ago 'software' was synonymous with the popular 'proprietary software' that is copyrighted and available under license. Now the trend has changed! In the current IT scenario where need for digital transformation and cybersecurity hang over our heads like Damocles' sword, free and open-source software is gaining popularity rapidly.

What is Free and Open Source Software?

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is defined as "programs whose licenses give users the freedom to run the program for any purpose, to study and modify the program, and to redistribute copies of either the original or modified program without having to pay royalties to previous developers".1 Free and Open-source software (FOSS) is popularly known as Open Source Software/Free Software (OSS/SF) and sometimes as Free/Libre and Open Source Software(FLOSS). The main idea behind Free Software is collaboration and includes recognizing the contributions of individuals and agencies committed to the philosophy of Free Software.



Examples of FOSS

Free and Open Source software include GNU/Linux, Mozilla Firefox, VLC media player, SugarCRM, Moodle, GIMP, Apache web server, LibreOffice, WordPress, Drupal.

What is Proprietary Software?

Proprietary software is primarily commercial software that is bought, leased, or licensed from its vendor/developer as a finished product or service, without access to its source code. Proprietary software has copyright limits against use, distribution, and modification imposed by its publisher, vendor or developer.  In principle, proprietary software remains the property of its owner/creator and is used by end-users/organizations under predefined conditions.

Proprietary software may also be called closed-source software.2

Examples of Proprietary Software

Proprietary software includes Microsoft Windows, Adobe Flash Player, PS3 OS, iTunes, Adobe Photoshop, Google Earth, macOS (formerly Mac OS X and OS X), Skype, WinRAR.



Advantages of Free Software over Proprietary Software

According to CB Insights' Market Sizing tool, the free and open-source services industry is expected to reach nearly $33B by 2022.3 Reiterating the trend, recently the US government showed its interest in free and open-source software.4 What do you think would be the reason for this change? Let us look at the various benefits of using Free and Open Source software as opposed to Proprietary Software.

No Royalty Fee for Free Software

The 'free' in Free Software refers to the freedom to use it as and how you want. Users are free to use, study, modify and redistribute the software and even charge for their products and services at their discretion whether it be for one project or a hundred. That is not the case for proprietary software which is also its major disadvantage. You have to pay a hefty price and even then you are limited by the way you can use the software.

Freedom with Code

Free Software gives users the freedom to use the software or program for any purpose of choice without limitation. Programmers can study the source code and modify it to custom-build software for specialized purposes. Users have the freedom to redistribute and even sell the modified versions. Proprietary Software like Windows, macOS, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, and much more are developed for many users and almost always it is limited in the way it can be customised to meet particular needs. Several features may be pointless to the customer but they are not allowed to create a version or edit it using the source code. The source code is not publicly available. All the modifications can be done only by the closed team of creators. Here customers need to adjust their requirements to the available options.

Free Software is Secure

FOSS has a lot of committed code contributors who keep the software secure and issue-free. The wide network of free software users alerts the community of any vulnerability and issues that are escalated, and are fixed in a very short time frame. Proprietary software lacks this community support. So hackers are paid hefty amounts by the company to keep the software secure which in turn eventually comes from the user's pocket.5

Updates May Be Expensive For Proprietary Software

Several updates are available for proprietary software but at a cost at times. While renewing, some of the needed features can be in the premium list.6 On the other hand, with FOSS, all features are free and readily downloadable. Version control of free software allows for a broad testing process by the community before the final release.

Whether proprietary or free and open-source, updating the software is important. Lack of proper updates brings potential risks to the application's speed and operations. Outdated versions may not get support and technical assistance from the creator.

Free Software is Not Restricted

You need a valid license to use proprietary software. Unless the license allows it you are not permitted to use the software in any other systems or devices. Even though you bought the software you are not permitted to copy or distribute it to anyone. But in contrast, that is one of the four freedoms associated with Free Software. You can copy and use it any number of times. Dries Buytaert, founder of Drupal expresses it well when he said,7

" For me, Open Source has always meant freedom, or an ability to create what you want without limitations. Open Source puts you in control of your own destiny."

Seamless Integration With any Software

In this day and age where digital transformation is key for businesses, there are thousands of software available for any need we have whether it be email marketing, SEO, personalization, Improving site's accessibility according to WCAG, payment gateways, CRMs, site performance etc. And in all this free software like Drupal can integrate with virtually any software.

Privacy Safeguarded with Free Software

Free software because of it's open code policy supports privacy. You cannot spy on users without permission as someone from the community will be sure to point it out. Another point in favour of Free Software is that since it is not centralized under one giant organization, surveillance scope is limited and also massive data leak chances are minimized.

Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic rightly pointed out in a Web Summit that people on the web have been quick to trade privacy for conveniences.9 Mandatory disclosure is subtly mentioned in the passing by companies by coming out with multiple-page user agreements that are full of legal mumbo jumbo that no one understands.

Auditability with Free Software

The technology stack you use for your business needs can still be audited to ensure proper management of the right software and licenses.

No Monopolies with Free Software

The very nature of Free Software discourages monopoly. While you have the freedom to study and modify the code, so does everyone else. So chances of any one organization monopolising the market becomes extremely rare.

Free Software Means No Vendor Dependence

With proprietary software, once you start using a particular brand you are obligated and restricted by the associated products which will by default be proprietary in nature and there is no getting out of that loop of dependency on these costly software vendors. However, users of Free Software have the freedom to pick and choose the best of the available software and not be bound by vendor lock-in standards. With Free Software, you own your data and choice of the technology stack.

In proprietary systems, there will always be add ons which are equally expensive. But with FOSS, integrations with other free software programs are usually easily achievable and well documented for use by others. No wonder an internationally acclaimed welfare and development organization like the UN prefers free and open-source.


Finding the best-suited software for your business-needs demands your time and research. Next time, before grabbing a proprietary software, you need to ask yourself a very important question. 'Are you choosing the right one?' When popular free software like Drupal is at your disposal, it's pointless to spend big bucks that can be used in other areas of your business.

Drupal, the leading free and open-source software offers a rich digital experience to its users with its continuous innovation, flexibility, and scalability. The right solution partners will help you leverage it to the maximum.