Proprietary software, also known as non-free software, or closed-source software, is computer software for which the software's publisher or another person retains intellectual property rights, usually copyright of the source code, but sometimes patent rights.
|Free and open (software must have source code provided)||Non-free|
|Public domain & equivalents||Permissive license||Copyleft (protective license)||Noncommercial use only. May be combined with share-alike.||Traditional use of copyright; no rights need be granted||No information made public|
|Software||PD, CC0||MIT, Apache, MPL||GPL, AGPL||JRL, AFPL||proprietary software, no public license||private, internal software|
|Other creative works||PD, CC0||CC-BY||CC-BY-SA||CC-BY-NC||Copyright, no public license||unpublished|
Service and all software available were usually supplied by manufacturers without separate charge until 1969.
Computer vendors usually provided the source code for installed software to customers.
Customers who developed software often made it available to others without charge.
Closed source means computer programs whose source code is not published except to licensees.
It is available to be edited only by the organization that developed it and those licensed to use the software.
In 1969, IBM, which had antitrust lawsuits pending against it, led an industry change by starting to charge separately for mainframe software and services, by unbundling hardware and software.
Bill Gates' "Open Letter to Hobbyists" in 1976 decried computer hobbyists' rampant copyright infringement of software, particularly Microsoft's Altair BASIC interpreter, and reminded his audience that their theft from programmers hindered his ability to produce quality software.
Starting in February 1983 IBM adopted an "object-code-only" model for a growing list of their software and stopped shipping much of the source code, even to licensees.
Additionally, the growing availability of millions of computers based on the same microprocessor architecture created for the first time an unfragmented and big enough market for binary distributed software.
License agreements are usually not negotiable.
Vendors sometimes grant patent rights to the user in the license agreement.
Some software is specifically licensed and not sold, in order to avoid limitations of copyright such as the first-sale doctrine.
The owner of proprietary software exercises certain exclusive rights over the software.
The owner can restrict use, inspection of source code, modification of source code, and redistribution.
Use of the software
Vendors typically limit the number of computers on which software can be used, and prohibit the user from installing the software on extra computers.
Vendors may also distribute versions that remove particular features, or versions which allow only certain fields of endeavor, such as non-commercial, educational, or non-profit use.
Use restrictions vary by license:
- Windows Vista Starter is restricted to running a maximum of three concurrent applications.
- The retail edition of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 is limited to non-commercial use on up to three devices in one household.
- Windows XP can be installed on one computer, and limits the number of network file sharing connections to 10. The Home Edition disables features present in Windows XP Professional.
- Traditionally, Adobe licenses are limited to one user, but allow the user to install a second copy on a home computer or laptop. This is no longer true with the switching to Creative Cloud.
- iWork '09, Apple's productivity suite, is available in a five-user family pack, for use on up to five computers in a household.
Inspection and modification of source code
This scheme is often referred to as closed source.
While most proprietary software is distributed without the source code, some vendors distribute the source code or otherwise make it available to customers.
For example, users who have purchased a license for the Internet forum software vBulletin can modify the source for their own site but cannot redistribute it.
This is true for many web applications, which must be in source code form when being run by a web server.
The source code is covered by a non-disclosure agreement or a license that allows, for example, study and modification, but not redistribution.
The text-based email client Pine and certain implementations of Secure Shell are distributed with proprietary licenses that make the source code available.Some licenses for proprietary software allow distributing changes to the source code, but only to others licensed for the product, and some of those modifications are eventually picked up by the vendor.
In 2003 Microsoft established a Government Security Program (GSP) to allow governments to view source code and Microsoft security documentation, of which the Chinese government was an early participant.
The program is part of Microsoft's broader Shared Source Initiative which provides source code access for some products.
The Reference Source License (Ms-RSL) and Limited Public License (Ms-LPL) are proprietary software licenses where the source code is made available.
Governments have also been accused of adding such malware to software themselves.
According to documents released by Edward Snowden, the NSA has used covert partnerships with software companies to make commercial encryption software exploitable to eavesdropping, or to insert backdoors.
This is particularly common with certain programming languages.
Further information: Shareware
See also: Freely redistributable software
Proprietary software vendors can prohibit the users from sharing the software with others.
Another unique license is required for another party to use the software.
In the case of proprietary software with source code available, the vendor may also prohibit customers from distributing their modifications to the source code.
Shareware is closed-source software whose owner encourages redistribution at no cost, but which the user sometimes must pay to use after a trial period.
The fee usually allows use by a single user or computer.
In some cases, software features are restricted during or after the trial period, a practice sometimes called crippleware.
Interoperability with software and hardware
Further information: Interoperability § Software
Proprietary file formats and protocols
Proprietary software often stores some of its data in file formats which are incompatible with other software, and may also communicate using protocols which are incompatible.
The motivation for using a proprietary API can be vendor lock-in or because standard APIs do not support the device's functionality.
The European Commission, in its March 24, 2004 decision on Microsoft's business practices, quotes, in paragraph 463, Microsoft general manager for C++ development Aaron Contorer as stating in a February 21, 1997 internal Microsoft memo drafted for Bill Gates:
- The Windows API is so broad, so deep, and so functional that most ISVs would be crazy not to use it. And it is so deeply embedded in the source code of many Windows apps that there is a huge switching cost to using a different operating system instead.
The agreement forbade independent developers from discussing the content of the interfaces.
Apple discontinued the NDA in October 2008.
Further information: Vendor lock-in
Any dependency on the future versions and upgrades for a proprietary software package can create vendor lock-in, entrenching a monopoly position.
Software limited to certain hardware configurations
Proprietary software may also have licensing terms that limit the usage of that software to a specific set of hardware.
This licensing model has been affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Abandonment by owners
Main article: Abandonware
If the proprietor of a software package should cease to exist, or decide to cease or limit production or support for a proprietary software package, recipients and users of the package may have no recourse if problems are found with the software.
Proprietors can fail to improve and support software because of business problems.
Support for older or existing versions of a software package may be ended to force users to upgrade and pay for newer versions (planned obsolescence).
Sometimes another vendor or a software's community themselves can provide support for the software, or the users can migrate to either competing systems with longer support life cycles or to FOSS-based systems.
More examples of formerly closed-source software in the List of commercial software with available source code and List of commercial video games with available source code.
Formerly open-source software
See also: List of formerly proprietary software
Some formerly open-source software was made proprietary later.
Pricing and economics
See also: Commercial software
Proprietary software is not synonymous with commercial software, although the two terms are sometimes used synonymously in articles about free software.
Proprietary software can be distributed at no cost or for a fee, and free software can be distributed at no cost or for a fee.
The difference is that whether proprietary software can be distributed, and what the fee would be, is at the proprietor's discretion.
With free software, anyone who has a copy can decide whether, and how much, to charge for a copy or related services.
Proprietary software that comes for no cost is called freeware.
Proponents of commercial proprietary software argue that requiring users to pay for software as a product increases funding or time available for the research and development of software.
For example, Microsoft says that per-copy fees maximise the profitability of software development.
Proprietary software generally creates greater commercial activity over free software, especially in regard to market revenues.
Proprietary software is often sold with a license that gives the end user right to use the software.
Examples of proprietary software include Microsoft Windows, Adobe Flash Player, PS3 OS, iTunes, Adobe Photoshop, Google Earth, macOS (formerly Mac OS X and OS X), Skype, WinRAR, Oracle's version of Java and some versions of Unix.
Software distributions considered as proprietary may in fact incorporate a "mixed source" model including both free and non-free software in the same distribution.
Most if not all so-called proprietary UNIX distributions are mixed source software, bundling open-source components like BIND, Sendmail, X Window System, DHCP, and others along with a purely proprietary kernel and system utilities.
Some free software packages are also simultaneously available under proprietary terms.
The original copyright holders for a work of free software, even copyleft free software, can use dual-licensing to allow themselves or others to redistribute proprietary versions.
Non-copyleft free software (i.e. software distributed under a permissive free software license or released to the public domain) allows anyone to make proprietary redistributions.
Free software that depends on proprietary software is considered "trapped" by the Free Software Foundation.
This includes software written only for Microsoft Windows, or software that could only run on Java, before it became free software.
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprietary software.