Software innovation requires companies to dedicate large quantities of multiple resources. Because of the people, research, development, time, and, ultimately, money, it takes to build new software, many companies opt to protect their investment as intellectual property.
Proprietary software is an asset that serves as a competitive advantage for the intellectual property owner. It can also prove valuable in mergers and acquisitions. For these reasons, keeping a software’s code protected from external developers and users may seem like the right choice in every situation.
However, there may be a case for open source software as well. It is possible for companies to benefit monetarily from open source software using tangential products and services. Choosing the right strategy, open source vs proprietary software, may depend on who your end users are and what problems your software solves for them.
What’s the difference between open source and proprietary software?
Before deciding which strategy is best for your business, it’s important to understand the difference between your options: open source and proprietary software.
When a software is licensed as open source, its source code is shared without restrictions. People using the software can modify it to suit their needs, as well as share the original and modified versions. One of the best examples of open source software is WordPress, which enjoys great success due to its flexibility.
Organizations that distribute proprietary software protect the source code. Only the intellectual property owner can see and edit the code. Users, which are generally limited to people or companies that have directly purchased licenses, employ the software as-is. Most softwares that corporations use, including our own InnovationQ, are proprietary.
Which software strategy is right for your users?
Both proprietary and open source software have pros and cons for inventors and end users. When deciding which option is best for your business, don’t forget to think about who your end users are and what they’ll be using your software for.
Advantages of Proprietary Software
For many developers and their customers, proprietary software is the best option. When users choose a proprietary software solution, they are opting for a software specifically developed to solve a problem they face. Because of the return on investment potential for the developer, there is usually a clear product roadmap guiding updates, often based on user feedback. Users also enjoy customer and technical support directly from the intellectual property owner.
Disadvantages of Proprietary Software
Proprietary software is usually designed for a specific group of users. This is an advantage for users squarely within this group. However, other would-be users can not modify the software to better suit their needs. In addition, all debugging and updates are done from a single point of view, that of the intellectual property owner and target audience, and may not benefit users employing the software in different ways.
Advantages of Open Source Software
Open source software is flexible; features can be modified to suit many different needs. When a problem arises within the software, there is potential for the issue to be fixed faster. This is because there may be many developers from multiple organizations working to find and solve the problem. Access to source code also means that tangential products from third parties work well with the primary software.
Disadvantages of Open Source Software
When multiple people have access to a software’s source code, there is the possibility of conflicting edits. Because open source software is not a primary source of revenue for the original creator, dedicated support is unlikely. Of course, if your end users have little technical knowledge, they won’t see the value of source code access at all.