Alex Marshall Alex Marshall is a marketeer, web developer and designer. He also likes retro technology, classic cars and in his spare time enjoys travelling.

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The merits of Open Source vs Closed Source (Proprietary) Software

3 min read

At IDR Solutions we are big fans of Open Source Software and use it in our day-to-day lives a lot along with a variety of proprietary software and tools to help with the development and marketing of our Java PDF Library and our PDF to HTML5 and SVG Converter.

Open vs Close Sources
What are the merits of Open vs Closed Source Software?

I use a lot of open source software in my daily life and outside of work. I’m also a user of closed source (proprietary) software and am a big fan of certain pieces of software and OS’s so I thought it would be a good idea to look at the merits of open and closed source software.

So what is Open Source?

In Software terms, open source refers to software that has its source code freely available on the Internet to download. In comparison, the source code for proprietary commercial software is usually a closely guarded secret of the company.

Open source software is distributed under different types of licenses such as LGPL, GNU, BSD, Apache, etc. In nearly all these cases the software can be used without paying a fee. It should be noted that sometimes large organizations distribute the source code, such as Apache, Open Office, Mozilla, etc.

Something else to consider is that you can modify open source software to add capabilities not originally in the software.

So what is Closed Source?

In software terms closed source software often refers to software that is owned by someone (or an organization) and often the only way to get hold of the software is through purchasing a physical product or a digital product from retailers, resellers, or the owner’s website.

doom shareware
Doom was a legendary piece of Shareware in its day…

Some closed source software is distributed as ‘shareware’. Often it’s a fully functional version of the software but either with a limited amount of options available to use in it or a full version that is limited to a set period of time after which the software will disable itself. One of the most common shareware that springs to my mind is ‘Doom’ a first-person shooter (FPS) from the 1990s which was a hit because of being shareware.

Often companies offer demos and trials of their software and function somewhat similar to shareware where it has been designed to expire after some period of time and/or may have limited features.

Are there other types of models?

Yes, it is also possible to get hold of software that is free to use (i.e. Freeware) but often there is no access to the source code.

There is also a Freemium model whereby basic services are provided free of charge in the software while more advanced features must be paid for. This is often found in Android and iOS applications.

Is there any innovation in Open Source software compared to Closed Source?

Often I have pondered whether this is the case as an argument is that people go to open source as it is free to use and also the software is often a little behind on a commercial product (such as Open & Libre Office vs Microsoft Office).

Although in this case, Microsoft has the infrastructure to have cloud versions of Office and Dropbox/One drive integration whereas open source software does not, there are other cases where open source software has generated new ideas that improve the software and extend and build upon existing concepts.

CyanogenMod is a good example of innovation in Android

A good example of this is Google’s Android OS. Some of the features and ideas have been implemented in the latest version of Android Lollipop 5.0 OS.

Often open source projects aren’t burdened by the need to generate revenue or protect market share, (which is where the need for innovation comes from in large companies and organizations) and many minds from various backgrounds can solve difficult problems, compared to one team in a building.

What about support for software and bug fixes?

Many open source software in terms of bug fixes and support is rock solid and sometimes can be better than closed source counterparts. However, the opposite extreme is that there are open source projects that are abandoned, and others that have security flaws that haven’t been patched, or some that take a long time to roll out bug fixes.

In this case, it would be best to consider that closed source software is more likely to have better, bug fixes being rolled out on a regular basis and better support as they created the software whereas in open source the feature you use may be an addition added on by a programmer who may not be working on the project any longer.

Where is a good place to start with Open Source?

So now that you are interested in Open Source, where is a good place to start?

I recommend checking out: (to learn more)
The Open Source Initiative (to learn more)
SourceForge (for Downloads & Projects)
GitHub (for Downloads, Hosting & Projects)
CodePlex (for Downloads, Hosting & Projects)

I have also previously written some articles comparing various Open and Closed Source software and applications, you can find some of these listed below.

5 useful Open Source SVG tools
9 tools to help you with Java Performance Tuning
5 tools to help you write better Java Code

A good place to start would also be to look at our RSS feed/Search category for more on Open Source related articles.

Hopefully, you will have found this guide useful and it can help you to decide which software you should choose, or maybe it will inspire you to code for an open source project.

What do you think is better? Is open source better than the closed source? Let us know…

Our software libraries allow you to

Convert PDF files to HTML
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Work with PDF Documents in Java
Read and write HEIC and other Image formats in Java
Alex Marshall Alex Marshall is a marketeer, web developer and designer. He also likes retro technology, classic cars and in his spare time enjoys travelling.

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