As a software enthusiast, you must have read the terms “open-source” and “proprietary” used on the internet. Is there any difference between the two?
Everything we see on the screen is made up of language. Someone, somewhere, has written down words that are meant for computers to understand. These words, in this language, are known as codes.
For our computer to know what to do, it needs to understand the code. If so, it can act. But for us to understand what computers actually do, we also need to read the code.
What is Open Source?
Free and open source software is software where we not only have access to freely use the program but also to view, edit, and share the source code. Source code refers to the code that a person (or, occasionally, a computer) types when creating a program.
This is different from binary code, which is the actual language that computers use. When a programmer finishes writing a program, they compile the source code into a binary program. A human being knows how to read source code. Computers know how to read binary code.
When someone distributes a program, they usually give us a binary file that can be run on the computer. Those programs are neither free nor open source, except they also give us the source code and the freedom to do both as we wish.
What is a Close Source?
Closed source software is software whose use comes with limitations, especially the inability to view the source code. We only have access to binary files. Closed-source software is also known as proprietary software.
This is because software developers regard the source code as their private and proprietary information. To give anyone access to this code, in their view, you as the user have to pay a fee to buy it in order to have the ability to copy and edit programs freely without having to hire a developer or a team of developers to do the same work.
Unless you grew up using Linux, there’s a good chance that most of the software you’re familiar with is a close source. This type of software is easier to monetize, making it attractive to both small app developers and giant corporations. Another sign is whether you must agree to an end-user license agreement or EULA when using the program for the first time.
EULA And Free Software Licenses
The computer is unlike most other tools. You may be able to move your mouse or swipe across the touchpad with less of a problem, or you can press keys on the keyboard, but that’s not the point.
This is an important code. The code can be modified. The code can be copied. There is no inherent limit to one’s ability to tinker with and copy code. Computer makers don’t have to ask you not to make copies of your laptop because that’s not something most people can do. But it’s not that hard to copy and redistribute software that’s on a computer, so that’s where the EULA comes into play to prevent that from happening.
EULAs are usually giant walls of text that explain, in legal language, what you can and can’t do with the software you’re about to use. They generally prevent you from viewing the code, consider making copies illegal, require you to purchase a license or activation key, and often detail how to use software that is deemed to be against the terms of service.
Free software licenses do not require any contractual agreement with their users; instead, they tell their users that they can do whatever they want with the program and its code. Some free licenses, such as the GNU General Public License, are considered copyleft licenses. Their main limitation on user behavior is the requirement that any program developed using code available under the GPL is also available under the GPL license.
Other licenses, such as the MIT license, are considered permissive licenses and are not included with these terms. You can take the MIT-licensed code and use it to create proprietary programs if you want.
Differences between Open Source And Close Source
As mentioned earlier, the difference between open source and closed source lies in how developers manage their software’s source code.
Open source is software with an open source code, meaning users can open or modify the software. Usually, open-source software is straightforward to get because it is widely available on the free application download platform. You can also use it forever because the use of the software is not subject to restrictions and is not charged at all. Examples of software that have open-source licenses are Linux, Mozilla Firefox, XAMPP, GIMP, OpenOffice, and many more.
A closed source is a program that has an encrypted source code. This means that you have to register first before using it. Most closed-source software is not free or paid. Examples such as Windows, Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and others.
To better understand the differences between open source and closed source specifically. The admin has made a table of the differences between the two by category. Here are the differences between open source and closed source by category:
- Almost all open source software is always available for free and can be used without spending a fee.
- Usually the most privacy-respecting software you can use. If someone tries to share an open-source program that violates privacy, others will see and share a copy with all tracking removed. The risk of controversy and reputational damage is often enough to prevent developers from collecting basic diagnostic data that is considered commonplace among proprietary software.
- The benefit of a developer allowing anyone to see the code is that those with expertise can contribute to fixing it and can confirm that the issue has been resolved. However, this does not guarantee that many eyes are actually looking at the code when the exploit occurs.
- Updates can take longer, as software developers often rely on volunteers. On the other hand, applications and distributions tend to support hardware for years, even decades.
Close Source Software
- More likely to incur costs. But when proprietary software is offered for free, there is often a risk. Developers and publishers often monetize programs in different ways, either by displaying advertisements, tracking user behavior, smuggling unwanted (sometimes malicious) software onto users’ computers, or a combination of the three.
- Frequently track how you use the program. On mobile devices, it is common for applications to monitor their user’s location and other applications that have been installed on the user’s phone. Some view contact lists or scan files.
- Close source software often relies on a security model called security through obscurity. This doesn’t stop bad actors from finding vulnerabilities and creating exploits. And if the software developer makes us aware of this exploit because we can’t see the program code, we can’t confirm whether the problem is fixed or not.
- Sometimes it arrives early because there are often teams of employees who are paid to work on the project on a full-time basis. But software support can end abruptly when a company goes out of business or decides a software is no longer profitable. New versions are much less likely to run on older hardware.
So that’s the difference between open source and close source. The essence of the difference is how developers manage the source code of their software. After knowing the difference between the two, now is the time for you to start determining which type of software is suitable for you to use.