Guide

Open source business software

What is open source software?

Open source software refers to a computer program or an application in which the source code is open and available to the public:

  • for use, modification or redistribution
  • under an open source licence
  • usually free of charge

The source code is a part of the software that determines how the program works.

Proprietary software

In proprietary software, usually bought off-the-shelf, the source code remains hidden. It belongs to the company that developed the software and is privately owned and controlled.

You can license the proprietary software for use, but you won't be able to access, modify or distribute its underlying source code. It is considered the company's intellectual property. Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop are examples of proprietary software.

Open source software

In contrast to the proprietary software, the creators of open source programs make their source code available to anyone who wants to view, copy, alter or share the code. Find examples of popular open source products and types.

You can download and install open source software onto your computer in the same way you would install proprietary software.

Do I need a licence for open source software?

While most open source programs are free to download, you may need to license some of them to run them on your machines.

Open source licences are different from proprietary software licences. Most will generally allow you to:

  • modify the software to suit your needs
  • use portions of the code and apply them to other programs
  • distribute and duplicate copies freely

Different licences may have different conditions attached. To find out more, see open source licensing and legal issues.

Why choose open source software for business?

The premise for open source is one of transparency, open exchange and cooperation. When programmers can openly read, redistribute and modify the source code for a piece of software, the view is that it will generally evolve into an improved, more reliable product. Read more about the advantages of open source software.