Open Source vs. Proprietary License: What You Need to Know About Software Licenses

When it comes to using, developing and promoting software online, the numerous licenses that accompany them can be confusing for even the most adept computer user.  Open source and proprietary license often go at each other head-to-head, with one promoting an accepted method of licensing whereas the latter leaves more room for interpretation.  But can they work well together or are open source and proprietary license destined to drive developers and users even further apart?

Open source licensing

Open source licensing has been around for a very long time.  It’s a type of accepted copyright license for software that allows developers to modify and share the source code behind it.  Beyond that, open source software can be freeware, shareware or paid for outright by users depending on the developer’s preference.  It’s also determined by each open source developer whether or not their name must be attached to the source code should it be modified or distributed in a new way.

There are many organizations and groups that oversee open source licensing, which makes it a more viable way to protect the work as a software developer.  Since more people recognize the oversight, it’s easy to protect your source code should someone use it in a way you didn’t authorize.

Open source comes as is with no guarantee it’ll even work or that you’ll have the support behind it to fix an issue that comes up.  Since open source software is being developed, tweaked and distributed with changes by various developers, they may not have the time or energy to fix or change anything that is considered an issue.

OpenSource vs Proprietary -Linux

Some of the most well-known open source software out there includes Linux, WordPress, Firefox and the Chromium engine.

Proprietary licensing

Proprietary licensing is more of a free form licensing that has no real oversight.  When you download a software title under a proprietary license, the developer makes the rules of what can and can’t be done with it. However, under the law in most countries, there are really no repercussions to govern this because proprietary licensing is not overseen by any laws backing it.  This is why you see many well-known proprietary software titles being modified without official access to its source code.

Since proprietary licensing is not recognized by the law, that means that just about every proprietary title requires you as a user to accept a long set of Terms and Conditions.  Once you accept this legal document, it becomes a binding contract between you and the developer, which means you’re liable for any terms you break.

Proprietary licensing offers support, bug fixes and patches, along with other helpful solutions when needed from the developer.  Since they’re the only ones who can fix issues related to the source code, the developer is most apt to find the fixes and apply them to continue turning a profit.

OpenSource vs Proprietary - Windows

Some of the most common proprietary-based software out there include Windows and Mac OS X.

Open Source and Proprietary License Compared

 Open SourceProprietary
CostMostly freeFree or paid
CopyrightLicensed, credit given to original developer when modifiedLicensed by developer only, licensee granted rights to use
Source Code OwnershipNo ownership rightsDeveloper owns rights
Source Code ModificationsAnyone can modifyOnly developer can modify

Open source licensing and proprietary licensing have two very different goals in mind: The latter has turned into a game of making a profit whereas the former is all about taking a basic idea and turning it into something bigger and better.

Can Open Source and Proprietary License Work Well Together?

Opera has recently taken the step forward as a proprietary-based company deciding to make the leap into a more open source atmosphere.  Opera has made the move from using its rendering engine to utilizing the WebKit engine.  In this case, the brand of Opera is still proprietary, but the engine it uses is open source, meaning developers can tweak the coding behind Opera in ways they never could before.  This can lead to leaps forward for the Opera browser, similar to how the Chromium engine has evolved, without them giving up everything about the Opera brand.


Big name companies can still retain the rights to the brands they own, but by allowing developers and everyday users to tweak the code in places, who knows what could be possible for your favorite software titles and operating systems.  This is how open source and proprietary license can work together to produce better software for everyone.

Melissa Popp Melissa Popp

Melissa Popp has been a freelance writer for over a decade. While she primarily has focused on writing about technology, she's also written about everything from custom mailboxes to health care to just about anything in between. Melissa is the Content Strategist for, the nation's leading marketplace for trailers for sale, the Social Media Manager for the best roofing Denver company as well as a Writer here at MakeTechEasier. She's a proud support of the Denver SEO community and a big fan of online radio.

One comment

Comments are closed.