There is no doubt that the confrontation between the supporters of free software and those who fervently defend the position of proprietary software is one of the most heated debates in computing, even today, when users simply use the free software. The tools you like best without compromising on either side, because they simply need software that meets their needs and allows them to finish their work as quickly as possible, no matter where it comes from.
However, despite how simple it may seem for any user to be able to choose the software that most interests him, likes or serves his needs, even today it is possible that he will collide with other users who will make him enter a pointless dispute, be it Linux versus Windows, Gimp versus Photoshop or OpenOffice versus Microsoft Office. Both types of software, proprietary and free, have their virtues and defects, and naturally it is the user who has to decide according to their needs, budget and other variables, without pressure of any kind.
Now, the truth is that many users are unaware of the specific virtues and defects of each type of software , and are carried away by trends, which often force them to use pirated software or use free software that does not apply to them. offers everything they need. For this reason in this article we are going to try to shed a little light on the matter, with the aim that we can understand it easily, which will help us to select the best software for our needs.
What is Free Software
Basically, the programs developed under the free software platform are a type of application that the user can freely use, modify and redistribute in the way that best suits him, as long as it complies with a couple of very simple requirements: First, that The software that is distributed is maintained with the same guarantees of free use, modification and distribution, an aspect better known as “copyleft”, and that the source code is also included to be able to modify or alter the program to adapt it to the specific requirements of each client.
These rules come from the definition of free software established by the GNU Project (GNU’s Not Unix), which in Spanish means “GNU is not Unix” and the FSF (Free Software Foundation) , better known as the Free Software Foundation. The concept of free software is a development by Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation.
It should be noted at this point that, despite being free, free software can also be packaged and distributed for a certain amount of money, since what would be being charged is the packaging and the possible physical storage expenses that could be had. In this sense, you can always make a compilation of the best software of a specific type and charge for that work, but never for the software itself.
The concept of Free Software has among its ranks very high quality programs, which are often preferred to paid alternatives, and not only because they are free, but because they offer a multitude of excellent features. In this sense, the best known example of free software that we can find is Linux, a free and open source operating system that is an excellent alternative to Windows.
It should be noted that Linux is an operating system that is available in so-called “distributions” or “distro”, which are basically different implementations of the same concept. The most popular Linux distributions are Ubuntu, Debian or ElementaryOS.
Gimp, a very complete image editor, is also a benchmark in this field, as is LibreOffice in office automation. But we will talk about this later in this article.
Finally, it is essential to understand that free software is not the same as free software, since the first concept implies software that can be downloaded, used and distributed freely and completely free of charge, while proprietary software, even if it is free, always has restrictions for its modification or redistribution.
What is proprietary software
Unlike free software, proprietary software, also called proprietary software, closed source software or commercial software, has many rules that we have to follow at the foot of the rule in order to use it without falling into illegality. Basically, a proprietary program is any piece of copyrighted software, and therefore offers multiple limitations for its free use, distribution or modification, even if said program is completely free.
These limitations are imposed by the publisher, provider or developer of the software, who or who indicate the exact conditions in which their software should be used, therefore the end user of the product is not able to use their software in the way that you want, even if it does not imply any risk against intellectual or commercial property.
In short, proprietary software includes all those programs that we can buy, lease, license or download without charge, but that does not offer us the possibility that we can modify its source code, resell, re-license, redistribute, or install a copy in another computer without having paid another license, in the case of paid software, among many other specific restrictions for each software.
These restrictions or conditions imposed by the developer for the use of their software are always available in a document called “EULA” (End-User License Agreement), which in Spanish means “ End User License Agreement ”.
The TOS (Terms of Service), or ” Terms of Service Agreement”, will be available there, that is, the conditions that the end user must abide by in order to use the software they purchased. This agreement is generally visible at the beginning of the installation of any program, and must be accepted before the program can be installed.
Once the user accepts the terms of service that are detailed in the license agreement, he agrees to comply with them, and any violation of them will be grounds for the developer to take legal action against the user.
Both free software and proprietary software have their advantages and disadvantages, which of course we must know to know what type of applications are the most appropriate for our needs. Therefore, from this point on, we will have everything we need to know what are the main differences between proprietary software and free software.
Advantages and disadvantages of free software
The first feature, and one of the most important, by the way, is the ability to use it as we please. In fact, we can install it as many times as we need on all the computers we want without having to ask for permission or pay for expansion licenses. These conditions also allow access to top-quality software by the public and private educational sector, small companies and SMEs and also by users at home, who can access excellent tools such as the LibreOffice suite without having to pay a fee. only penny.
This is because free software is free. However, we can find paid free software, but by no means are its licenses as restrictive as those of proprietary software.
Free software, as we know, always has its source code available, so anyone with the necessary knowledge in programming can modify it to suit a specific need, and also share these modifications with others so that they can also implement them, which It allows us to have improved software and therefore greater technological innovation, without having to depend on the deadlines and financial needs of a company.
Being able to have unrestricted access to its source code, added to the simplicity to customize the software according to the user’s needs, such as customizing its appearance or translating it into different languages or dialects, allow us to take excellent software to places where the proprietary software does not arrive.
These conditions also contribute to the training of professionals and the development of industry and commerce, which ultimately translates into knowledge and work to improve the life expectancy of many people.
Another point where free software stands out is in the response to programming errors or bugs. Because the source codes of these apps are public, they can be reviewed for errors by any user with the necessary knowledge, and reported for their developers to fix them, which means an almost immediate solution.
We know that when we buy proprietary software, we are adhering to certain conditions that can even be very harmful to our activity. This means that if we bet on paid programs, and the developer company disappears or simply will not provide us with more support or updates because it does not suit them, we will be in serious trouble, since we will not even be able to go to a developer to modify the code , because this is not allowed in the license.
In this sense, free software allows us to be sure that even if our provider closes or withdraws our software from the market, we will always be able to have continuity in our tasks.
Free software allows us to become completely independent from the whims of a provider, since having its source code available, we can always modify the software to adapt it to our own needs, which guarantees the durability of the information and allows us to ensure its migration.
Also free software, since its source code is available and can be reviewed by everyone, allows us to have much fewer security problems due to vulnerabilities, which ensures greater security and privacy of the data that the program handles. The fact that the source code is available makes it possible to find any backdoor or vulnerability in the fastest and most effective way.
Disadvantages of Free Software
Although free software offers a long list of advantages, the truth is that for the average user, it is sometimes problematic, especially when taking a very high leap by changing an entire structure to free software.
Some of the difficulties that the average user may encounter are, for example, incompatibilities between Word documents and any of the free software office suites or problems with data migration.
In addition, many times for its configuration knowledge of the operation of the operating system is required, since as a general rule free software applications offer a multitude of characteristics that imply knowing what is being done, unlike proprietary software, which offer the bare minimum. .
Another negative point for the common user is that he is very uninformed about free software, and many times he tends to think that being free, it necessarily does its job badly. This favors the low acceptance of free software, since there are fewer users who use it, less popularity.
This has to do with the fact that there is not much dissemination in specialized publications and little acceptance in schools or educational centers. If it could be demonstrated to more people that free software often offers much better programs than the world of proprietary software, public acceptance of this type of program would be very different.
However, the biggest barrier that exists today so that people do not finish accepting free software, is that the user does not usually find what they are looking for in an easy way, because it is on servers where it is difficult to download for the common user, like SourceForge or simply there is no similar free software with which to replace the proprietary software they use.
Advantages and disadvantages of proprietary software
Proprietary software is undoubtedly the most widespread type of computer program license in the world, with hundreds of billions of users paying for one or more licenses to use this type of software, despite the wide range of excellent free software programs that we can easily find on the market.
This is due to a multitude of factors, which can be both technical and psychological. This last area includes everything from the appearance of the programs, custom to a certain type of arrangement and many other factors. Technically, proprietary software is often far superior to its free alternatives. But everything has a reason.
This is mainly due to the fact that proprietary software has the clear advantage of having to buy a license to use it , which assures developers that there will be sufficient funds, that is, there will be money to pay experienced programmers exclusively dedicated to a specific task and the necessary technical resources, so that its development is translated into a piece of excellent quality software.
Other advantages offered by proprietary software licenses is that they can also hire developers for their quality control departments, who carry out all kinds of tests, in multiple scenarios, to the software they produce.
This scheme works great for companies like Adobe Photoshop or IK Multimedia. However, not all proprietary software can achieve the perfection or hierarchy of applications such as those mentioned above. Much software is paid for, but its development is quite dubious, and the end result is far from good. This is because these types of programs are usually developed by a single person, and in this sense it will always be safer to opt for free software, which will always have a community behind it willing to improve it and mark its mistakes.
Well-known brand proprietary software has been used by many people and it is relatively easy to find someone who knows how to use it. There is proprietary software designed for very specific applications that exists nowhere else but with the company that produces it.
Another advantage of proprietary software is its presence in all types of publications. This makes it easier for users to set a certain program with a specific function, such as images and Photoshop, for which there will be many more tutorials on the latter than on Gimp, the free alternative to Photoshop.
Disadvantages of proprietary software
Clearly the biggest disadvantage that proprietary software offers is the price, which the user is often forced to pay in order to use a few certain features, which may be found in free software, at no cost.
In this sense, it is very common for the user to start pirating software because they do not take the trouble to look for an alternative, and since it is easier to find documentation on certain actions in famous programs, they choose to fall into illegality or have problems with viruses due to to hacked programs.
Another point to keep in mind is that proprietary paid software tends to have a high price, especially the most famous ones. In certain contexts, such as the home or office, it is not necessary to buy or hack , since there are alternatives for everything, however, in the professional field many times these solutions are not up to the job, and force to professionals just starting out in piracy.
Another disadvantage of proprietary software is that its source code is not available to users, only to those involved in its development. At this point, if we choose to buy software, we have to check that its developer has an excellent track record, otherwise, if the company that developed the proprietary software disappears, with it, technical support and any hope of bug fixes will also disappear. or update. In these cases, users who bought a license to use a program with one of these companies can do absolutely nothing, except buy another similar program, with which the same thing can happen.
The same happens with developers that are acquired by larger companies, which generally do it to own a patent and not the program itself. Most likely in these cases our software will be discontinued and we will be left with nothing.
In addition to the possibility of being left with nothing in any of the described scenarios, the proprietary software offers other more than important negative points, such as the aforementioned lack of a visible source code for the user.
In this sense, when we buy proprietary software we are buying something completely sealed, that is, we have no idea how its internal functioning is, which can sometimes be even dangerous, because we do not really know what the program is doing with our data , or in what way it manages it or the resources of our teams, which can result in a disaster of proportions.
Another disadvantage of proprietary software is that we cannot under any point of view improve a program with this type of licenses, nor use it under conditions other than those set out in its EULA, as mentioned above.
In a scenario where we need to modify a software to have a better Workflow, although we have the best programmers available , we will not be able to do it, since it is totally prohibited. In these cases, we will have to go to the developer and state our need, which will surely have a very important cost, both monetary and in terms of time, even if the company is interested in our problem.
Nor can we install proprietary software as many times as we need to. To do this we will have to pay as many licenses as we need which is a real problem especially if we have several computers.
Examples of free software
From this point on, we will mention the best examples of free software in the world, with which we hope you meet them and offer them a chance, to be able to verify that free software can be as good as proprietary software.
Of course, in the first place we will find the Linux operating system, which currently comes packaged in different distributions such as Ubuntu, Suse or Mandriva , with everything necessary to start working.
Other examples of the best known, this time in the office environment, are Open Office or Libre Office, two secure, fast, stable productivity suites full of features that will make us forget about Microsoft Office and its astronomical price.
In the field of productivity we can also count on NotePad ++, a full text editor with support for programming languages, FileZilla, a multiplatform FTP client or Apache, an HTTP Web server that will allow us to have our own website, among many others.
In the multimedia aspect and downloads, in the field of free software there are applications such as eMule, a file-sharing program, JDownloader, an app for downloading files that is more than interesting, Gimp, an excellent image editor that is Plant as a serious alternative to Photoshop, InKscape, another very good graphics editor and Scribus, a graphic design app in the best QuarkXpress style, among many other excellent programs, such as Blender, a 3D drawing app, all of them proven reliability and work capacity.
In the same sense, we have VLC, a proven multiplatform multimedia player, or Audacity, a fantastic super complete audio editor that has features such as VST compatibility.
As for web browsers and the Internet, we have available Mozilla Firefox or Chromium, the basis of Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, Drupal, a content management system for websites.
These are just a handful of examples, since we can find thousands of free software apps for all tastes and needs of each type of user.
Examples of proprietary software
The first example of proprietary software, as it is the most widely used software, is Microsoft Windows, an operating system that was created many years ago, and that generates controversy with each new version that comes out on the market. However, it is the most widely used operating system in the world in all types of implementations, which clearly indicates its virtues.
The field of productivity, one of the most used applications, and clearly twinned with the Windows operating system is Microsoft Office, a complete multiplatform office suite, which has several flagship applications for the field such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint . Undoubtedly Office is the world’s most widely used proprietary software office suite.
Also in the multimedia aspect, the proprietary software also has its prominent representatives, among them Adobe Photoshop: one of the most complete image editors that we can find, which is also a standard in the graphics industry. Other reference programs in the sector are CorelDraw, Illustrator, also from Adobe. A reference more than known to all is AutoCAD, an absolute standard in regards to its scope, and one of the oldest in terms of its type of license.
In areas such as video, we can highlight Sony Vegas and Final Cut. As an example of a proprietary software program we can cite Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio or GoldWave, an old acquaintance. iTunes or Spotify are also good examples of proprietary software. We must also mention Windows Media Player, one of the oldest developments that still exist today from Microsoft, but which is no longer included in the new versions of Windows.
When it comes to web browsers, Safari is one of the best examples, alongside Internet Explorer or Edge, of how problematic a closed source Internet browser can be .
Antiviruses also have a prominent place in the world of proprietary software. Examples of this are Avast, Norton AntiVirus, Eset and many others, many of which, despite being free to install, are clear exponents of proprietary software.
Another area in which proprietary applications abound in the world of video games, a space where they flourish due to the compulsive need of many users to have the latest version of any of the games that appear on the market.