This section looks at different ways of sourcing software. We can use software that has already been written for general use but there are different ways of accessing this. Some software is free and some software can be changed to suit our needs but a lot of software is quite expensive and there are restrictions on what we can do with it. If there isn’t a package available already we can also get software written specifically for our needs.
Open Source software is governed by the Open Source Initiative that says:
NB: This is different from Freeware (free software) where it may be free to use but the user does not get access to the source code. Freeware usually has restrictions on its use as well.
Proprietary software is software that is sold as a license to use the software. There will be restrictions on how the software can be used, for example only one concurrent user or up to 50 users on one site (site license). The company or person who wrote the software will hold the copyright. The users will not get access to the source code and will not be allowed to modify the package and sell it to other people. This would break the copyright (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act).
The benefit of using proprietary software is the support available from the company. There will be updates and technical support lines, training courses and a large user base. Open Source software tends to be more organic – it changes over time as developers modify source code and distribute new versions. There isn’t a commercial organisation behind the software so there probably won’t be a helpline or regular updates, just a community of enthusiastic developers.
Off-the-shelf software is exactly what it sounds like: you can go into a shop and pick it up off the shelf and buy it there and then. Off-the-shelf also applies to applications you buy online as this is essentially the same, without going to the shop. You still get the software within a day or so. This is an application package that someone has written and sold a license to use.
As many people will buy the software you don’t have to pay anywhere near the development costs. The company selling the software will make money because so many people buy it. Imagine how many people use Microsoft Word or how many people have bought Norton Antivirus.
Commonly used off-the-shelf applications are the everyday packages we use in school, for example, word-processing software, spreadsheets and email.
Custom written software is written for a customer to suit their specific requirements. It is not available to the general public. The company developing the software will analyse what the customer needs, design & make the software, and then deliver it. They must charge enough money to cover their development costs and make a profit so the customer will end up paying a lot more for custom software than buying an off-the-shelf package. This whole process takes time. You cannot order the software and expect it to arrive in the next couple of days. Custom software takes months or even years to develop.