There is no doubt that the confrontation between supporters of free software and those who fervently defend the position of proprietary software is one of the most heated debates that can take place in computing, even today, when users simply use the tools they like best. without committing to either, as they simply need software that suits their needs and allows them to get their work done 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 them, that they like or that suits their needs, it is still possible today to run into other users who will make you enter into a useless dispute , be it Linux versus Windows, Gimp versus Photoshop, or OpenOffice versus Microsoft Office. Both types of software, proprietary and free, have their strengths and weaknesses, and naturally it is the user who has to decide based on their needs, budget and other variables, without pressure of any kind.
Now, the truth is that many users do not know what the specific strengths and weaknesses of each type of software are, and they get carried away by trends, which often forces them to use pirated software or use free software that does not offer them everything they want. need. Therefore, in this article we are going to try to shed some light on the matter, so that we can easily understand it, which will help us 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 any way he wants, as long as he meets 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 of 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 charged is the packaging and possible physical storage costs in which it can be stored. incurring. 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 counts among its ranks with programs of the highest quality, and which are often preferred over paid alternatives, and not only because they are free, but also 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 “distros”, which are basically different implementations of the same concept. The best known Linux distributions are Ubuntu, Debian or ElementaryOS.
Gimp, a very complete image editor, is also a benchmark in this field, just like 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, while proprietary software, even if it is free, always has restrictions to 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 in order to use it without falling into illegality. Basically, a proprietary program is any piece of software that is copyrighted, and therefore offers multiple limitations for its free use, distribution or modification, despite the fact that said program is completely free.
These limitations are imposed by the publisher, supplier or developer of the software, who indicate the exact conditions under which their software will be used, therefore the end user of the product cannot use their software in the way they want. want, although it does not imply any risk against intellectual or commercial property.
In short, proprietary software includes all those programs that we can buy, rent, license or download for free, but that do not offer us the possibility that we can modify its source code, resell, relicense, redistribute or install a copy. on another computer without having paid another license, in the case of paid software, among many other specific restrictions of each software.
These restrictions or conditions imposed by the developer for the use of its software are always available in a document called “EULA” (End-User License Agreement), which in Spanish means “End-User License Agreement”.
There will be available TOS (Terms of Service), either “Terms of Service Agreement”, that is, the conditions that the end user must comply with in order to use the software that they purchased. This agreement is usually 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 the same 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 suitable for our needs. Therefore, from this point we will have everything we need to know what the main differences between proprietary software and free software are.
Advantages and disadvantages of free software.
The first characteristic, and one of the most important, by the way, is the possibility of using it as we please. In fact, we can install it as many times as we need on as many computers as we want without having to ask for permissions or pay for expansion licenses. These conditions also allow access to premium software by the public and private education sector, small businesses and SMEs , and also home users, who can access great tools like the Libre Office Suite without paying a single penny. .
This is because free software is free. However, we can find free paid software, but its licenses are by no means as restrictive as those of proprietary software.
Free software, as we know, always has its source code available, so that anyone with the necessary programming knowledge can modify it to adapt it to a specific need, and also share these modifications with others so that they can also implement them, which It allows to have an improved software and therefore, greater technological innovation, without having to depend on the deadlines and economic needs of a company.
Being able to have unrestricted access to its source code, added to the simplicity of customizing the software according to the user’s needs, such as customizing its appearance or translating it into different languages or dialects, allows us to bring great software to places. where proprietary software can’t.
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 errors or programming bugs. Because the source codes of these applications are public, any user with the necessary knowledge can check them for errors, and their developers can report that they have been fixed, which means an almost immediate solution.
We know that when we buy proprietary software, we are subjecting ourselves to certain conditions that can even be very detrimental to our activity. This means that if we bet on payment programs, and the developer company disappears or simply won’t give us more support or updates because it doesn’t suit them, we will be in serious trouble, since we won’t 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 can always have continuity in our tasks.
Free software allows us to become completely independent from the whims of a provider, since by 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, as its source code is available and can be consulted by everyone, allows for much fewer security problems due to vulnerabilities, which guarantees greater security and privacy of the data handled by the program. The fact that the source code is available makes it possible to find any backdoors or vulnerabilities in the fastest and most efficient way.
Disadvantages of Free Software
If ok free software offers a long list of advantages, the truth is that for the average user, sometimes it is usually problematic, especially when a very high jump is made 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, its configuration often requires knowing how the operating system works, since, as a general rule, free software applications offer a multitude of functionalities that involve knowing what is being done, unlike proprietary software, which offers the 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 necessarily does his 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 diffusion in specialized publications and little acceptance in schools or educational centers. If more people could be shown that free software often offers much better programs than the world of proprietary software, public acceptance of such programs would be very different.
However, the greatest barrier that currently exists for people not to accept free software is that the user does not usually find what they are looking for easily, since they are found on servers where it is difficult for the common user to download, such as SourceForge or simply not there is similar free software to replace the proprietary software you use.
Advantages and disadvantages of proprietary software.
Proprietary software is undoubtedly the most widespread type of software license in the world, with hundreds of billions of users paying for one or more licenses to be able to use this type of software, despite the wide range of excellent programs of free software that we can find in 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 programs, customization to certain types of design and many other factors. Technically, proprietary software is often far superior to its free alternatives. But everything has a reason.
This is mainly because 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, that there will be money to pay experienced programmers dedicated exclusively to a certain task and the necessary technical resources, so that its development translates into excellent quality software.
Other advantages offered by the owner of software licenses is that they can also hire developers for their quality control departments, which carry out all kinds of tests, in multiple scenarios, on the software they produce.
This scheme works very well for companies like Adobe Photoshop or IK Multimedia. However, not all proprietary software can achieve the degree of perfection or hierarchy that applications such as those mentioned above have. Much software is paid but its development is quite dubious, and the end result is far from good. This is because this type of program is 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 point out its advantages. mistakes
Many people have used well-known proprietary software, and it’s relatively easy to find someone who knows how to use it. There is proprietary software designed for very specific applications that does not exist anywhere else but in the company that produces it.
Another advantage of proprietary software is its presence in all kinds of publications. This makes it easy for users to configure 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
Obviously , the biggest disadvantage offered by proprietary software is the price, which the user is often forced to pay in order to use certain functions, which can be found in free software, at no cost.
In this sense, it is very common for the user to start pirating software for not bothering to look for an alternative, and since it is easier to find documentation about certain actions in famous programs, he chooses to fall into illegality or have problems with viruses. due to pirated programs.
Another point to note is that paid proprietary software usually has a high price, especially the most famous ones. In certain contexts, such as the home or the 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 par, and force professionals who are just beginning to 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, because otherwise, if the company that developed the proprietary software disappears, with it, technical support and any hope of bug fixes or updates. will be gone too. In these cases, users who have purchased 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 goes for developers who are acquired by larger companies, which are usually done to grab a patent and not the program itself. The most likely in these cases is that 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 scenarios described, proprietary software offers other more than important negative points, such as the aforementioned lack of source code visible to 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 workings are, which can sometimes even be dangerous, because we do not really know what the program is doing with our data or how it manages these 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 license, nor use it under conditions other than those established in its EULA, as mentioned above.
In a scenario where we need to modify a software to have a better Workflow, even if 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 turn to the developer and explain our need, which will surely have a very significant cost, both in money and time, even if the company is interested in our problem.
Nor will we be able to install proprietary software every time we need it. For this , we must pay as many licenses as we need, which is a real problem, especially if we have several computers.
Examples of free software
From here we will mention the best examples of free software in the world, with which we hope you will meet them and give them a chance, to verify that free software can be as good as the proprietary one.
Of course, in the first place we will find the Linux operating system, which is currently 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 functions that will make us forget about Microsoft Office and its astronomical price.
In the field of productivity, we can also count on NotePad++, a complete 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. . others.
As for multimedia and downloads, in the area of free software there are applications such as eMule, a program for sharing files, JDownloader, a very interesting app for downloading files, Gimp, an excellent image editor that stands as a serious alternative to Photoshop, InKscape, another very good graphic 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 of proven reliability and work capacity.
Along the same lines, we have VLC, a proven cross-platform media player, or Audacity, a fantastic audio editor that’s super complete with features like VST support.
As for web and Internet browsers, we have available Mozilla Firefox or Chromium, based on Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, Drupal, a content manager for websites.
These are just a handful of examples, since we can find thousands of free software applications 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 used software, is Microsoft Windows, an operating system that was created many years ago and that generates controversy with each new version that is released on the market. However, it is the most used operating system in the world in all kinds of implementations, which clearly indicates its virtues.
In the field of productivity, one of the most used applications, and clearly twinned with the Windows operating system, is Microsoft Office, a complete multi-platform office suite, which has several flagship applications for the field, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint . Without a doubt, Office is the most widely used proprietary software office suite in the world.
Also in the multimedia aspect, proprietary software also has its prominent representatives, including 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. Another benchmark well known to all is AutoCAD, an absolute standard in its field, 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 mention 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 exists 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, along with Internet Explorer or Edge, of how problematic a web browser can be. closed source internet browser.
Antiviruses also have their 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 is the world of video games, a space in which 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.