What is the difference between open-source applications and commercial off the shelf (COTS) software?

Open Source and Commercial off the Shelf Software

Software can be classified into open source and commercial programs. Open source refers to a model in which the software code is made available for free to customer under terms that enable modification as well as redistribution. On the other hand, commercial programs are those developed by monetary entities and is licensed for a fee to the customer. As such, it will be imperative to focus on the difference between open source and commercial off the shelf software (COTS).

Differences between the Two Programs

As noted earlier, commercial off the shelf software is developed for the purpose of making money. On the other hand, open source programs are created by non-profits communities, and it is free to use which one of the greatest advantage (Seow Hiong, 2015). Users can as well distribute and modify it without any associated cost. COTs can be expensive in the short-term due to the periodical licensing or because it can only be used by a set of individuals.

Further, it is critical to note that less resource is required in terms of office space, human capital and money when purchasing COTS as compared to open source. At the same time, unlike, the customized software COTS offer a greater chance of incorporating industrial set standards and is less dependent on support components across different environments (Seow Hiong, 2015). However, customization is another advantage that accrues from open source as the service provider can customize it to their needs and market demands. The feature helps organizations to garner a competitive edge in the industry. Further, the characteristic makes the software ideal for experimentation because source code change takes effect instantly for free (Lakhani & Von Hippel, 2013).

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Also, while COTS dependents on the author or company that created it while open source does not. As such, even if the organization fails, the code continues to exist and can be developed by the users and standards can be accessed by anyone (Lakhani & Von Hippel, 2013). Therefore, it does not have problems that often emerge due to formats that exist in proprietary software.

However, COTS provide robust security as compared to open source because fewer people access the code. In open source, all individuals utilize the access spot and can make a modification or try to improve the program and malicious people can take this privilege to exploit the vulnerability if this product by creating bugs that can infect the hardware and steal identities (Li et al., 2008). It is rare this to happen to commercially created software since the organizations that make them follow strict quality control procedures and process as well as ensure that the programs are almost perfect before being released to the market.

Recommendation for Large Organizations

Based on the analysis above, it is clear that open source software is more flexible and less costly than COTS. This stems from its ability to offer customers an opportunity to examine the source code and make fundamental changes to it allowing them to determine problems in the system. However, a large organization should rely on COTS because security is paramount. As a result, this can significantly save those companies large money in the long-run due to costs associated with attacks and stole information (Li et al., 2008). This is possible because there are rigorous testing and response centers that evaluate the software’s possible vulnerabilities to correct them before selling the product.  Further, there is greater reliability associated with COTS system which can offer a considerable advantage to the big institution in their business operation.



Lakhani, K. R., & Von Hippel, E. (2013). How open source software works: “free” user-to-user assistance. Journal of Research policy, 32(6), 923-943.

Li, J., Slyngstad, O. P. N., Torchiano, M., Morisio, M., & Bunse, C. (2008). A state-of-the-practice survey of risk management in development with off-the-shelf software components. IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, 34(2), 271-286.

Seow Hiong, G. (2015). Open source and commercial software. An in-depth analysis of the issues. Business Software Alliance, 1-32.