Proprietary Software vs Off the Shelf Software


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Praise Iwuh

May 02, 2023

There are two primary prospects when choosing software for your company: proprietary or off-the-shelf software. Both have specific benefits and drawbacks, so making the right choice can significantly impact your business's success. 

You must carefully examine both software types and compare them with your business requirements before deciding which software will help make your goals your reality.

In this article, we will explore the differences between these two types of software and provide insights to help you make an informed decision.


What is Proprietary Software?

What is off-the-shelf software?

Advantages of Proprietary Software

Disadvantages of Proprietary Software

Advantages of Off-the-Shelf Software

Disadvantages of Off-the-Shelf Software

Differences between Proprietary and Off-the-Shelf Software

Considerations for Choosing Proprietary Software

Which One to Choose?

What is Proprietary Software?

Wikipedia defines Proprietary software as any software that the free and open-source software community considers to be non-free because its creator, publisher, or other rightsholder or rightsholder partner exercises a legal monopoly under contemporary copyright and intellectual property law to prevent the recipient from freely sharing or altering the software, and—in some cases, as is the case with some patent-encumbered and EULA-bound software—from using the software on their own, thereby restricting the recipient'srecipient's freedom.

This definition may not be easy for a non-specialist to understand. So let'slet's break this definition of proprietary software in simple terms.

In simple words, proprietary software is software that belongs exclusively to a creator and has restrictions on its use and dissemination because the publisher or creator has the legal copyright and intellectual property law preventing anyone from using the software as they like. 

Many of the most widely used software applications are proprietary software. However, here are the top popular proprietary software examples based on usage. They include:

1. Password Software. Examples include LastPass, Keeper Password Manager and Digital Vault, NordPass.

2. Antivirus Software. Examples include McAfee, Norton, and Bitdefender. 

3. Remote Working Software. Examples comprise of ZohoAssist, Remote PC

4. Asset Management Software. Examples include AssetCloud, AssetManage

5. Business tools Software. Examples are Insightly, Templafy, LiquidPlanner

Discover Everything You Need to Know about Proprietary Software. With Examples

What is off-the-shelf software?

Off-the-shelf software refers to standardised programs that are mass-produced, easily accessible to the public, and ready for use immediately. They give a wide range of customers a comprehensive set of features that help operations run more smoothly.

Since they are not explicitly tailored but universal and made for widespread business use, so they can typically be integrated with existing systems without complex configurations. 

Off-the-shelf software can also be called commercial off-the-shelf software, abbreviated as COTS. This is because they often allow for basic customisation. However, you cannot completely conform to all specifications. 

Since off-the-shelf software solutions are created for a wide range of users, they are always differentiated by their exceptional usability and almost total accessibility. Some of these examples, with their exceptional ease of use (but not limited to), include:

1. Editor programs- examples include Photoshop, Lightroom, Facetune

2. Mail services- examples include Gmail, Outlook, Zohomail

3. Media players- examples are VLC, Windows Media player

4. Operating systems- examples are Windows, Mac

5. Antiviruses programs- examples are Kaspersky, Norton

Read: What is Off--the-Shelf Software? With Examples

Advantages of Proprietary Software

  1. Customisable: Proprietary software is usually customisable, which means that it can be tailored to meet the specific needs of a particular business or organisation. This can benefit businesses with unique requirements that off-the-shelf software cannot meet.
  2. Support: Proprietary software usually comes with support from the company that created it. This can be helpful for businesses that don'tdon't have the resources to provide their technical support.
  3. Security: Proprietary software is often more secure than off-the-shelf software because it is designed to meet the specific security needs of the company that created it.

Disadvantages of Proprietary Software

  1. Cost: Proprietary software is usually more expensive than off-the-shelf software, which can be a significant barrier for small businesses.
  2. Dependence: When a business uses proprietary software, they become dependent on the company that created it for updates, maintenance, and support. If the company goes out of business or stops supporting the software, the business may be left without a functioning software system.

Advantages of Off-the-Shelf Software

  1. Cost: Off-the-shelf software is usually less expensive than proprietary software, making it a more affordable option for small businesses.
  2. Compatibility: Off-the-shelf software is designed to be compatible with a wide range of systems to integrate into existing systems easily.
  3. Diversity: Many off-the-shelf software options are available in the market, providing businesses with a wide range of choices to select the best fit for their needs.

Disadvantages of Off-the-Shelf Software

  1. Limited Customization: Off-the-shelf software is often designed to be a one-size-fits-all solution, which means that it may not be customisable enough to meet the unique needs of some businesses.
  2. Limited Support: Off-the-shelf software is usually designed to be easy to use without any technical knowledge. Support may be limited to a knowledge base or forum, which may not be sufficient to solve all issues.
  3. Security: Off-the-shelf software can be less secure than proprietary software because it is designed for various businesses and organisations.

Differences Between Proprietary Software and Off-the-Shelf Software

Proprietary software and off-the-shelf software are two different types of software that organisations can use for their business needs. Here are some of the key differences between the two:

1. Customisation

Only the owner or a designated developer can implement changes to proprietary software. In contrast, the user or a third-party developer can alter commercial software to suit specific business requirements.

2. Ownership/control

Proprietary software gives full ownership and control to the creator of the software. This means that its users cannot modify the software. Furthermore, the rightsholder partner exercises a legal monopoly under contemporary copyright and intellectual property law to prevent the recipient from freely sharing or altering the software. On the other hand, buyers can utilise and modify off-the-shelf software because it is accessible for purchase or licensing.

3. Cost

Typically, proprietary software costs more than commercially available software. This is so that the expense of ownership and development is entirely borne by the owner, as opposed to the many users of off-the-shelf software.

4. Features

Proprietary software typically has more unique features that are specific to the owner's or its users' needs. In contrast, Off-the-shelf software often has a more comprehensive range of features that are useful to a broader audience.

5. Updates

Updates for proprietary software may come more frequently and be tailored to the requirements of the owner or the users. In contrast, off-the-shelf software updates are more general and beneficial to a broader audience.

6. Support

The owner or a selected developer often provides dedicated support for proprietary software. However, in off-the-shelf software, support comes from vendors or community forums.

Which One to Choose?

The decision between proprietary software and off-the-shelf software depends on the specific needs of your business. For example, proprietary software may be the best option if your business has unique requirements and needs customisations. On the other hand, if your business needs a more affordable solution that can be easily integrated into existing systems, off-the-shelf software may be the better option.

Considerations for Choosing Proprietary Software

Customization of Proprietary Software

One significant aspect to consider when opting for proprietary software is the degree of customization it offers. Explore how deeply you can modify the software to tailor it to your specific business needs. Assess whether the software creator or vendor can implement changes that align with your requirements.

Integration with Existing Systems

When deciding on proprietary software, it's crucial to evaluate its compatibility and integration capabilities with your current systems. Determine whether it can seamlessly work with your existing software infrastructure, or if any complex configurations are necessary. This consideration is essential for ensuring smooth operations and data flow within your organization.

Scalability and Future-Proofing

Proprietary software should not only meet your present needs but also accommodate future growth. Investigate whether the software can scale as your business expands. A crucial aspect of choosing proprietary software is ensuring it remains a viable solution as your business evolves, preventing the need for frequent software changes.

Data Privacy and Security

Data privacy and security are paramount in today's digital landscape. Evaluate how proprietary software handles sensitive information and whether it aligns with your organization's security requirements. Some proprietary software may offer enhanced security features tailored to specific industries, making them a preferred choice for businesses dealing with confidential data.

Cost Analysis

Before making a decision, perform a comprehensive cost analysis for proprietary software. Consider not only the initial acquisition cost but also ongoing expenses such as licensing, maintenance, and support. Weigh these costs against the benefits and features the software provides to ensure it aligns with your budget and offers a favourable return on investment.

Vendor Reputation and Longevity

The reputation and long-term stability of the software vendor are critical factors. Research the vendor's history, customer reviews, and track record in delivering updates and support. It's vital to choose a vendor with a proven track record to ensure that they will continue to provide support and updates for the software in the long run.

By considering these aspects, you can make an informed decision when selecting proprietary software that best suits your business requirements.

User Training and Onboarding

When implementing proprietary software, assess the user training and onboarding process. Determine whether the software creator or vendor offers comprehensive training and resources to help your team effectively utilize the software. A smooth onboarding experience can reduce downtime and enhance productivity.

Maintenance and Updates

Understand the maintenance requirements and update frequency of the proprietary software. Some software may necessitate regular updates to stay secure and efficient. Evaluate whether the software creator provides a clear update schedule and how these updates will be integrated into your existing system.

Licensing Models

Explore the various licensing models available for proprietary software. Some may offer one-time purchase options, while others may require ongoing subscription fees. Consider which licensing model aligns with your budget and long-term financial planning.


The critical point is that a specific company or individual owns proprietary software and is not available for use or modification by others. In contrast, off-the-shelf software can be purchased or licensed and customised by the user or a third-party developer. In addition, proprietary software is typically more expensive but may have more unique features and dedicated support. However, off-the-shelf software is more widely available and may have broader features.

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