What is Commercial Software?

Let us look at what commercial software is, differences between commercial and open-source software, and some popular commercial software examples.

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You use software every day.

The most obvious examples of software with which we interact daily are on our smartphone. Whether it is Android, iOS, or specific apps, every time we unlock our smartphones, we are using software. At the same time, you might also work on a laptop or desktop computer, and if you have a smart TV, that is another example of software.

Let us face it; we interact with software in some way, shape, or form during most of our waking hours.

Software use is not always obvious, either. When you go shopping and make a contactless payment, you are using software. You might use software to sign a document virtually. The entire world relies on software!

Let us look at what commercial software is, differences between commercial and open-source software, and some popular commercial software examples.

What is Commercial Software?

When we talk about a commercial software definition, we are not talking about software built for business use.

Any software a company designs and develops to sell, or licence, is commercial software. How and when you might use the terms sell or licence depends on the nature of the product you are buying.

For example, a video game is a type of software. If you went to your local entertainment store to buy Grand Theft Auto V, the shop would say they have sold you a piece of software.

In contrast, you would use the term licence for things like software as a service (SaaS) where there is not a physical product. For example, Microsoft would talk about Office 365 as software they licence. Your Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription is effectively a licence to access and stream their content.

Open Source Software vs Commercial Software

There has long been a misconception that open source software means free software. Although some open-source software is indeed free, there is also a lot of paid open-source software on the market today. WordPress is an excellent example of open source software that is free to use but with commercial options.

The main difference between open source and commercial software is that open-source software providers make the source code available to developers. This means anyone, in theory, can look to improve and update this software. Open-source software publishers usually provide a developer guide to accompany their products, so any developments are in line with established coding standards and requirements.

In contrast, commercial software companies do not usually make their products available for such purposes. For example, Microsoft's commercial software development team are the only people who work on Office 365. You could not revise the source code and put it on a forum for others to use like you can with open-source software.

Some people see this as a drawback of commercial software. Still, the modern software marketplace means we have a choice of using open source or commercial software. Whatever software we decide to use will depend on our aims around how we will use the software in question. If you have no interest in how you could make a piece of software better, then you will not have a problem using commercial software.

That said, you might also decide to try a free open source platform if you do not want to pay for a specific piece of commercial software!

What is the World’s Most Popular Commercial Software?

As you might expect, individual companies prefer to protect specific information about unit sales. Therefore, it is difficult to definitively say what the world’s most popular commercial software is.

However, thanks to general sales statistics around pieces of hardware, we can also predict the most popular commercial software.

For example, Statista data gives the following worldwide sales numbers for 2019:

While you do not usually go out and "buy" Android, macOS, or Windows, these are still examples of commercial software that companies build to ship with products. Given the sales numbers for the devices listed above, we can confidently say these are among the most popular commercial software in the world.

Netflix, with over 167 million global subscribers, and Amazon Prime, with over 150 million, are also examples of popular commercial software.

The Grand Theft Auto V videogame mentioned earlier is easily the best-selling Xbox One and Playstation 4 game of all time, and an example of another popular software type.

What About Popular Open Source Software?

In addition to WordPress, examples of popular open-source software include:

  • Magento Open Source, the eCommerce platform, which also offers a paid option.
  • Mozilla Firefox, a popular web browser that is 100% free.
  • Mozilla Thunderbird, an email client like Microsoft Outlook, its commercial equivalent.
  • Apache OpenOffice, a productivity suite and a great alternative to Microsoft Office if you do not want to pay for an annual licence.

Key Takeaways

Software plays a significant role in our day-to-day lives. Most of the time, we do not pay too much conscious attention to how software affects us. However, the next time you are looking for a platform to streamline personal or business processes, or starting your next online project, think about the software you will use! Not only might you save money, but you could discover a vast world of possibilities and amazing features across both commercial and open-source software options.


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