Software Sources

Lesson Content

Inquire: How Do You Make Software?


DecorativeComputer software applications are the programs that you use to run your computer.  But, where do they come from?  Software is developed by programmers either on their own, or for a company that they work for. Software ownership falls under the rules of copyright; that is, the person or organization that created that software owns the right to make copies of the software.  This is why the term “publishing software” is often used by developers.  When you use software on your computer, you are licensing that software for use.  Copyright protects the organization that creates proprietary software because it prohibits others from copying or stealing their code.  Even for those who produce open source software, copyright is the law that allows these organizations to structure their open licensing.

This lesson introduces the specifics of software licensing, including proprietary and open source software licenses.

Big Question

Who owns the software on your computer

Read: Software Licensing


There are two main ways that software is made available to users: either through purchased proprietary software licenses or through open source licensed software.

Proprietary Software

DecorativeMost of the physical items we use in our lives we purchase, like a book, or a car, or sofa.  We spend money on those items and then we own them. They are ours to do with as we wish for the most part.  The physical computer hardware we own is like any other purchased item, the ownership of the hardware is transferred to the purchaser.

The way we purchase computer software is a different story.  Software is not a physical item. It is written code and more like the text written in a book.  Software code falls under the legal guidelines of copyright, similar to the copyright for authors. When you purchase a novel, you own the physical book, but not the words on the page; they still belong to the author or publisher.  In the same way, when you purchase software, you are not actually transferring ownership to yourself, you are licensing the ability to use that software under certain circumstances.  The creator of the computer program code retains the copyright ownership of the code.  You cannot change that code or represent it as your own. In some cases, you cannot legally re-sell that software to another person once you have purchased it.

When you first install a purchased software package, you are usually asked to agree to the terms of service or the End User License Agreement or EULA. These agreements define your rights to using the software and can be very limiting. Depending on the license, you may not be able to install the software on more than one computer, or you may be giving up your right to sue the software company if it damages your computer in some way.

Microsoft Office, Apple iWork, and Google G Suite are all examples of proprietary productivity software packages.  Currently, Microsoft is the only company that is charging to purchase its office suite of applications. Both iWork and G Suite are available for free, but they are still owned by their respective creators, so you are only licensing the use of these when you access them.  Most proprietary software is sold or licensed under a single user agreement: one person licenses and can use the software, most often on one single computer.  Larger corporations and some universities will license software for all of their employees and students.  Anyone who is officially connected to the organization can use software while still employed or going to school at that organization. The license is nullified when you separate from the organization and should uninstall that software.

Open Source Software

DecorativeFree or open source software (FOSS or OSS) is software that is designed for the source code to be available for anyone to copy and use. The open-source movement has led to the development of some of the most-used software in the world, including the Firefox browser, the Linux operating system, and the Apache web server.

When the personal computer?was?first released, it really did not serve any practical need.?Early computers were difficult to program and required great attention to detail.?However, many personal-computer enthusiasts immediately banded together to build applications. These computer enthusiasts were happy to share any programs they built, and this collaboration enabled them to innovate quickly.

As software creation became more complex and more profitable, proprietary software became much more common than free shared software. There are many, however, who feel that software should not be restricted. Just as with those early hobbyists in the 1970s, they feel that innovation and progress can be made much more rapidly if we share what we learn. In the 1990s, with Internet access connecting more and more people together, the open source movement gained steam.

Free and open source (OSS or FOSS) software is available under different specific licenses, including GNU public license.  These licenses grant the ability to distribute, modify, create, and share this software with others as opposed to proprietary licensed software.  These programs are often developed by groups or organizations that are consciously creating software that is availed to all.  Some OSS is purchased, but most is available for free or at a very low cost.  LibreOffice, and Apache OpenOffce are examples of OSS productivity software suites.

Free and Open Are Not the Same Thing

It is important to realize that open source and free are not the same thing.  Just because software is free, does not mean it is open source – and just because software is open source does not mean it is free.

Open source software is defined by specific EULAs that allow the user more options to access the code, and lift some of the standard copyright restrictions.  Sometimes, open source software is free, and sometimes it is not.  Some proprietary software is free to use, but the creator of that software still retains all the copyright restrictions.

Software licensing is surprisingly complex, and it is important to have a basic understanding of these licenses and the EULAs you agree to for any software you use.


Poll: What is the License on Your Software?

What is the license on most of the software you use?

Expand: Where Does Your Software Live?

Cloud Computing

Historically, for software to run on a computer, an individual copy of the software had to be installed on the computer either from a disk or, more recently, after being downloaded from the Internet. With cloud computing, the application is not downloaded onto the computer, but is instead run on an Internet server, usually through a web browser.

DecorativeTo understand cloud computing, we first have to understand what the cloud is. “The cloud” refers to applications, services, and data stored on the Internet. Companies and organizations provide these services, sometimes for free, sometimes for a cost. These service providers rely on giant server farms and massive storage devices that are connected via Internet protocols. Cloud computing is the use of these services by individuals and organizations. Software as a Service (SAAS) is the most common and basic type of cloud computing.

You probably already use SAAS or cloud computing in some forms. For example, if you check your e-mail via your web browser, you are using a form of cloud computing. If you use Google applications like Docs or Sheets, you are using cloud computing.  When you access social applications including Facebook or Pinterest, you are using cloud computing. While these are free versions of SAAS applications, like Google, there are also many services that users must purchase. Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, and Slack are some examples of SAAS that have a paid component.  Many of these companies offer some services for free, but charge for additional services or storage space.

Advantages of Cloud Computing

  • There is no software to install or upgrades to maintain.
  • It is available from any computer that has access to the Internet.
  • Your information is not lost if your hard disk crashes or your laptop is stolen.
  • You are not limited by the available memory or disk space on your computer.
  • You don’t have to worry about operating system compatibility, making it more flexible for users and easier for programmers to reach a wider audience.

Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

  • Your information is stored on someone else’s computer – how safe is it?
  • You must have Internet access to use it. If you do not have access, you may not be able to see your files or update them.
  • The software provider may go out of business, change their pricing model, or stop offering a service – what happens to your data then?

Web Browsing Versus Cloud Computing

It is important to understand the difference between a web browser/web browsing and cloud computing.  This can be a bit confusing since you generally use a web browser application (for example, Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Apple Safari) to access a SAAS application.  To access a webpage or the Internet, or to access a SAAS app like Google Docs, you still have to install an application onto your computer, and this application is usually a web browser.  You can use your browser to look at web pages or order items online; this is simply web browsing.

You can also use the browser to access SAAS applications. This is different than web surfing since you are running a completely different application, like word processing through Google Docs.  The advantage is that you only need to install the one browser application on your computer, and can then access a variety of applications via that single browser.

Check Your Knowledge

Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like.

Lesson Resources

Lesson Toolbox

Additional Resources and Readings

Video Free software, free society: (13:39)

Free software and control of your computer and the Internet.
Richard Stallman at TEDxGeneva 2014

Video: Open Source Basics from Intel Software (5:41)

Explanation of how Open Source Software grows over time
Intel Software

Video:  End-User License Agreements (10:53)

How Copyright and EULA apply to software
Mike Murphy

Links for software licensing and Copyright

Lesson Glossary


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  • cloud computing
    personal computing using a network of remote servers and services to run applications, or manage and store data through the Internet, as opposed to installing programs or saving files on a personal computer hard drive. (The Cloud)
  • End User Licensing Agreement (EULA)
    a legal contract between a user and the provider of that software, service, or content
  • EULA
    a legal contract between a user and the provider of that software, service, or content
  • SAAS
    is a licensing model where a user licenses software for use, often through cloud computing, instead of purchasing and installing software onto a personal computer hard drive.
  • Software as a Service
    is a licensing model where a user licenses software for use, often through cloud computing, instead of purchasing and installing software onto a personal computer hard drive.
  • web browser
    a software application used for interacting with the Web. Examples include Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari.

License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Stacy Zemke M.S.K.M. for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA

Adapted Content:

Title: Information Systems for Business and Beyond. Author: David T. Bourgeois  Source: PressBooks.  License: CC BY 2.0

Media Sources

DecorativeTechnology Keyboard Computing PeripheralPixiesPixabayCC 0
DecorativeProgramming Computer CodeNegative SpacePexelsCC 0
DecorativeComputer Keyboard Electronics Modern TechnologyStockSnapPixabayCC 0
DecorativeOpen Source Initiative LogoOpen Source InitiativeOpen Source InitiativeCC BY 4.0
DecorativeMacBook, iPad, iPhonePixabayPexelsCC 0