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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Information Technology and Quality

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How does Open Source Software differ from Proprietary Software?

Open Source software differs from proprietary software in many important ways. First, open source software is obtainable free of cost. Second, open source software projects have different support options. Third, the source code is available and therefore modifiable and subject to intense scrutiny. Fourth, open source projects rely on a different business model. Each of these differences can ultimately be either an advantage or disadvantage to the end user.


Key Differences:


 ProprietaryOpen Source
CostMostly available for a feeMust be free to use, modify, and redistribute
SupportSupport provided by the vendor at a cost.Community of users and developers
Ownership of Source codeOrganization that created itFree, no ownership
Modifications of Source codeOnly organization/creator can modifyFree, anyone can modify
CopyrightLicensed; typically for a feeLicensed; typically for a fee


The diagram below from the GNU Operating System website displays different categories of free and non-free software.

GNU Operating System


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