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What is "Commercial Software"?

Jan 04, 2000, 03:46 (7 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Russell McOrmond)

By Russell McOrmond

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

The phrase "commercial software" is used often within the community, but many people have very different definitions of the phrase. To help clarify this, I am submitting the following. I have submitted this to the Jargon file, but the suggested changes have not yet been included.

Commercial Software
Using the definition of commercial from the dictionary it indicates "Having profit as a chief aim". This makes Commercial Software to simply be software used in a commercial environment, or software developed that has "profit as a chief aim".

Many people are incorrectly using this phrase interchangeably with "Proprietary Software", and are trying to perpetuate the myth that the only way to make money in the software world is to make the software proprietary. This definition of the word "commercial" does not specify a specific way of making money, and anyone in the "Free Software", "Open Source" or similar movements know that there is more than just a single way to make money in the software world.

Phrases such as "Free Software", "Open Source Software", or "Proprietary Software" are totally independent of whether or not the software is commercial or not. Software can be licensed with the GPL or BSD License, and yet have profit as a chief aim, such as with Red Hat Software. There is also going to be proprietary software which is given away for free (Internet Explorer and Netscape are two popular examples) where profit is not the aim of the software, but other motivations such as market control or advertising or Internet Portals.

Cut from www.dictionary.com: com·mer·cial (k-mûrshl)
adj. Abbr. com., coml., cml.
    1. Of or relating to commerce: a commercial loan; a commercial attaché.
    2. Engaged in commerce: a commercial trucker.
    3. Involved in work that is intended for the mass market: a commercial artist.
  1. Of, relating to, or being goods, often unrefined, produced and distributed in large quantities for use by industry.
  2. Having profit as a chief aim: a commercial book, not a scholarly tome.
  3. Sponsored by an advertiser or supported by advertising:commercial television.

Part of the reason that even Hackers involved in the Free Software or Open Source movements are using the term wrong is because some of the definitions in the Hackers Dictionary seem to be using the term incorrectly to mean "Proprietary Software".

We don't want the Hackers Dictionary itself to continue to be used against hackers in the Open Source movement, so I suggest we get the dictionary fixed and use the word "proprietary" wherever an inappropriate use of the word "commercial" is used.

A few examples:

Warez D00dz, General Public Virus (GNU is in no way counter-commercial so the current definition is false), Dongle, Lamer, Live Free Or Die, PayWare (FreeWare and ShareWare are also incorrect - these terms tend to refer to proprietary software as well), Brain Damaged, BSD.