What is “Commercial Software”?

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

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:

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:

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