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4 Famous Closed Source Software Examples

closed source software examples

The meteoric rise of the global software industry has brought with it clever innovations and solutions to age-old problems. With all these valuable ideas floating around, however, intellectual property has become a major concern in software development. While there are many different kinds of software available, there are two main camps of software development: closed source and open source. Here, we’ll break down the pros and cons of closed source software and share 4 popular closed source software examples.

What are closed source software systems?

Closed source software ( sometimes called proprietary software) refers to software that has essentially “closed” access to its source code. This means that unauthorized agents (including software users) are prohibited from interacting with software code.

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Companies may choose to make their software closed source to protect their intellectual property and improve security and reliability. In many cases, software publishers may choose to restrict access to their source code, treating it as a trade secret. By ensuring that only trusted agents can legally access proprietary code, software publishers are able to protect their products from tampering, copyright infringement and reduce the risk of security exploits.

The most popular model of closed source software allows companies to impose legal restrictions on what can be done with their software. Failure to comply can result in the voiding of warranties, loss of service support, or legal action. In the closed source model, end-users do not actually own the software they purchase. Instead, they purchase the right to use the software as specified by the software publisher (usually set out extensively in the Terms and Conditions).

Open-source software, on the other hand, provides users and collaborators access to source code. This is often done to make software more democratic and to promote knowledge exchange. Many proponents of the open-source movement argue that making software available for experimentation and study drives innovation through collaboration. While this may be true, for many commercial software businesses, the potential risk to reward may be too great.

Open-source software tends to be quite popular due to its accessibility and low cost. The Linux operating system (and its Ubuntu distribution), for example, is widely used as a desktop operating system with over 32 million users worldwide. In fact, many closed source software systems are built on open-source products and tools.

4 Closed source software examples

While open-source software is widely used, most operating systems, database management systems, and desktop software available today are closed source. Users often choose closed source applications to enjoy key benefits like:

  • greater flexibility and ease of use
  • enhanced stability
  • improved security
  • strong after-sales support
  • robust and active user communities

With these advantages, it’s little surprise that closed source software is consistently the preferred choice for enterprise and commercial users.

The following are some of the most popular closed source software examples available today.

1. Microsoft Windows

Microsoft’s famous operating system, Windows is closed source software. Hands down, Windows is the most popular operating system in the world, holding 75.5% of the global desktop market, and over 29% of the total operating system market on all platforms. With a history spanning almost 40 years, Microsoft has had plenty of time to get the formula right for a flexible, user-friendly operating system and suite of applications to empower and delight users. 

Built on the custom Windows NT Kernel, Microsoft’s flagship software products are available for desktop and mobile devices. It also supports the Microsoft Office suite of applications which are also closed source. It’s important to note that while Microsoft’s bestselling products are still closed source, the software giant has been actively supporting open-source initiatives in recent years and now has its own open-source support organization. It also uses open-source software in the engineering and development of its closed-source products. Microsoft is now one of the largest corporate contributors to open-source projects in the world.

2. Apple iOS

It may come as a surprise that Apple’s iOS operating system is closed source. Apple maintains near-complete control of software for the iPhone line of products. While external developers can produce applications for iOS they must conform to Apple’s standards of use. While areas of iOS are open source and available for public access, much of the operating system remains closed.

Users and developers do not usually have access to iOS source code, making modification difficult. One of the benefits of this is Apple’s relative security compared to Android and Windows operating systems. While users can still access and modify iOS source code for their own devices (referred to as “jailbreaking”) Apple has measures in place to detect modifications of their devices that contravene their terms of use. When unauthorized modifications are detected, Apple may void warranties for that device and decline to offer support.

3. Zoom

With the massive shift online in recent years and the rise of remote work, Zoom quickly became a household name. Everyone from business teams and academic institutions to families and hobby groups began using the application to enjoy real-time streaming chat. While Zoom has had its share of security and privacy controversies, it’s still the video-conferencing option of choice for millions of users worldwide boasting a market cap of more than $30 billion.

The Zoom software model features several functional tiers, allowing users to customize the service to suit their needs, from Basic, all the way to Enterprise. As a closed source software, Zoom’s source code is not exposed to external users. While access to its Git repositories is controlled by its parent company; Zoom Video Communications Incorporated, the company has made the list of open-source software used by Zoom public.

4. Adobe Creative Suite

Adobe is easily the publisher of the most famous graphic design software worldwide. The media software giant currently holds a global market cap of over $200 billion and over 24 million active subscriptions to its Creative Cloud suite. Adobe Incorporated has always treated their software as valuable trade secrets, setting out clear and specific terms of use in their Terms and Conditions documentation.

Many of these conditions impose restrictions on the use of Adobe products. Key examples of these prohibitions include:

  • No use of the services or software without a written license or agreement with Adobe
  • Copying, modifying, hosting, sublicensing, or reselling any of Adobe’s services or software is prohibited
  • Users are not permitted to grant others access to the software with their account information
  • Users are prohibited from accessing or attempting to access the software by any means other than the interfaces provided or authorized by Adobe

While Adobe’s suite of products is largely closed to public access, certain areas are exposed to allow users with Contributor License Agreements (CLAs) to develop features or applications for use with Adobe’s products. This shared source approach is still a far cry from true open-source software, but it does allow for greater collaboration and innovation.

Closed source is becoming more open

It’s safe to say that closed-source software rules the market. One of the key reasons for its greater success is the economic advantages of the model. Closed-source software can be monetized more easily and practically than open-source software. This provides software publishers with the resources to improve their products iteratively through research, experimentation, refinement, and testing.

In recent years, traditionally closed source software publishers have started embracing open-source principles in certain areas of their development. While they may not be granting unfettered access to their software’s source code, many software companies are increasingly offering public access to open-source projects and project repositories. The aim is to encourage collaboration from external developer talent and drive engagement and innovation with their products.

Keeping an eye on other software trends

Just as established software businesses are warming up to the open-source trend, it’s important to keep a close eye on other key trends in software development. Staying abreast of tech trends and evolving technology in the software industry is not just important, it’s necessary to stay competitive. While keeping up with all the new developments in tech can be a challenge, we can help. See what’s currently making waves in software development in our article here.

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