Do not say "Closed Source" or "Proprietary Software"....instead say "Legacy Software"


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

May 05, 2011 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I was at the Red Hat Summit in Boston yesterday and while I was sitting in a session about “Open Source” I started thinking about some of the terms the community uses.

Words are very powerful, of course, and many marketing campaigns have been based on a catchy phrase, or a turn of words.

I listened to the speakers in my session talking about “Free Software” and “Open Source”, but the worst that they could say about our real competitors is that they are “Closed Source” or “Proprietary Software”.

In my view binary-only software is worse than what either of those phrases portray.

For many years I have talked about the freedom that Free Software gives you. Unfortunately a lot of people in modern times do not really understand the benefits of “freedom” in software. They have been using binary-only software products their whole life, and they think that is the only way of really producing and distributing software.

Therefore in the past couple of years I have started talking about software slavery (instead of software freedom), because people have a much better idea of what slavery is all about, more than what freedom is.

The issue of making support “more efficient” is also something that is hard for people to understand. Everyone wants their support to be “cheaper”.....but what if making your support “cheaper” actually costs you more in time and effort?

For the people buying the support (usually the financial people in each company, the term “cheaper” is often what they look for. For the people supplying the support (usually a system vendor or a software vendor), the term “more efficient” typically means a call center and off-shoring. But for the end-user of the support “cheaper and more efficient” might mean getting the correct answer a lot quicker than sitting for hours on a phone talking to someone half a planet away....wasting the end-user's time, which does not really affect the financial person who purchased the support package, nor the supplier who set up the call center.

As you can see, terms and phrases can be very tricky....

I therefore propose that our community retire the term “closed source”, and replace it with the term “legacy software”.

“legacy software” is “legacy” from the day it goes onto the CD-ROM to be put in a box and placed on a shelf. It is legacy because it is following a business model that is over twenty years old, and does not take into account the needs of a highly diverse world, local economies and the way the world is heading. It is the software that your father started using on his first PC.

Most importantly, no one really likes constantly being reminded that the software they are using is “legacy software”, and that it should be replaced with “Free Software”.

All the more reason to use the term.

Carpe Diem!


  • On "effect" vs "affect"....touché.....

    ....and corrected.
  • Language

    I agree, language is very important. It needs to convey the right tone and hopefully help start a constructive debate in the uninitiated.

    I'm not sure of what the answer is, I'm not really convinced by "Legacy software" but I can see what you are getting at.

    By the way, after reading your piece on "the Kings English" I offer this correction.

  • Acronyms

    Legacy and Geriatric Software: "LaGS"
  • CLaPs


    LOL! I think that "CLaPs is a fairly good acronym, and thanks for coming up with the thought. Perhaps some other readers will also generate some ideas along these lines.
  • acronym?

    So then, if Free Software is FLOSS or FOSS, should closed, legacy, and proprietary software be CLaPS? Or does someone else have a better acronym?
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