Narrowing it down, experts and individuals who use GIS software are also in this dilemma. Most open source and commercial software share so much in common that it is difficult to really differentiate them. The only crystal clear difference is the licensing fee. Beyond that, there are other points to keep in mind about commercial and open source software. This write-up intends to shed light on those points. However, if you are a newbie in the world of software development, and these terms seems alien to you, here is a quick overview.
Open-source software is computer software with its source code made available by the developer to everybody to study, change, modify, enhance and distribute. On the other hand, commercial software has source code that only the person, team, or organization that created it can edit, inspect, change and enhance it. They maintain exclusive right over it. It is also called proprietary or closed source software. A notable example is Microsoft word.
With this in mind, let us compare commercial and open source GIS software from various standpoints:
1. MARKETING STRATEGIES
The marketing strategies of open source and commercial software differ significantly. The developers of commercial software use strategies such as sales team, paid advert, marketing teams and search engines (SEO). In other words, their marketing strategies is an individual effort and team effort which are mostly paid for. On the other hand, developers of open source software rely mostly on individual efforts like viral marketing (word of mouth) and search engine (SEO). It is rarely paid for and most individuals participate on pro bono basis. We conclude that commercial GIS software has more sophisticated marketing strategies.
Many commercial GIS software are quite expensive. It costs thousands of dollars on initial purchase. This does not include the yearly maintenance fee. While for open source software, it is the completely opposite. Open source software is completely free on the initial download and no licensing fee or maintenance fee. The no cost tag of open source GIS software gives it an edge over commercial GIS software in the market.
3. QUALITY OF SUPPORT
Since most commercial GIS software is owned and distributed by reputable software development companies, they do everything possible to give users the value of their money. To achieve that, the quality of their customer support is top notch. They have excellent technical support to guide users on the use of the software and also to assist in case any problem pops up. This includes sound FAQ sections, to email assistance, to over-the-phone inquiries. For open source software, the quality of support is inferior compared to commercial software. What you get is individual support in the form of blog posts, forums and youtube videos. Online support for open source GIS software is not definite and structured. The support provided is in most cases unsatisfactory and inconsistent.
Commercial GIS software possesses excellent spatial analysis tool and geoprocessing functionality. However, though it is enriched with top notch tools for analysis, it is not flexible. By flexibility, we editing and upgrading the software to suit your needs. For instance, if an analyst needs a feature that the software does not possess, he/she will have to wait until it is added by the owners of the software. This hinders creativity, flexibility and innovation. On the other hand, it is the complete opposite for open source GIS software. An analyst using open source GIS software can add features not existing in the software. He is not dependent on a third party. It gives room for creativity and flexibility.
Commercial GIS software is equipped with diverse arrays of mapping tools for quick and efficient analysis. The analyst is also welcomed with an easy to interfaces for each tool geospatial tools. Commercial GIS software is more suitable for newbies finding their feet in geospatial analysis. For open-source GIS software, it is not so easy. Though they possess quality geospatial tools, it is difficult to for analysts to use optimally at first. Open source GIS software is more suitable for seasoned professionals in the field of geospatial analysis. It is not ideal for newbies or amateurs, or else a poor analysis will be conducted.
Commercial GIS software is all about simplicity and ease of work. From network analysis, to land analysis, commercial GIS software carries out these tasks with ease. It turns an herculean task into a walk in park. For open source software, though it does not add to the complexities of the task, it does not really provide much to make analysis easier. It leaves the analyst in the cold.
7. CUSTOMER BASE
Commercial GIS software and Open source GIS software have its customer base or users. Each has its own customers. However, what differs is the modus operandi chosen to develop their customer base. For commercial software, their customer base consists of rich clients and customers with difficulties no other person can solve. For open source on the other hand, the customer base consists of genius users that can help expand the frontiers of the software functionality and users that provide monetary donations.
The source of funds for both parties is different. Most times, open source GIS software relies on donations. Donations are the major source of fund for open source software. Other sources of funds include consulting sales and Software as a service / Hosting. While commercial software also its own unique source of funds. It includes: product sales product licenses, product renewals, software as service / hosting and consulting sales. It is important to remember that commercial GIS software owners have a wider source of funds that open GIS software. It is also more consistent than open source software.
9. APP DEVELOPMENT
Though both of them are active in the development of GIS apps, open source software leads the way. Open source GIS software apps are cheap, develop by an analyst to meet their specific needs and most importantly, there is no headache of licensing fee. For commercial software, the apps developed are expensive and licensing fee is also included. Because of this, its apps are not as popular as the ones developed by its open source counterparts.
10. OTHER BENEFITS
Apart from the monetary gains both parties benefits; they also share similar non-monetary benefits. Such as fame and joy from putting a smile on others face. We can say this is one thing they share in common apart from geospatial tools. They enjoy creating and recreating GIS Software.