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What Is Commercial Off-the-Shelf?

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  • Written By: Troy Holmes
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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There are many types of commercial software applications available. These include custom-developed, government-owned, and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software. COTS software is a computer application that can be purchased commercially at most retail outlets. Some examples of this type of software includes Microsoft® Office and most antivirus software packages. COTS software typically does not require any modification because it works off the shelf.

Commercial off-the-shelf software is typically less expensive than custom-developed software. This is because significant investment costs are sunk into creating COTS software, which makes it more reliable for mass consumption. Custom-developed software is often expensive and unreliable when compared with COTS products because it is developed from scratch with a limited budget and in a short amount of time.

Most products bought by consumers are considered commercial off-the-shelf. This includes operating systems, word processing software, and photo software. Any product that is available out of the box that does not require any custom development before installation is considered a COTS product. These products are easier to purchase and use because they typically come with easy installation instructions.

If a commercial off-the-shelf software product is modified to meet the requirements of a specific customer it becomes modified off-the-shelf (MOTS). MOTS software includes source code and can be changed by the consumer. Once COTS software has become modified, it is typically the responsibility of the consumer to manage the changes made in the software. Neither MOTS nor COTS software is typically free for download or use.

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Microsoft® exchange server is an example of commercial off-the-shelf software. This product can be used for emails, calendars, and task management. It can be easily installed onto a computer server and enables email exchange between the employees of a company. As with all COTS products, this software does not require any modifications to function properly.

Buying commercial off–the-shelf products has become a requirement for many large companies. This has created a large market for many types of software products. The typical business uses an assortment of COTS products throughout the organization.

Many large companies have become integrators of COTS products. Using multiple COTS products to help run a company is an example of enterprise integration architecture. This has taken the place of custom-developed software because each COTS product meets a specific business need. The integration of multiple products lets a company function well without incurring the risk of custom-developed software.

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