Commercial off-the shelf software, easier known as COTS is the type of computer application that can be purchased at any computer retail store. Examples are most anti-virus programs, games and even computer utilities, such as word processors, database managers, spreadsheet creators and so on.

COTS software is usually less expensive than custom created software. This is because it is designed to be used by millions of users worldwide. Since a lot of time and effort has been put into creating such software, creating a COTS application that will only aid a select few number of people is a waste of money on the part of the developing company. Another point is COTS software is usually very reliable. Developers of COTS components conduct research into the most common types of business processes or problems solving techniques and compress them into software packages that can be used across the board.

It is important to note that any software product that is bought as an “out of the box” product and does not require any custom modification from the user or anyone is generally considered a COTS product. They are usually easier to find and purchase from retail stores. Furthermore COTS applications are easy to install, with instructions contained in the package that encloses the COTS product. A softcopy is also usually included on the disc that contains the installation files and resources and in several languages to boot.

Even though companies can make do with freeware software, it has become a requirement on their part to ensure that majority of the applications they rely on to be COTS products. This is because, other than having installation instructions, most of the COTS applications have a customer care section that aids any organization that has bought their product. So long as it is legally purchased and registered, usually online, organizations, and even individuals, can obtain help from the company’s customer care representatives, either by telephone or at least online via email or chat. When the problem, if any, is discovered about the COTS product, it will be usually fixed using a patch, or fix. A patch will cover any loopholes that may exist that make the product vulnerable. A “fix” on the other hand will repair any bugs in the product i.e. any small issue that gets in the way of normal operations of the product.

When a COTS product is redesigned in any way to meet a specific users needs, they become modified off-the shelf (MOTS) products. Unlike COTS software, MOTS can be accompanied with modifiable source code that allows the owner, if they have enough knowledge, to change the product to their choosing. And so when COTS products are changed from the original version, it “voids” any responsibilities of the developing organization and so maintenance is left to the user, any patches or fixes that may not work are no longer the developer organization’s problems.