What Is Vanilla Software?

Alex Newth

"Vanilla software" is a term used to describe software that is made in a barebones way, without any customizations to make it better or worse for any particular industry. The lack of customization makes most vanilla software generic. The majority of vanilla programs come with special licenses that allow users to customize programs after receiving them, and some may allow users to sell their customized versions. While this software generally is less expensive than more advanced software, there may be a problem with the features included or not included in the software.

The majority of vanilla programs come with special licenses that allow users to customize programs after receiving them.
The majority of vanilla programs come with special licenses that allow users to customize programs after receiving them.

The main distinguishing characteristic that separates vanilla software and other programs is that this software comes without any customization whatsoever. Most programs have leanings for certain businesses or consumers, but this software is made for anyone. Most programs that are sold have plug-ins or components from third-party software manufacturers that either help make or help optimize the program. With a vanilla program, none of these extras is included.

Most vanilla software is generic, because it is not made for any particular group. This means the features found on the program often are standard and can apply for anyone. For example, business word processors generally have features such as basic business analytics, business writing styles and templates for common documents used by businesses. A vanilla program often will lack these tools, because they differentiate it for a certain market.

While having a program without any specialization may seem like a problem for specialized clients, this actually is one of the strengths of vanilla software. Regular programs have a take-it-or-leave-it approach, because the user is unable to change the framework or features associated with the program. The majority of vanilla programs allow users to peer into and change the source code, so any features that are needed can be manually added. Some programs also enable the user to sell the new version, but this is uncommon.

People who are looking for an out-of-the-box program that needs no customization likely won't want to use vanilla software. The features are generic, so users may get features they will never use and they may not get essential features. This makes the main market for this type of software people who have the time and skill to change the programs to suit their needs. These programs also often are cheaper, but some people may be willing to pay more for software that is customized for their needs.

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Discussion Comments


@Markerrag -- that desire for vanilla software is actually one of the things that gave rise to the open source software movement. Programs that fall into that camp feature freely available source code that can be modified at will. Adding features has evolved into an entire industry. That IT geek that can add features can be one of the most valuable additions to a corporate staff.


And on the other end of the spectrum you have software that is made with ever possible feature in mind. You get a lot of bells and whistles with those programs, but how many of those features will you actually use and how hard is it to get to the stuff you do want?

Take an office suite, for example. Do you really care about databases and presentation software or do you just want to use the word processor? When you are using that word processor, is it easy to get to the things you actually use or do you have to search through menus full of features that are useless to you?

That is why there is an audience for vanilla software. Productivity increases in a company when people have only those features they need and use. If there is an IT guy on staff that can add those features, it is well worth whatever he charges to add only the features that are needed.

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