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Commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) or simply off the shelf (OTS, which may also include free software) computer software or hardware, technology, or computer products, are ready-made and available for sale, lease, or license to the general public. They are often used as alternatives to in-house developments or one-off government-funded developments. The use of COTS is being mandated across many government and business programs, as such products may offer significant savings in procurement and maintenance. However, since COTS software specifications are written externally, government agencies sometimes fear future changes to the product will not be under their control.

Motivations for using COTS components include reduction of overall system development and costs (as components can be bought or licensed instead of being developed from scratch) and reduced maintenance costs. In software development, many considered COTS to be the silver bullet during the 1990s, but COTS development came with many not-so-obvious tradeoffs—overall cost and development time can definitely be reduced, but often at the expense of an increase in software component integration work and a dependency on a third-party component vendor.[1]


  1. ^ McKinney, Dorothy "Impact of Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Software and Technology on Systems Engineering", Presentation to INCOSE Chapters, August 2001. Accessed January 28, 2009.


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