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Vendor lock-in, also called proprietary lock-in or customer lock-in, is a technique used by some technology vendors to make their customers dependent on them for products and services by making it hard to switch to a competitor without substantial costs or difficulty. This is done by developing solutions that are platform-dependent and that only run with limited, third-party partners. The dependency is usually created using standards that are controlled by the vendor and which grant them a level of monopoly power that becomes increasingly profitable because of the dependencies they have created. The vendor product will be incompatible with other hardware, operating systems, or file formats, which forces the customers to continually purchase more products from the vendor and their small group of partners.

The impact to an organization who has become dependent, or locked-in, in this way is substantial. They lose the ability to renegotiate prices and get better service, because the vendor knows they are not likely to leave. They are vulnerable to forced upgrades whether they are ready or not. If they do decide to switch vendors, they will incur significant expense to convert their data to other formats and migrate to less expensive products and operating systems. They also risk the loss or corruption of critical data during the conversion.

The best remedy to vendor lock-in is to use products that conform to free, industry-wide standards. A free standard is one that is not controlled by any entity and can be used by everyone. Open source software, like Linux software, is safer than proprietary software because it is written to free standards and built in a collaborative, public manner with source code that is freely available to anyone. Commercial products like SUSE Linux Enterprise Server are built with open source code, making them safe from vendor lock-in.