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Let's say I'm an independent software developer who gets paid, by the hour, to create tailored software for solving one person's particular problems; I'm a contractor and a service provider.

What's a good noun to use for the person who commissioned work from me? Employer came to mind, but that sounds very… "permanent," and client is a very loaded word in software development. Customer could work, but is there a more accurate noun that I could use?

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    I think you're being too careful about the use of the word "client". Yes, it is a loaded word within the software domain, but it really is the standard term to describe your situation from a business perspective. I don't think it's going to cause the confusion you think it will; most other applicable words either carry even more baggage in the business domain (see "partner" and "stakeholder" below), or are jarring and unfamiliar (see "contractee" below.) Your clients won't get confused if you call them "clients", and I don't really think you will either. – MT_Head Sep 29 '13 at 19:59
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    It's "client". You can't avoid common words just because your specialty area has subsumed them into it's own lexicon. Just don't lose track of who is using plain language and who is using metaphors. – Canis Lupus Sep 29 '13 at 20:15
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That party is quite often referred to as the contractee

Project owner (also called client or principal) or other entity that enters into a contract with a contractor or vendor and receives specified goods and/or services under the terms of the contract (such as a purchase order).

The verbiage, "hereinafter referred to as the 'Contractee'” is often found in legal docments.
Here's an example document using that terminology.

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    principal and project owner in that same definition also work. – Merk Sep 30 '13 at 3:46

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