Software Licensing Policies

Software Licensing Policies

I have run into a number of software licensing policies. Some good, some bad, and some just downright frustrating. Here I am going to express my views on various policies, and of course this is open for discussion.
Now I understand the reasoning behind licensing and the changes that companies have made in licensing and license validation. Back in the day, when home computing was like the wild west, as long as a copy of the software media was in hand, software could and most times would be installed. So, someone would purchase a copy of Microsoft Dos 4.01, install it on their home computer and then turn around and make copies of the installation media for friends and neighbors. Yes, there was a page that popped up (several pages actually), but it was all 100% unadulterated legalese. We were Techs, it might as well be Greek. No one really read it. Side note, I think hieroglyphics would have been better. This spawned companies like Microsoft to start changing their software licensing policies.
The first big change was Novell requiring a “special” disk during install containing a “key” basically unlocking the software for install. Microsoft ran with this idea and built in the requirement for “cd keys” in their installers. Initially they were just numeric, until word got out that all 1’s would bypass that. Then alpha-numeric keys became the standard. Simply handing out the key with the software allowed for install. Now Microsoft uses a 25 character alpha-numeric key with a “phone home” ability (darn E.T.). Once you do the install and enter the key, the machine checks over the internet if that key has been used before. All this to make sure that people that are using the software actually bought a copy of it. This “phone home” technique is used by Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe (I am sure there’s others but I don’t know who).
Now there are other methods that some companies use for software licensing policies. Most of which is because companies do not have the resources or desire to police the computer world. My personal favorite is related to Open-Source. The software is generally free to download and install, and there are usually two support avenues, Pay-Support which is how the company makes money, and/or Community Support, which is usually a forum of like minded individuals who share their problems and resolutions with each other.
Another commonality in software licensing policies is offering restricted versions of software as free, with pay for upgrades. Now this is the part that I find a little frustrating. Software can be classified as either client or server (I know over simplified, but just go with me for the sake of argument). The restrictions are also broken down into two categories, either limit the number of users or limited functionality. Yes there is a limit in times of usage, but that is a demonstration, I do not consider that a valid example of software licensing policies. Now the combination of software class and restrictions is where it gets interesting. I believe (and it’s a shame others don’t agree) that the class should determine the restriction. Client side software should limit functionality if there is a retail copy available, because there is most likely only one user on that computer anyway. However, for server side software, if a retail version is available, the number of users should be the only thing limited.
What brought this to my attention has to do with the “Request More Info” link above. Basically I was setting up a CRM (Contact {or Customer} Relationship Manager) using SugarCRM. The goal was to have a visitor fill out the form, log their info and have them automatically receive an email with some content and as well as me letting me know I’ve had a new visitor. I’ll see if I can explain the SugarCRM software licensing policies accurately.
I was using SugarCRM because they had an Open Source free version. Now that free version was limited in functionality. More functionality is available with every level of the software. The part that I needed to have the emails sent is the workflow component. That component is in every version except the free one. The paid versions are subscription based, which depends on both the functionality needed and the number of users accessing the server. And the amount paid covers one year, now I don’t believe the software would turn off after a year, I believe that support is no longer available.
So being frustrated with the software license policies, that I would have to pay per user when it’s functionality that I want, I decided to go elsewhere. So I looked into a variety of CRM options on Source Forge. I found vTiger. It had all the functionality that I need. It’s not a pretty, but it works! And they do have a retail version. So their software licensing policies are more inline with what I consider good practices.
In closing, if you are a software company, check your software licensing policies. If the company wishes to license per user and there is a free version, limit the free version by users alone. How can I determine if I want to buy software if I can’t use the whole thing. If your software licensing policies don’t do this, thank you!

Posted in Business Round Table, Technology

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