21 January 2008

Licensing Costs

This article about the cost of unlicensed software use has left me wondering how commercial software will deal with unlicensed users. Specifically, will they treat them as "the enemy" as the commercial music industry seems to do on a regular basis? I doubt it, actually.

The software business has a lot more experience in dealing with the licensing of content than the music industry has, since everything the software business does is by definition digital. We have been through the copy protection schemes, the hardware dongles, the secret activation keys, and these have probably worked to some extent and the other thing they have done is helped fuel the open software movement.

Free and open software is important for many reasons social, political and practical but I think software licensing schemes like these, that make it a pain to use commercial software, that are at least partially responsible for users looking for alternatives, and free and open software is a pretty attractive alternative.

When you can get the software for free, without worrying about whether or not you are licensed properly, get free upgrades on a regular basis, have it supported by teams of people, and know that you can transfer it to any machines and use it forever at no cost... well, that seems like a much better option. The fact that's even more reliable and secure than the commercial alternative is gravy.

There is obviously a market for innovative commercial software, and happily some of that is still being produced, and some of it is even no cost!

But a lot of commercial software just offers the same old licensing, same big sticker price, same old promises, and a shiny new look... but putting lipstick on a pig doesn't change the fact that it's a pig.

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