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Licensing Software: Version based vs. Time-Period Based

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Disclaimer: I'm not going to name the software in question, as this isn't a question of shaming and naming- just a question on policy.

So I bought a piece of software that I use infrequently.  In general, I prefer another program, but it doesn't have some of the capabilities and seems to be abandoned as the developer seems non-responsive.  But it works, so I use it when I can, and on those infrequent cases that I need the other capabilities, I use the other software.

It's licensed in 12 month intervals.  I recently downloaded the latest latest major upgrade; it was within my 12 month period (by a couple of months).  There were several major problems with it- but since there was a change in file format, I just dealt with it, and waited for a fix.

As it stands now, I'm outside of my 12 months.  An update was just posted that fixed the problems in the software (which have had worsening effects, including blocking me from shutting down my computer because it wouldn't respond and there was no indication of it where I could get to the process).  It's not a major upgrade... it's not even a point release.  It's a minor version release, i.e. 1.2.1.  I downloaded it- figuring since it was primarily a bug fix that had been around, I'd be able to patch.  No dice... not without a renewal.

As a developer, that just struck me as wrong.  As a consumer, that struck me as wrong.  As a businessman... well, those are the terms.

But it made me appreciate version licensing more.  You do work on a new version- there's a distinct cut off, and I can respect that.  I'm upgrading to pay for your new work.  I can't even get fixes to defects that you left in your software because you fix it in a minor update after the release?

I was able to roll back- mostly because of my backup strategy than anything else.  The new content I'd put in there was backed up elsewhere, so I was able to roll back to a working version, and add in the stuff I've done since that ill fated major release.

But, I think I'm done with strict yearly licensed software in general, and this in particular.  Sell a service if you're going to use time as a scale.  Time licensed software in many cases is trying to sell a service, but trying to make it seem like it's not a service.  Especially in the case of fixing of defects.

Just wanted to get other thoughts?

Personally I believe it is unethical to charge people for any update that fixes stability problems.

In addition, I think a minimally fair upgrade policy would be that a user should receive all updates until a major new release -- however long that lasts, AND get major new releases if within some time window since purchase (e.g. 1 year).

I believe being forced to buy a new version every year is wrong and I would avoid such products.  The only exception I make are for things like antivirus tools the developers need to devote huge resources to keeping the database up to date daily.

Customers don't buy code. They buy features. And not just any features; working features. Charging extra to make them work amounts to unilaterally changing the terms of sale after the fact. Or to look at it another way they're charging for their own failure.

That may sound harsh but it really isn't. People fail all the time. The foundation for most successful businesses and products is almost always full of one failure after another. You can learn more from one failure than a decade of success. This is the opposite of that.

Broken down very succinctly, Vurbal!  And it really highlights what I was feeling.  If you sell them version X, and say that your license is good for version X come what may... and then are able to branch the code for X, so X.1 or X.1.1- you're able to support your users, then come out with version Y with sparkling new features... well, I can see licensing them separately, as you're able to support both bases of clients.

Doing it on a drop dead date means that after that date, your clients that are licensed before that date are out of luck.  No matter if it is a security update... they're still out of luck.

That's just wrong.  As you said, they license a product (and a version if you want to take it that far).  Not code.

Sorry to be pedantic, but I've spent the last year managing a project that tracks and enforces compliance for an enterprise's license agreements.

It appears that you've actually got a lifetime license -- for a particular version of software. You're allowed to continue using that version in perpetuity with no additional costs. If the actual license were annual, then after that year expires, you'd no longer be allowed to use the software at all.

The actual controversy here is over maintenance terms. That is, under what circumstances are you allowed to transfer your license to a different version of the product? The two cases mentioned then translate into

* No maintenance - this is the version you get, period
* Time-based maintenance - you're allowed upgrades within a specified span of time
I'm not asserting any answer to which of these is morally superior. It's just that the landscape of software licensing is crazy these days, and it's only getting more and more complicated. If you hope to stay legal, and not get screwed, you really need to understand the various factors and how they relate.


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