back to article The joy of software licensing on the desktop

One of the joys of working as a manager of desktop and laptop systems is to be found in the weird and sometimes surreal world of software licenses. Not really, of course. In fact, trying to ensure that the organisation is buying only the licenses it requires at the best price, while making sure that no unlicensed applications …


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What is a license?

It becomes a struggle when trying to deal with a large amount of software with completely different license agreements, some single boxed copies, some multi user agreements about what exactly you have to prove you have a license to use it. Anyone who has taken over another company or got a new role as head of IT will recognise the problems if meticulous paperwork hasn't been stored.

Is it the receipt/invoice, the physical CD, the license agreement envelope, the sales contract, an e-mail conversation, a license certificate, the licensing server, the Help:About screen information?

It becomes even more complicated with OEM software, how much of a PC can you upgrade/replace before the OEM license is not valid. You aren't, for instance, allowed to buy 20 identical PCs with OEM Windows and clone to them a company hard drive image which was made with Windows OEM off one of those machines, or are you?

All of those options have flaws and there is no standard. If software always had a standard certificate or card that explained the terms of the license and how many it was licensed for it could be so much easier. Maybe for SMEs it could be a sticker per PC or a Card per license that gets kept with the PC. Maybe every piece of software should have a licence certificate with the exact details that is stored in a fireproof safe. Maybe there should be an encrypted license file that is sent or downloaded that you install on a standard licensing server which can be set to Audit PCs at a certain interval to make sure concurrency or user count are not exceeded?


Peace of mind.

I'm surprised that this issue hasn't been THE primary driving force for people to migrate to FOSS.

Its nice to KNOW that you are correctly licensed.

(I'm biased I work on linux to fix MS issues)

BTW another nice thing about FOSS is that people try to get it all working, rather than hide the fact that bits dont.


The easy answer...

Dump proprietary software... there's plenty of perfectly adequate OSS solutions out there...


Software Licensing

Sounds simple (and a little obvious) but the best course of action for larger organisations (250+) is to hire a dedicated Software Asset Manager. They can be worth their weight in gold and can sometimes identify cost savings which will pay their salary.

The issue is, who really has the time to wade through all the T&Cs and ensure compliance? The answer is no one, except for the person who is employed to do that very thing.

Silver badge

Open Source does completely eliminate *Licencing* woes

*Support Agreements* are an entirely different set of unrelated problems.

For example, as a small business I can purchase 10 Windows 7 and MS Office licences for my 10 PCs.

That doesn't entitle me to any support from Microsoft whatsoever - if I want that support, I have to enter into a second contract. This may be a special 'licence-plus-support' agreement, but usually is not.

Equally, I can choose to install 10 copies of Ubuntu and Open Office on those same PCs.

This also does not entitle me to any support from either Ubuntu or Sun. If I want that support, I again have to enter into a second contract.

In both cases there are various free online self-help systems, generally based around forums.

So the only difference between the 'Closed' and 'Open' source options is that in the 'Closed' situation, should I decide to install that software on an 11th PC or break the licence terms in another way I am likely to be open to civil action for breach of the licensing agreement.

In the 'Open' situation this is never the case.

Breaching either support contract is a different kettle of fish, which could of course occur in either case. The nature and consequences of such a breach depends on the details of that support agreement, but has nothing to do with the licensing model.

When it comes to the use of 3rd party components for my product, that again is a different matter that is generally decided on a per-product basis. (What royalties or other component-specific limitations can we afford to handle, given the benefits of X?)

If I use 'closed' components I am bound by the terms of that licence (eg Windows Embedded has a per-product-shipped and other licensing fees, and various limitations on what can be done), and if I use 'open' components I am bound by the terms of that licence.



Has to be said, this is where SaaS genuinely makes the IT department's job easier. By this I mean that you shift the responsibility for enforcement and management of licenses back to the vendor.

So in your hosted CRM system you can quite clearly see how many licenses you have purchased and who is using them.

If only the vendors provided the same functionality in their on-premise software - no reason they couldn't.



All you have to do is this: Whenever you make a copy of *anything* for *anyone*, always give them the Source Code.

Do that and you'll stay in compliance with the GPL; better than in compliance with BSD- or Apache-type licences; and if the vendor won't let you have the Source Code in the first place, then they probably don't want you making copies of the binary either.


OSS can work but it requires effort

and in my experience most ICT departments cannot be arsed to migrate away from the likes of windows or office even though usage does not warrant the constant upgrade path.

In one site we audited the use of office and found only 40% of users used word within 1 month and apart from some prolific excel users the remaining software was unused. One could also argue that those using the software rarely got close to the potential supplied by the package. I have no beef with Microsoft (other than they are greedy and unimaginative) but their software can be very functional. most users never use that function yet are happy to re-buy the product every few years,

I have used Open Office for over 6 years for tender documents, advanced budgeting, presentations etc and all have been without issue. How many companies have support contracts for MS Office and if they spent some time getting use to alternative they may be surprised. Lets face a lot of SANs and old VMWARE all use *nix platforms!

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