Is it time for a change in traditonal software licensing?

24 October 2014

Whilst setting up Minecraft on his home computer with his son, Al Dean couldn’t help compare its licensing to that of traditional software, which is often locked to a single workstation, and thinks it’s about time for a change

I spent a weekend with my wee lad Jack recently getting Minecraft set-up on our home computer, an aging iMac. For those that don’t know, Minecraft is a computer game. I say game, it’s more like digital Lego combined with elements of geoforming and resource management.

Minecraft. It’s a curious thing. Stylistically similar to Pong, but points to what the next generation is expecting in terms of licensing experience

For those used to high-end graphically led technology, it looks crap. I mean, really crap. But the kids, it would seem, love it. So much so that Microsoft just paid a gazilllion dollars for it. And there are some rather breathtaking examples of what folks have built with it.

So, whilst chatting to Jack during the set-up it occurred to me how kids of today have very different perceptions of software compared to those of us who grew up before the PC revolution. Then it struck me. A moment of clarity when we came to the point of licensing Minecraft.

Having stumped up the 20 quid for a full licence, you can install it wherever you want, on whatever platform you want (PC or Mac).

What enables that full licence is a log-in and user profile. Entering your email and password opens up the software and gives you immediate access to all your options and capabilities. Now compare and contrast this to how today’s traditional software is licensed.

According to a quick reader survey we did, most of you have your professional software licensed and locked to a single workstation or laptop, sometimes both.

Consider that fact alone. The software that you (or your company) paid upwards of five grand for, is locked to a single machine. If you want to move it and work at a different location (either on the shopfloor, at a customer site or in the field), then you need to either purchase an additional networked licensing system (commonly referred to as floating licences), buy another licence for a laptop, or go through a convoluted process of transferring that licence.

Now, I’m perfectly aware that the professional design software market has different dynamics to the consumer software world — but does that sound like a situation that can continue? I suspect not.

Whether we like it or not, the next generation of users are going to want a completely different environment in which to work — their experiences during those formative years will drive how software will change. Or at least, it should.

What’s interesting is that these types of frustrations aren’t restricted to new entrants into the design and engineering industry.

From conversations I’ve had over the last year or so, it’s clear that many long term users share the same frustrations and are looking for something that changes that status quo that rules in the 3D design software world.

They want to be able to have not only their software more mobile, but their data as well. When I say mobile, I don’t mean being able to pan/zoom/rotate an assembly on an iPad, but rather something more useful. So, for instance, they want to have availability of their authoring tools, whether that’s licences that move with them or their data.

Of course, the cloud has the potential to solve some of the data mobility issues. Imagine you can not only access your design systems but also your data, from anywhere you need it. It’s not locked in an office, it doesn’t require all the fannying around associated with VPN’ing into your corporate network over a crappy wi-fi signal on the shopfloor. And it doesn’t cause delays or embarrassment when you can’t find what you need.

Does that sound appealing? Damn straight it does! With the cloud there are security issues, which is a concern, but when you consider that the most common method of moving data is either Dropbox (or one of the other variants) or a USB stick (that can be lost, copied or stolen much more easily than almost any other option), then it quickly becomes not so much of an issue.

Comments on this article:

While I'm still squeamish about the cloud (while still utilizing Dropbox), I agree that licensing needs to change and the cloud may very well be the way to go. Being able to fire up your CAD software from anywhere, login and have all your stuff there is very appealing. Options like SOLIDWORKS' 'Home Usage License', which force you to jump through hoops to be able to work from home, even though the owner of the license (your employer) agrees to it, is crap. So long as you're not violating the EULA (one user per license at a time), then all should be good. No?

Posted by Jeff on Friday 24 2014 at 04:42 PM

Have you tried Fusion 360?

Posted by Alan on Friday 24 2014 at 06:13 PM

Licensing needs to get more mobile. CAD functionality needs to get more mobile (as in: full functionality on mobile devices). CAD functionality needs to get broader access, needs to be democratized. People (will) want to model stuff.

Posted by Dries Vervoort on Monday 27 2014 at 10:24 AM

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