Playing Chicken with Licensing

Is your shoestring caught in the tractor?


Auntie was watching the late night movies on the fabulous 500-channel digital widescreen home-theater TV the other night and pondering software licensing at the same time. It was that 1984 classic, Footloose, that sparked the connection. If you’re my age, you remember it well, but for you youngsters: There’s a scene in the movie where young Ren MacCormack gets pressured into proving his budding manhood by indulging in a lighthearted game of chicken on giant farm tractors. Ren (played by Kevin Bacon, just in case you forgot) wants to jump free early on, but his shoelace gets caught in some piece of tractor machinery and he’s forced to ride on, in slow motion, toward his impending doom.

It’s that image of a slow-motion tractor crash that brought Microsoft’s new Licensing 6.0 scheme to mind. Actually, “new” may be the wrong word. Licensing 6.0 was first announced in May 2001 and was scheduled to take effect in October 2001. Since then, it’s been pushed back several times and now takes effect in August 2002. One can’t help thinking that large customers were threatening to jump off the tractor.

To make its quarterly revenue numbers look good to Wall Street, Microsoft has to keep selling software. Companies who decide that Office 2000 or Office 97 are “good enough” are a threat.

If Auntie had to pick a Footloose character to play Microsoft, it would be Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). There he is on-screen, explaining why it’s important to be respectable, stick with the tried and true, and keep the town free of (gasp!) dancing. It doesn’t take much imagination to hear him earnestly explaining how Licensing 6.0 is good for you, with its three-year price guarantees. And true, if your company buys all-new versions at least once every three years, Licensing 6.0 will save you money. But if your cycle is longer, say, five or six years, you’ll end up paying more—perhaps much more.

Of course, to make its quarterly revenue numbers look good to Wall Street, Microsoft has to keep selling software. Companies who decide that Office 2000 or Office 97 are “good enough” are a threat. Now that new features are no longer enough to get you to buy the latest version, the folks in Redmond don’t have any choice but to introduce other incentives—like the threat of vastly higher prices for future upgrades if you don’t sign up for Licensing 6.0 now. Key to this new scheme is that licenses purchased under Licensing 6.0 automatically expire. After three years, you no longer have the right to keep using the software you purchased; you must buy a new version, or you’re breaking the law.

That’s Microsoft’s tractor. Clearly, the people who set up this plan believe your shoelace is firmly caught and that you couldn’t leap off even if you tried. You’re running Windows and Office. You have all that investment in training and all those files. You’d be insane to stop buying Microsoft software over a little thing like increased prices.

But there’s always an alternative. In Footloose, there’s the troubled-but-essentially-goodhearted Ariel Moore, played by Lori Singer. With her youth and disrespect for authority, she could be the poster child for open source software—like OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org). OpenOffice has just released version 1.0 of its free open-source suite of desktop applications. It imports and exports in native Microsoft Office formats, so you don’t lose your old documents. And it runs on Windows—or on Linux.

In the movie, of course, there’s a happy ending. The Rev. Moore realizes that he’s being too narrow-minded. Ren and Ariel get together for a rousing dance finale at the prom. The tractor-riding bully gets whomped, and everyone else smiles. But what about real life? Auntie would sure like to go dancing again, but she’s still waiting for the town council to lighten up. How about you?

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Sep 26, 2002 Paul Anonymous

JEEZ! Have you got the Facts wrong!!....maybe you should get a Job reviewing movies, because you obviously stink at being an MCP......

Wed, Sep 25, 2002 VAX_Man Midwest

It reminds me of the DEC software contracts. If you dropped support AND DEC did not release a new version of the software, you could resume the contract without penalty. On the other hand, if DEC had released a new version, then you had to pay an out-of-warranty fee in order to get back to supported status. As I recall, the breakeven point was about two years. That is, two years of support would about equal the cost after two years to get back in support.

Fri, Jul 12, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Get it right Em. The licenses purchased under 6.0 are "perpetual". Only the maintenance on them must be renewed, or not, to continue. The license is valid and legal until eternity after it is purchased!

Fri, Jul 12, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Research the Programs before blatantly misrepresenting the facts - Journalism 101. My word - I've never seen such gregious errors before in my life.

Thu, Jul 11, 2002 Jason San Francisco, CA

The statement that "After three years, you no longer have the right to keep using the software you purchased" is not only incorrect, but unbelievably troublesome. Under both Select and EA 6.0, customers buy licenses just as they always have -- the only difference is that "Upgrade" licenses have been eliminated in favor of a maintenace model (SA). While there is also a new Subscription model that has been implemented where licenses are merely "leased" rather than purchased, this is not explained in this irresponsible artlicle and is never mentioned as a separate program. While many people in the IT industry use this site as a trusted refernce, this obviously unresearched and unprofessional article raises some serious questions about the integrity and inherent ability of mcpmag.com.

Thu, Jul 11, 2002 Enoch Anonymous

I would do your research BEFORE you write your next article. Its always great to be up to speed on the subject matter, prior to writing about it. Call me old fashioned.

Thu, Jul 11, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

The information provided in this article is wholly inaccurate. And it publication in this magazine is irresponsible. In fact, it looks more like and advertisement for open office

Thu, Jul 11, 2002 John Toronto

Your analogy was almost entertaining but your information completely lacked integrity. How do you get a job writing articles on this site if you don't even know how MS licensing works?! I know a ton more than you. Where do I apply?

Wed, Jul 3, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Microsoft has denied this article, is it true?

Mon, Jun 17, 2002 Scott Anonymous

Where do you get your information? Licenses do NOT expire under Licensing 6.0!! They are yours to run whether you have UA/SA or not. It scares me you are an MCP and don't understand how this works. And worse, you are writing articles which are just WRONG! Please understand a topic prior to sharing your lack of knowledge with the world in the future.

Mon, Jun 17, 2002 Chuck Anonymous

I don't think the data about expiration after three years is correct. Licenses are perpetual, even under 6.0. Still, I think we'll pass on SA.

Thu, Jun 13, 2002 Steve Ballmer somewhere in the great Northwest

Just keep cool, baby. Okay?

Thu, Jun 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Use velcro instead of shoelaces...

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