by CIO Knowledge Space

New Year Identity Crisis

Jan 04, 20073 mins

It’s a new fiscal year for some, and several large software vendors (who shall go nameless — but you know who you are) have been stepping up their efforts to protect their profits by requiring users to jump through hoops to validate the licenses on software that they have paid for. That is — in some cases, jumping through hoops — in others, it’s more like diving through a hoop from the 3 meter board doing a half-twist in tuck position with a degree of difficulty of 2.7. But of course exercise is good for you, so these vendors have been shameless in promoting how we will all benefit.

As annoying as this may be for individual consumers, who for the most part have only a small inventory of desktop software, large enterprises face an entirely different set of challenges. The (still nameless) vendors are nothing if not resourceful, and have come up with mechanisms allowing enterprises to run licensing servers. Now of course that is at our own expense, but that means less money to spend elsewhere, and diet, like exercise, is good for you — right?

Beyond the cost and hassle, other issues lurk. Could a software vendor bring a customer enterprise to its knees by having all copies of some widely-used desktop application stop working until some bill was paid? Do all large enterprises have perfect purchasing and accounts payable departments that never lose or delay anything?

The privacy issue may concern individuals more than businesses, but it exists for everyone. A reliable source (well, he was almost right once) told me about a secret project his company is working on. By integrating RFID readers in mice (the computer kind, not the furry ones) and implanting an RFID chip in that otherwise unused space between the thumb and the forefinger (people’s, not mice’s), one has the perfect verification mechanism. You’d then only have to go to some sort of notary public to attest to the linkage between your name and the chip id, and you’d be all set. Oh, and they would also need some kind of electronic registry; my source says that they think that something that makes it sound like some sort of electronic passport would be catchy from a marketing perspective.

Seriously, is this good business strategy in the long term? Vendors deserve to make fair profits on the products they develop. But if their practices result in their market penetration eroding, then they will ultimately lose money.

It’s been a while since I ran a mainframe, but my recollection is that some mainframe software vendors, whose products were modified to stop working until the new annual license key was installed, were forced to change that practice in the face of customer revolt. Maybe I’m wrong, and that practice is still there, but desktop users have a lot of choices. Open source products don’t require registration, much less validation. Will all of this lead to less reluctance on the part of enterprises to adopt open source software? Time will tell.

– Rich Kogut

Rich Kogut is Associate Vice Chancellor and CIO at the University of California, Merced. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of UC Merced.