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Software License Should Be Included in Hardware Price

July 8, 2009
“License” Could Be a Four-Letter Word: Programming Software Vendors Are Double-Dipping
By TJ McDermott

I’m having a hard time coming up with a good analogy for this. If you say, “Driver’s license,” most people think of standing in line at the DMV and traffic stops. Say, “Fishing license,” and size and quantity limits leap to the front. Say, “Software license”, and I start to get a little red in the face. And if you say, “Development software license,” I begin to foam at the mouth.

 With difficulty, but in the interest of not diluting the message by name-bashing, I will not even make indirect mention of any specific company. No names! But you automation software developers, you know I’m talking about you.

It’s one thing for a company that sells only software to be pretty strict about me paying for the right to use its software. I can live with that. They sell only software and want to be paid for it. I am even more comfortable when these companies are unobtrusive how they go about verification: a quick jaunt out to the Internet and all is well.

It’s a completely different kettle of fish when the company in question is much more than software. Think of all of those automation hardware companies. In fact, the development software is only a facet of the controls. Again, I suppose I could accept the idea of paying to use the software, but I choke on the licensing software being foisted on us that allows us to use the programming software.

On the computer I’m using right this moment, I’ve got an operating system, office suite, two major automation programming packages, four minor ones and a 3D modeling CAD program. The OS and the office suite were easy to license, even without an Internet connection. The same goes for the 3D CAD program. The minor automation programs are “free”—i.e., they come with the hardware—or their conditions of use are easy-going enough to permit wide usage.

It’s those major automation programs that make me pull out my hair. On installation of these packages, specialized services also were installed into the operating system to verify my license. These services must be running, or else I can’t use the automation programs. Right off the bat, these two major programs are consuming resources on my computer just to verify that I’m allowed to use the software. Neither major company considered the possibility that I might do more than just use their software all the time. The licensing services are loaded on computer startup—not just on programming software startup. Why is that?

The license verification routines are not very robust, either. Both of those major packages required a call to the companies’ tech-support hotlines because the licensing software didn’t install correctly. The fixes turned out to be relatively easy, but I still wasted time on licensing software, not programming software. As I write this, I’ve found 533 messages about licensing software, 2,163 messages about PLCs, and 1,260 messages about HMI hardware and software on one company’s user forum, where users help each other with problems. Good grief. No, that’s not good grief, that’s bad grief. More than one-eighth of the message traffic is about licensing software. Strangely, the knowledge base provided by the same company has almost exactly the same ratio of documents with the word “license” as a search term to the total number of documents.

You major automation companies out there should take a page from the smaller ones. Take a page from software-only companies. Take a page from anywhere but your own book. Your efforts to protect your software are poorly executed, interfere with my ability to do my job and reflect poorly on what is important, which is the programming software. Once I get past the crappy licensing software, the product I really want to use to develop a PLC program or an HMI application works pretty darn well. Stop trying to gouge every single cent from your customers. Because when we pay for the software and the hardware, it feels suspiciously like double-dipping. Add a small amount to the cost of hardware, and make the software free. Do something to get rid of this licensing software foisted on us.

T.J. McDermott is senior project engineer at Formost Fuji (www.formostfuji.com) in Woodinville, Wash.

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