CyberTech Rambler

June 19, 2006

Software licensing is becoming too complex, says CIO Jury

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:56 am

Silicon.com's CIO Jury series had decided that software licensing is becoming too complex. Importantly, they meant proprietary software licensing, not open source licensing. This blow a hole in the arguments of some proprietary software advocate that open source licensing is complex (implying it is more complicated that proprietary software licensing).

While it is great to know that proprietary software licensing is also complex, it is not time to pop that champaigne bottle. The bottom line is, it makes mixing software difficult. Software are just like any other physical products. We first stick with a few providers, then as it get commoditized, customers will pick-and-mix software for their needs. Complex licensing arrangement is a hurdle in commoditization of software.

In the article, Russell Altendorff, IT director at the London Business School, was right in saying that dealing with licensing is part of the work of a CIO. Like contract managers deals with contracts that are likely to be unique for every contract signed, CIO should just deal with it. However, adding too much complexity is never a good idea.

Ted Woodhouse, director of IT strategy at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is unhappy about the huge academic discount given to educational institution, arguing that the National Health Service should be given the same treatment. The difference, Mr Woodhouse, is that the huge discount for us (education institution) is seen as investing in the future for software company. They give us the discount to encourage us to chunk out people familiar with their software. They hope that this exposure will predepose them to use their software when they work for you. With this, they can charge you for what they lose out when they give us the discount. In other words, you are the cash cow, we are the conspirators that made you the cash cow.

Anyway, Mr Woodhouse should not had been so fuss with us getting the academic discount. That academic discount we get give us a extremely restrictive software use. It is usually on the line that we can only use it for any research project NOT funded by any commercial company. If we keep it strictly to the letter of the license, it would not be possible to use it for a lot of projects the academics are using it for.

NHS is not the only casualty. There are rumours that a software company here in Cambridge recently decided to reclassify Research Councils as "Commercial Entities", causing one of its software supplier to consider switching away from the software to an open source alternative.

All these fancy footwork in licensing, whether open source or close source, is not helping the industry. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is doing something about it for open source licensing, which is more than what I can say for proprietary software vendors. Even then, I am not sure OSI can get much headway in it. 

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