Software Subscriptions and Licensing: Explained

We receive a lot of questions about software licensing and subscriptions from our clients. Many are requesting us to install software that we can’t confirm is properly licensed. These requests can certainly put briteCITY in a bit of a predicament. If the software manufacturer were to ever discover the illegal use of their software on our client machines, we could be held liable for the illegal install. We love our clients, but we are not willing to go out a limb in these cases.

Software licensing can be difficult to understand, which leads to why users are requesting us to break the law. They don’t understand that what they are asking us to do is illegal, or even why. So, we’ve put together a little primer on software licensing to help everyone understand it a little better.

Over the years software licensing has actually changed quite a bit, which is one of the reasons many users do not understand software licensing. There are now a few different ways to license your software, but we imagine all licensing will eventually move to subscription-based models.

Types of software licenses:

Individual License – This is the licensing that most people are familiar with. You purchased a disc or a downloadable package from the store, or an online shop, and you were given a license to install the software. You run the installation on your one computer, input your license key and activate the software. Sometimes you were able to get a couple of installs out of the one license. You could also typically transfer the install by deactivating it on one computer and then installing and activating it on another computer.

Volume License – A lot of our clients also have volume licenses, which allows for a single license key to be used on a specific number of installs. These generally come in packs of 5/10/20/etc. Much like the individual license these volume licenses are fairly transferrable within the organization to new machines or users. Generally individual and volume licenses do not include upgrades to the latest version but will include security updates for a limited amount of time.

Freeware – Software that is free to download and use is aptly called freeware. In many cases, it is open source software that the creators have provided free of charge. As such, the saying goes “you get what you pay for” and that is very often the case with freeware. You can run some risks by installing freeware, including opening up your computer to viruses. There are some legitimate sources though, so just be very aware when downloading any type of freeware.

Subscription License – Many of the top software providers are moving to this model of licensing, and many more will follow suit. A subscription license allows a user to use the software for only as long as the subscription is active. The benefit to subscription licensing is that upgrades and updates are generally included in the subscription, so your software will never go out of date as long as your subscription is active.

Benefits of Subscription Licenses:

As subscription licenses gain in popularity, many are complaining about the fact that they are only able to use their software for a set period of time. Since they are used to being able to use the software they “paid for” as long as they want. However, subscriptions really do benefit both the company and the user. Some users will purchase Office 2007, and then continue to install it on new computers until it just won’t install anymore. This is both extremely insecure and can cause issues with your computer.

Software eventually reaches an end of life, meaning the software company will no longer provide security updates for that particular piece of software. Once this happens, exploits that are found in the software are utilized by malware creators to infiltrate systems that are no longer updated. Some of the most widespread virus outbreaks last year were caused by software and operating systems that were out of date. Always being able to have the latest software installed is a huge benefit to subscription-based license models.

One last word about software purchases

There is a common misconception that you purchase the software. This is an inaccurate statement. You purchase a license to use the software. Purchasing software would be like Microsoft buying to-do list maker Wunderlist. You, as an individual user only purchase a license to utilize the software you are installing. Once you understand that, it is easy to understand how the software creators are able to change their pricing structure and features and access without consulting you first. You are just using software that they own. It would be like purchasing a DVD of Captian America, and then thinking you own Captian America. As much as we would all like to have him at our beck and call… it’s just not going to happen any time soon.