ISSUE 602: Zisman- May 5 2001

The high-tech office


Software companies get tougher on licensing 

R-U-Legit? CAAST, the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft, has been hoping that local businesses, schools, and other groups spent the month of April asking themselves that question.

April, according to CAAST, was "an amnesty period that allows businesses in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver the month to review their software programs and acquire the licenses they need to get legal without facing penalties for past infringement imposed by CAAST."

According to the group, representing a dozen or so large software companies including Apple, Adobe, Symantec, and Microsoft, "a study conducted by International Planning and Research Group (IPR) indicated that in 1999 software piracy cost British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba a total of $135 million in retail sales of business software."

CAAST suggested that organizations interested in cleaning up their acts download the free GASP Software Audit tool at or call the Truce hotline at 1-866-NO-PIRACY.

Large enterprises typically purchase discounted bulk licenses of software titles, control access through corporate networks, and have staffing devoted to information technology.

Smaller organizations, however, may find themselves with a tougher job trying to ensure that they are in compliance with software licenses.

At least some of the problem lies in the software licenses themselves, the several screens of legalese that most of us skip over, while clicking "I agree." But the licenses vary widely.

Some software licenses let purchasers use the products "like a book," installing them on multiple computers as long as only one is running the software at a time. Others allow installation on a single desktop computer and a single notebook. Or allow business users to install a copy on a home machine as well, facilitating working at home.

Still other licenses are more restrictive; purchase of a single copy gives the right to install it onto a single computer. Period.

Networks cause other complications. Owning thirty licenses may give a company the right to run the product on any thirty workstations at one time. Microsoft, however, is one of a number of companies that recently made its licenses more restrictive. Now, if you want to run, say, Microsoft Office across your network, you need to purchase a license for each workstation where it might be run, even if it is never used on more than a limited number of computers at a time.

Not only do different companies use different models of software licensing, but different products from the same company may have different licenses, as may different versions of the same product.

Are you confused? Don't worry, you have company.

Microsoft, for one, is taking steps to make it harder to use unlicensed versions of its upcoming releases. The next versions of Office and Windows are both promising to enforce registration, in an effort to cut down on piracy.

Office XP, due on May 31, and Windows XP, due out in the fall, are expected to come with product activation features. When run for the first time, like many current products, they offer to register themselves online.

Unlike previous versions, users who choose not to register will only be able to use the programs a limited number of times. (Purchasers without Internet access will be able to phone in to obtain a registration key to unlock the programs.)

Moreover, the product activation is tied to a user's hardware, making it difficult or impossible to install the same copy on multiple computers, while allowing reinstallation in case of problems.

Corporate purchasers, needing to install onto hundreds of systems, will be able to obtain versions that avoid the rigmarole.


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan