Licensing sucks

You know what the best part about free software is? Not having to worry about licenses. Oh, I know you still have to think about them when you're modifying or redistributing the program, but if you're simply using it, there are absolutely no worries.

In the commercial world, this is not the case, as I was reminded the other day.

You see, I'm the poor schlep in the IT department that got stuck taking care of the AutoCAD licenses for our engineering department. We have a subscription to a couple of AutoCAD products, which includes support and version upgrades. Every year, something goes wrong with our AutoCAD subscription. At first, it was the fact that we had four seats of AutoCAD on three separate subscription contracts. Then we got them partially consolidated onto two contracts, and then finally down to a single one.

This week, it was a license transfer from one of our other departments to engineering. In addition to the transfer, we needed to add subscription support, because the other department was no longer using AutoCAD and had let it lapse. I didn't handle the paperwork for this, so I called up to see if everything had gone through. Well, this time, they messed up by quoting us a new contract rather than adding the new license to our existing subscription contract. They also didn't process our order until I called - 2 months after the purchase order was written. What's up with that? They don't want our thousand dollars?

Of course, I've been referring to the people involved as just "they" so far. There are actually three companies involved in our AutoCAD dealings. Of course, there is Autodesk, who owns the software and apparently never deals with customers directly. Beneath them is DLT Solutions, who are apparently the exclusive government reseller (at least in our area). And below them is our local reseller.

The problem seems to lie primarily with DLT. Our local reseller is very good. They're friendly, knowledgeable, and know how all the licensing works. It's DLT who keeps adding a new support contract for every purchase (keeping track of multiple contracts is a big and unnecessary pain) and who didn't bother to process our order for two months. Unfortunately, since they're the government reseller, it's not like we can just go to somebody else. Not unless we want to pay retail, which is 20% more taxpayer dollars.

Of course, free software wouldn't save me from the horrors of dealing with support contracts. However, it can and does save me from the horror of begging for money for half-way decent tools. It also saves me from having to worry about whether or not I'm going to get us audited by the BSA.

Another nice thing about free software is that, if the users like it, I don't have to hear complaints about too few licenses. In particular, I'm thinking of this one guy in engineering (he fancies himself the local "computer guru") who is constantly asking me to install proprietary software on multiple PCs. He always brings up that the licenses for several programs he used to use said that you could install them on any number of PCs, so long as you only used one copy at a time. Of course, that scheme still exists - in the form of software that requires a license server. But when it comes to things like Paint Shop Pro, that's not exactly the typical scenario. And let's face it - acting based on what the license for an old piece of software used to say isn't exactly a sound legal strategy. Especially when you haven't actually read the license to the software you're using.

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