December 17, 2009

License Management of Windows vs. Linux

Most of us already know that Microsoft is in the game to make money. Part of this process involves tracking and making users pay for its product. This is where software licensing comes into play.

For the average home user that goes to the store and purchases Windows, a new computer with Windows, or any Microsoft or commercial software product for that matter, this is not a big deal. When you purchase Windows XP, for example, you have a license to install it on a single computer of your choice. But switch gears for a moment and take into consideration a company that has hundreds of computers, or even thousands. How on Earth do the licenses for each PC get tracked? Well, Microsoft has invented several schemes for tracking licenses when there are many computers on the scene. But to the average small business, even with these tools in place to track licenses, this process can get very confusing and expensive. Not only for Windows itself, but any additional software installed, including non-Microsoft products.

Land of Licenses

Microsoft has several tiers of licenses for its own software: Open License, Select License, Enterprise Agreement, and Enterprise Subscription Agreement. In my opinion, a business probably has better things to do with its time than trying to decide which licensing scheme to go with. Microsoft has plenty of documentation on their website regarding its licensing programs, and there are many software vendors out there that are more than willing to sit down and help determine which licensing program to choose. These licensing programs are aimed at making the licensing process easier, but for hefty price. For a typical small business that doesn't have an IT staff, this process can be very confusing and often ends up being neglected due to frustration or confusion about the whole process.

Many articles have been posted regarding how companies neglect their licensing agreements due to the sheer complexity of it. And, it seems that there is currently no end in sight for the complex licensing programs that Microsoft offers. Companies that are confused about the licensing programs usually end up paying more anyway because it is so difficult to choose the most efficient one for their business, which is obviously to Microsoft's benefit. Since the revenue is still rolling in, Microsoft really doesn't have any concerns in revamping its licensing programs. It would surely generate new confusion over the already confusing licensing programs currently available. However, the fact that Microsoft can legally act against anybody for violating a license, should not be completely forgotten either. Companies do and have been audited. Even Microsoft's website contains a page titled "Don't get busted: Get a business license".

Normally, the licensing process usually involves listing all software products that the company owns and putting them into a database, allowing the company to keep track of what it owns and utilizes to stay legal. This is usually accompanied by a completely list of users and computers and what software titles are installed on each. As you can see, this entire process can become a full time job in no time. In fact, the entire licensing scheme is so complex, that many software vendors have employees that specialize in licensing for specific vendors such as Microsoft, Adobe, and other main players.

Licensing is also very hard to keep track of, especially with companies that are constantly changing. A company can buy server and client licenses (which are required for many Microsoft products), and if more servers are added, or employees are hired or fired, the license count must constantly be adjusted to stay compliant. This just adds to the already confusing and burdensom task of keeping track of these licenses.

Licensing also puts an extra burden on companies and individuals that want to upgrade software. As we all know, software that is even two or three years can quickly become outdated. To keep up with the latest features and ensure compatibility with others, many are forced to upgrade. However, upgrading isn't always as simple as doing a software installation. In most cases, a new license needs to be obtained, usually with the purchased upgrade software. For companies that have a licensing birdsnest on their hands, this can cause huge delays in getting software upgraded. Imagine having a list of software that you need to buy, but you don't know if you can buy or install the newly purchased software since you don't have a list of your current licenses. In most cases, new software can only be upgraded after verifying that the company or individual actually owns a copy of the old version. This license verification varies. Sometimes, simply inserting the old CD will work, sometimes the installer needs the old license key number or serial number, which requires original documentation with the older software. Keeping track of software records can quickly become very cumbersome and turn into a huge mess.

Stripping Away Your Freedom

Machine virtualization has started to become more popular than ever. This has caused quite a bit of issues, especially in regards to licensing. Many software vendors have different rules as far as running a virtual machine inside of the physical machine. Some software is licensed by processor, some by computer, and other methods. New studies have shown that many Microsoft customers have not been able to virtualize their Microsoft software due to complex and invalid licensing agreements. At the same time, companies using Linux have been able to freely virtualize and move forward with their plans, because they have not needed to adhere to any complex licensing agreements. This is also an example of the complexity of commercial software that actually prohibits a company from doing normal business, and strips away its freedom to do so.

Linux: Land of NO Licenses

Even with Microsoft customers constantly complaining about the complexity of its licensing programs, Microsoft (so far) shows no signs of changing anything. In fact, it makes one wonder if Microsoft doesn't intentionally leave the licensing programs confusing. If a company were to choose the licensing program that best fits its practice, chances are it would end up saving money and ultimately pay LESS in license fees. Being in a confused state, a company is probably overpaying, which Microsoft sits back and innocently grins about, I'm sure.

So, after considering all of the issues with licensing... stand back and consider this: Linux does not need license management at all whatsoever. As I mentioned earlier, Linux is under the umbrella of the GNU General Public License, which states that the end user can modify, make copies, and use the software in any way desired, provided that the source code is published for others. The developers and the entities releasing the software are usually the only ones that need to pay attention to the GNU Public License. Users can read it and understand it if they want, but other than that, they do not need to take any further action with it! There simply is no license tracking necessary, no database, no user or hardware list. This may almost seem unfathomable for those that have become accustomed to Microsoft licensing, however I strongly advise those that don't understand the GNU General Public License to read up on it. It is a truly ingenious idea and has been proven superior over and over again when compared to commercial licensing schemes. Businesses have better things to do than track licenses and software agreements, and worry about whether they are operating legally with their computer software. With the GNU General Public License, businesses can focus on what they are set to achieve, make money and become successful, rather than sit around and put valuable resources into licensing programs.

Moving Forward

Simply the burden of license management should make company executives start to think about migrating to open source, or even Linux.  It's a huge cost, both with actual initial costs of the licenses themselves, but also with the costs of paying staff to maintain the entire licensing program.  The benefits of Linux in this regard is huge both now and in the future.

Click Here!