Licensed To Kill

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Despite 30 years of effort, trying to manage and track software licenses remains an infuriating process. Just about everybody has a favorite software licensing story, which usually centers around two core themes.

The most prevalent story is the one where somebody in finance discovers that the company has been annually paying for 500 licenses of a particular application for the last three years, but only 10 people are actually using the software.

On the other extreme, we have the application that everybody in the company is using, but hardly anybody is paying for because it has been copied so many times. There's nothing quite like dealing with a CFO who has to fork over money to pay for unbudgeted use of software in the middle of a fiscal year.

Either one of those scenarios usually drives people to just short of the point where they want to kill somebody and, despite the presence of software management tools, these situations keep happening.

A large part of the problem is that universally deploying agent software to track application software licenses has been virtually impossible. But while we may never get to that point, at least one promising scenario is under development.

Macrovision is a company that works with software vendors on digital rights management software. Last year, the company moved to acquire InstallShield, the widely used tools for installing and removing applications. What's interesting about that is that Macrovision has a software license management tool, called FlexNet, that has been primarily used by software vendors to track licenses.

As time goes by, however, two things from the merger will emerge that have interesting possibilities. The first is that Macrovision will tie its FlexNet software license management system to the ubiquitous InstallShield to provide its management tool with a much bigger base of agent software that can be linked to FlexNet. And following that, Macrovision would make a much bigger effort to sell FlexNet via solution providers in the channel that offer services to customers that track multiple applications.

For solution providers, having a software license management tool that could more easily be applied to multiple applications would be a godsend. For many of them, conversations about software licensing with their customers are usually the precursor to a whole range of software and hardware upgrades. The challenge is getting in the door to have the conversation without having to do an annual physical audit. So a software licensing tool tied to a managed service that could automatically discover software usage across a network is terrific opportunity.

Naturally, software vendors love the idea because all of them feel that their intellectual property is being misappropriated. Most of the time, this is due more to customer ignorance than malfeasance, but either way it's a sore point for all concerned.

The guy who is trying to make the vision of the next generation of software management approach some approximation of reality is Daniel Stickel, executive vice president and general manager of the Macrovision's Software Technologies Group.

It may take him a few more years to create that reality, but given the fact that software licensing has been a mess that is 30 years in the making, the effort that Macrovision is making to save us from ourselves is everyone's best interest.

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