Langa Letter: Why Freeware's A Solution, Not A Problem - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
12:15 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: Why Freeware's A Solution, Not A Problem

Open-source, GPL, and other forms of freeware sometimes run afoul of myopic company licensing standards. But any organization that's cutting itself off from GPL and other legitimate forms of licensed freeware is seriously hurting its own business, Fred Langa says.

Semi-Commercial Licensing
SpywareBlaster, another recommended anti-spyware tool, uses a somewhat different but no less valid type of license.

The basic software is offered without restriction, but the software's authors ask that business users voluntarily purchase an enhanced version of the software that can auto-update itself (the standard version requires manual updating). But this auto-update feature is completely optional, voluntary, and not required for business use:

"Business use licensing policy for SpywareBlaster 3.2. ALL USERS may download SpywareBlaster 3.2 for free. While we strongly recommend that Business users purchase an AutoUpdate subscription to ensure up-to-date protection, this is no longer a license requirement. Business users may download, evaluate, and/or use SpywareBlaster 3.2 without purchasing an AutoUpdate subscription."

So, any user, including businesses and governments, may use SpywareBlaster for free; it's a totally legitimate, licensed use. But those who wish the convenience of auto-updating, and/or who wish to support the ongoing development of the software may purchase the auto-update version for $10 per seat per year. (Note: A networked version of SpywareBlaster is also in the works. The site says: "We anticipate its release within the next 2 months. The network version will assist administrators of large networks in protecting large numbers of machines, and in keeping that protection up-to-date.")

See this page for complete license information.

Split Free/Commercial Licensing Tools
The highly-regarded Ad-Aware anti-spyware tool is a good example of split licensing: The publishers offer the software in several versions, each with a separate license: The basic product, "Ad-Aware Personal," is free and available for noncommercial use by private individuals; "Ad-Aware Plus" offers more flexibility and functions, and costs $26.95; "Ad-Aware SE Professional" offers still more flexibility and features, and is aimed at IT professionals and corporate/governmental installations. One copy costs $39.95, but the per-seat costs drop to as low as around 70-cents a seat with very large volume purchases. You can see all the pricing options and read the full license terms for each version via the link to Lavasoft above.

Custom Licensing
There are many other good tools available, usually with utterly conventional personal/retail licensing, and separate corporate/governmental licensing: For the former, individuals and small businesses can buy the software on the Web or from a retailer; for the latter, volume buyers contact a sales rep and negotiate the license terms. A few examples of this type of software:

Watching The Bottom Line
In working through the examples, above, you probably noticed that the more conventional the licensing, the higher the per-seat cost. While that's not an absolute rule--there are exceptions--it's generally true.

That, in turn, gives you powerful ammunition in any discussions with conservative bean-counters and bureaucrats who balk at anything other than the most familiar and conventional forms of software licensing: Products issued under the GPL or any of the other less-familiar forms of licensing afford some of the greatest savings possible; and can significantly extend your software budget while keeping your software environment totally legal, licensed, and legitimate.

There's also a "devil's advocate" argument you may find useful: If your business disallows freeware such as SpybotS&D and SpywareBlaster, it also should disallow GPL, open-source, and other forms of freeware, too. That means any business with a "no freeware" rule must not use Perl on its E-commerce Web site; nor host the site on Apache; nor run the Web server (or any workstation) on Linux; etc. In fact, pushing the "no freeware" rule to its logical limits is a fine way to prove just how illogical such a rule really is.

In fact, you usually can find examples of some GPL, open source, or other freeware operating at the heart of any enterprise--perhaps even running the core business. This deeply undermines the argument that freeware is inherently inferior or unlicensable; and helps you make the case that software should be judged by its quality and usefulness; not by its licensing model.

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