Monday, December 20, 2010


This is without a doubt the ugliest, scarriest, murkiest, confusingest, and most exasperatingest aspect to anything even remotely related to technology.  Ok, some of those words I made up.  But why is this such a major freak-out?  I think it's because…

  • It almost always involves lots of fine print
  • It almost always involves terse language and ambiguity
  • It involves lawyers

There are so many angles to "licensing" that I could write a book (relax, I'm not actually going to write a book on this. I'd probably get sued for upsetting someone in a suit somewhere.  Pardon the pun).  What are these mystical aspects?  Most licensing becomes relevant to the following aspects of technology products and services…

  • Buying, leasing or using it
  • Maintaining it
  • Controlling where it can be used
  • Controlling who can use it
  • Controlling how you can use it
  • Controlling what you can say about it (borders on NDA sometimes)

There are warnings, dislaimers, EULAs, conditions, clauses, terms, exclusions, indemnifications and so on.  But just within the razor-thin slice of the "controlling" usage aspect, there's a lot of sub-specialization:

  • Standalone
  • Network
  • Bundled
  • Concurrent
  • Enterprise
  • Per-machine
  • Per-user
  • Per-server
  • Per-network
  • Per-connection
  • Per-processor
  • Per-disk
  • Per-language
  • Hardware lock or Software lock
  • Trusted versus Enforced

At this point, every single FOSS/Open-Source nutball is pissing his/her pants laughing and rolling around on the floor.  Their dog or cat is standing by in total confusion watching this embarrassing act.  But Mr. Buzzkill has to remind Mr. Bong-drinker that most of the world operates on commercial/retail products and technologies, not open source.  Sure.  Open Source is a big player, but it's almost always, on average, mixed with proprietary environments.  And you can't mention "proprietary" without mentioning "licensing" as well.  That's a requirement actually, somewhere in paragraph 34, line 17, section B, sub-section iii in the EULA.

So, everytime I get pulled into a discussion or meeting about building a new application to house and manage software licensing information, I get the same feeling as when I get my student loan payment reminders.  I put my face into both hands, moan and groan and say things like "why me?!!"  Anyhow, enough of that.  The point is that it never works for me.  I end up doing it anyway.  And in every situation (so far anyway) it ends up working out.  Not perfect.  But well enough to make the involved parties happy.  I just wish someone could standardize this mess.  Good luck with that.  Asking lawyers to standardize across competing product offerings is one thing, but asking them modify licensing is like, well, … you might as well pull out some electric hedge trimmers, turn them on, and then ask the lawyeres if you can play with their nutsacks for a little while.  Yeah, they freak out about that much.

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