Last week, i sat through a demo of a certain document management system provided by a vendor. The system in itself is pretty good. Although if it was up to me, I would never choose a proprietary system for a vital project. Since you essentially would be putting yourself and your data at the mercy of the provider.

What was interesting though was their licensing terms. Aside from the system itself, you have to buy “modules”. A module in their case is a set of grouped functions. And their selling point was that this would actually be much cheaper for the client than any alternative since the client would only buy what he needed. And at this is music to a manager’s ears.

Among the “modules” that a client has to buy is something called “storage module” and a “retrieval module” which basically means you’re paying for the right to write and read from the database. Now, if you’re thinking that this sounds silly, then you’d be right. It does. And it is. Of course, from the vendor’s perspective it makes total sense since all their licensing is per user.

I don’t know about you, but i prefer the approach taken by the free/open source software world. That approach basically eliminates the idea of selling licenses and instead gives you ownership over the product but offers support contracts for people that need them.

When you buy something like Microsoft(MS) Windows, for example, you’re not actually buying Microsoft Windows. What you’re buying is the right to install and use MS Windows on one machine. And even your use of MS Windows is governed by the EULA that you agree to before installing it. You know which one…that 100 page legalese document that nobody reads.

However, when you buy free/open source software such as Ubuntu, you get a completely different experience(Ubuntu happens to be free, but this isn’t always the case). What you get is the product along with source code. You also get the right to change that product anyway you see fit or pay someone to do that for you. You can even redistribute or sell those changes. The only requirement is that you pass on the same freedom that you got when you first acquired the product.

For my own products, i much rather go the free software route. So you’d pay a one-time fee to buy the application and then there would be support contracts for people who need it. Even from a pure business point of view that sounds like a much better approach and one that clients would appreciate more.

What do you think readers? Am i way off base? Don’t people mind when vendors have ridiculous licensing terms? Or does it depend on the vendor?