Is there a benefit to liberalizing software licensing terms?

Changing license terms and conditions won't change the world, but changing business models just might.

The blog Confused of Calcutta recently raised an interesting topic: Should software vendors take more responsibility for their software? Should we sign up to "tenancy agreements" by which we agree to stand by our code and ensure it works well with others?

It's an intriguing proposition, one which I'm sure enterprise IT buyers (or, rather, their legal departments) would welcome.

I doubt it will ever happen, however, and I'm not sure there's much incentive for a vendor to introduce such licensing commitments. No one buys software because it comes with a kinder, gentler contract. They buy because the software is expected to solve a business problem. The legal contracting is secondary, an afterthought.

Liberalizing license terms would likely have marginal impact on sales, and could have serious, negative consequences post-sale. There's a good reason that software contracts start with a disclaimer of warranty and go downhill from there. The world has become so litigious that it's best to start from a position of, "Hey, we told you to run screaming from the room before the software explodes."

No, it doesn't help anyone get their jobs done. Yes, it's probably a necessary precaution.

While I like the idea of software vendors standing behind their products, I don't think the contract is necessarily the best way to achieve this. The reality is that any company that consistently delivers poor software is going to end up in bankruptcy. That's the customer's best warranty.

It becomes even stronger if the vendor is an open-source or SaaS vendor that sells with a subscription model. The vendor goes out of business if it doesn't deliver ongoing value. In this model, the vendor has every incentive to solve problems, warranty or no, because its next invoice depends upon ensuring the software works.

In short, don't look to liberalize license terms. Look to buy from vendors whose business models comport with customer interests . There is no better way to ensure warranty and indemnification protection.


Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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