Licensing anger driving users towards Linux

Cal-IT: Software vendors who view licences as a form of taxation are alienating customers and must change their ways, according to industry experts

Proprietary software vendors are driving IT managers towards the open-source community through their high prices and restrictive licences, according to attendees at this week's Cal-IT conference.

A panel discussion on European software licensing models on Monday was in broad agreement that many businesses and organisations are dissatisfied by the service traditionally offered by the software industry.

Ole-Bjorn Tuftedal, chief technology officer for the City of Bergen, said some software companies are seeking ever more invasive control of a user's system, and greater profits, through their pricing.

"I see a tendency for prices to be disconnected away from actual cost, and towards a 'how much can we make the customer pay?' approach that resembles taxation," Tuftedal said.

Bergen is now beginning to migrate many of its servers to SuSE Linux, and is something of a poster child for those who want the public sector to use more open source. In this aspect it is very different to the London borough of Newham, which recently chose Microsoft over Linux.

But Richard Steel, the man behind that decision, agreed that there are problems in the way software is sold.

"Licensing needs to be built much more around user's needs, and we as end users need to be clearer about what we need," Steel said.

Steel insisted that Newham genuinely considered a move to Linux -- contrary to some claims that the council only used open source as a way of forcing Microsoft's prices down.

"Price partly swung it. Microsoft improved their offer and price was always part of our thinking. But flexibility was more important," said Steel, alluding to Microsoft's decision to create an operation focused on the public sector.

"They started talking our language and stopped sending all decisions back to the US," Steel explained.

Other organisations may struggle to win the same hold over Microsoft as Newham achieved, in which case they may have to shift to open source.

Marc Fleury, chief executive of JBoss, told the conference that many end users come to his company saying they are disgruntled with other vendors.

"We see a lot of people frustrated by current regime of taxation," said Fleury, who blames companies who conduct software audits of existing customers as a way of finding new money-making opportunities.

"Wall Street puts the onus on software companies to show new licensing revenue, so they do audits," said Fleury.

The UK government is in the process of seeking greater efficiency, partly through IT. This drive means the software licensing models will be under scrutiny, according to Stephen Heard, director of frameworks for the Office of Government Commerce.

"Any licensing model that can deliver value for money will win in this climate," Heard said.

He was also critical of the way software companies communicate with customers, especially those in small government departments, citing the example of one unnamed software vendor which recently published a 64-page guide to its software.

"Why does it have to be 64-pages long? It certainly wouldn't win any Clear English awards either," Heard complained.

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