Is it time for businesses to give up on shrink-wrapped software?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | October 21, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Buying physical copies of software is so last millennium. Or is it?

Ed Bott

Ed Bott

Yes, now!


Not time yet

Ken Hess

Ken Hess

Best Argument: Yes, now!


Audience Favored: Not time yet (68%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Stop the madness

Ed Bott: Shrink-wrapped software is so analog and sooooo last century. It belongs on a list with afternoon newspapers, VHS tapes, and rotary phones.

The problem isn't the physical package. Instead, it's the idea that software releases can be frozen in time and maintained in that static state for years. That might have made sense in the days when bits had to be shipped on physical media. But this is 2013. C'mon.

Software changes quickly, and if you want to get security fixes and new features, you need to move just as quickly. Google has been successful using regular automatic updates and Chrome-hosted apps. Microsoft's experience with Office 365 is also promising.

Maintaining multiple versions of software imposes a serious engineering burden on software developers. Right now, for example, Microsoft is supporting five different versions of Windows. That's a tremendous waste of engineering resources, with equal amounts of waste on the client's side, managing those deployments.

The sooner we get off the update management treadmill and transition to continuously improving software, the more productive we'll all be.

It's all about lowering risk.

Ken Hess: It's easy for me to argue the 'Yes' side of this question by saying things such as, "It's 2013, software should be delivered as-a-Service, or via ISO, or by App stores." And those are fine arguments--for consumers but not at all for businesses. ISOs are nothing new. App stores really aren't all that new. And cloud-based software offerings aren't all that new either. But their relative newness makes them seem risky.

What you have to think about for businesses is the very old concept of risk. Risk plays a major role in business and the decisions made around it. Businesses spend billions of dollars per year to reduce and mitigate risk. Having a physical piece of software and its accompanying license reduces risk.

If I have a CD or DVD of a legitimate product on my premises, registered to my company, no one can say that I have violated a copyright, patent, or licensing requirement for that product. That physical product is my assurance and my safety net against such accusations. The risks associated with a license dispute, an accusation of software piracy, or a copyright infringement suit are too great to forfeit that shrink-wrapped, paid-for, official copy to in exchange for a few blips on a computer screen.

A physical copy can't be hacked into or compromised over the Internet. It can't be erased with an accidental slip of the finger. Nor can it be denied legitimacy. Not so of cloud-based software or online subscriptions. That physical asset has value. It has more perceived value than its online equivalent does. Maybe that's a matter of perception but perception is reality.

It is not time for businesses to give up on physical software assets or on the prospect of reducing risk. Shrink-wrapped software gives business owners peace of mind that there's something in the cabinet that says, "I purchased that software license. It's mine. I have physical proof."


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • It's also about cost per seat

    As long as Adobe continues charging $415 to $435 a seat for Acrobat XI Professional, I'll continue to buy shrink-wrapped boxes on eBay from reputable sellers for $140 to $180 shipped.
    Reply 13 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Spoken like someone that's never been audited

    "If I have a CD or DVD of a legitimate product on my premises, registered to my company, no one can say that I have violated a copyright, patent, or licensing requirement for that product. That physical product is my assurance and my safety net against such accusations."

    Nonsense - the license that came with that CD is all that counts. You can usually order as many copies of a CD that you want in your possession, it doesn't change the license count.

    The only software I think that should still be physical is games due to the DRM issues with the games. Business software? no way.
    Reply 13 Votes I'm for Yes, now!
    • @JimB

      Well, shrink-wrapped software implies that you have the media and the license. Have you ever bought shrink-wrapped software? It's all in the package. I know you can buy media by itself, but we're not talking about that.
      Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
    • Steam is actually doing well all-digital.

      "The only software I think that should still be physical is games due to the DRM issues with the games."

      Quite the contrary: Steam is doing very well all-digital. Games actually may be ahead of other desktop apps in this respect.

      Classic disk-based DRM was actually a failure IMO. It was always broken, and hurt legitimate customers far more than it ever hurt the pirates.
      Reply 8 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Re: Steam is actually going well...

        Cobra / Ed Bott:

        For me, the biggest factor is the internet. Not everyone in the world or U.S.A. has unlimited data plans. Someone like me with satellite, has a limit on daily download usage. 400 MB/ day!!

        There's no way to download a software program/new OS etc...
        Reply 8 Votes I'm Undecided
    • Shrink wrapped software and modern computers

      I recently bought a Win 8 hybrid. It has no optical drive. What is shrink wrapped software going to do for me?
      Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Things in the Cloud..

    are not always there when needed. We have been through a number of power outages and/or internet outages. We stayed productive, to a varyimg degree, because all essential software was on our machines. We kept a vehicle with a power converter parked next to a window, extension cord to our bat. back-ups. For over a week! Internet service was sometimes spotty, and at times we used dial-up, but at least we were working. With all in cloud, we would have had zilch, nada, except one heck of a lot of catch-up later.
    Old Dog V
    Reply 13 Votes I'm for Not time yet
  • Sorry Mr. Bott

    But what you refer to as "continuously improving software" would better be called "continuously changing software." (I could use a more picturesque term, but I'm sure it wouldn't get past the site filters.) Not all change is good!

    And honestly, I couldn't care less about the burden support places on the vendors. Let them put out one good solid full-feature version and support that until it legitimately fails to meet the needs of a majority of their customers, put all those wasted resources into building the next good solid version instead of umpteen half-baked interim products and incremental updates, and they won't have that problem. (In Microsoft's case, they could have skipped both Vista and Windows 8 and the world would be a happier place for it.)

    Also, your "continuously improving" software all too often comes with ongoing subscription costs these days rather than a one-time purchase price for indefinite use of the program. No thank you.

    On the other hand, Mr. Hess, why should consumers happily accept risk that's a deal killer for businesses? I may not have a large amount of money tied up in my personal apps, settings and data, but that doesn't mean I'd be happy to have them remotely wiped by a cloud provider (whether accidentally or intentionally) or simply lose access because their server or my connection went down!

    Removable physical media may not be strictly necessary in all cases, though having that CD to fall back on can really come in handy in a pinch. A downloaded and backed up installation package (with copies of any licenses safely stowed and accessible as needed) may suffice, but SOME means of installing and running preferred and fully-paid-for versions of one's programs locally is definitely still needed.
    Reply 15 Votes I'm for Not time yet
    • @Ginerva

      You're right. Consumers shouldn't accept the risk. That's why a lot of software vendors still supply physical media, physical instruction manuals, and physical licenses, and printed EULAs to their customers.
      Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Depends on your Broadband Connections

        Many of these type articles are written by people that live in one of the larger urban areas where they have access to dependable, high-speed internet that makes cloud computing and downloading software a no-brainer. However, there are a lot of us out here in the flyover states where we still do not have dependable, high-speed DSL (and some areas that still depend on dial-up, though those are becoming rarer). I happen to live in one of those god-forsaken places. I found the other day that the backup copy of Win 8 that I needed to reinstall on my laptop before installing the Win 8.1 update, the copy was a 64-bit but I needed a 32-bit for the laptop so I had to first download Win 8.0 again.....six hours to download the file. Then the security updates and fixes that had to be downloaded and installed just in order to see Win 8.1 appear in the Windows Store. Then another 6 hours to download Win 8.1 update (the file was as large as Win 8.0). So on a slow DSL connection, it took me at least 13+ hours downloading software. (God forbid I had an ISP with caps or metered usage). So while cloud computing and downloading software from the cloud is fine and good (and if I had the connection, I'd prefer it) it is not a viable option yet in all areas of the country (or the world). Software on installation disks needs to remain an easy option until the infrastructure improves nationwide.
        Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided