Shrink-wrapped software anachronists unite!

Shrink-wrapped software anachronists unite!

Summary: There's nothing wrong with holding onto those shrink-wrapped software boxes and hard copy licenses or is there? I think you have to look past the calls for its demise just because of what's on the calendar.

TOPICS: Software, Legal

This week, Ed Bott and I went into the Great Debate arena and duked it out over shrink-wrapped software. Again, I had an Al Gore-esque experience where the majority of voters were with me but alas, I lost the debate. But it doesn't matter who won or lost, and I can say that since I lost, but what matters is the point of buying and keeping shrink-wrapped software.

Business owners are reluctant to give up shrink-wrapped software and there are good reasons for it.

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First, business owners are conservative by nature. I'm not talking politically conservative; I'm talking about fiscally conservative. Conservative is a word which here means, "cautious". Business owners like tangible things. They like tables, chairs, paper, desktop computers, employees who come to work and sit in those chairs at those tables, use those desktop computers, and use software that is in the cabinet in the storage room.

The reason that shrink-wrapped software is so attractive to businesses is that it's something that, when needed, someone in the office can go grab and install, without searching, downloading, or hassling anyone else for something they own* outright.

For whatever reason, business people like to have the official boxed software around. Not only is it tangible but, if someone accuses the company of pirating, of using illegal software, or of committing some copyright infringement, the business owner can point to his official copies. I'm not making any judgment calls on the practice. I understand it, whether I agree with the practice or not.

Being in business is risky. Sometimes the difference between a thriving business and one about to go under is not clear cut. When I was in business, I realized after the first two years that there were patterns to my income flow. From mid-March to mid-April, business slowed to a crawl. The same thing happened every October. It was just the way it was. After I learned the pattern, I could work around it and plan for it. But the first two times that it happened, I thought it was the end of my business.

Business owners feel that if they can touch an asset, it has value. Digital assets are somehow less valuable. 

Yes, we all realize what year it is, but for business owners it matters little what the calendar says. Lowering risks, holding onto tangible assets, maintaining an income, and keeping close track of expenses has a much higher priority than whether or not I think they should keep or get rid of their shrink-wrapped software.

I think if it gives you peace of mind, there's no harm in keeping shrink-wrapped software around as long as vendors supply it.

I, personally, haven't purchased boxed software in at least five years and that was a box of QuickBooks Pro from Office Depot. I used to purchase all of my PC-based video games* in boxes but no longer do. I download them. However, I have had one very bad experience with a downloaded game and it wouldn't have happened if I'd had the physical software. But that's another story.

My opinion is that business owners should hold onto those physical assets as long as you can but don't be afraid of the time when they're no longer available. Most software companies keep very good records and are always willing to work with you to keep you in licensing compliance.

No, I'm not being sarcastic.

People are fallible and sometimes licensing gets away from you with no malice intended. Most people are honest and want to do what's right. No legitmate software vendor is out to get anybody. Just pay for the software you use and no one will get hurt. Keep the box or don't keep the box—whatever makes you sleep better at night.

It might seem anachronistic to some of you to hold on to the "good old days" of boxed software and brick and mortar software stores but not for everyone. 

What do you think? Shrink-wrapped or downloaded? I'd like to hear from business owners on this one. Talk back and let me know.

*You don't actually own the software. You own a license to use the software.

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Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • @johnfenjackson

    I'm fired? You're fired. The whole Internet is fired!

    It's not a matter of record keeping. It's a matter of holding onto something tangible.
    • If you want to be re-hired ...

      ... I'd like to know how I can get an ISO for the windows 8.1 upgrade to 8.0.

      I want something tangible instead of 'only available via the STORE'.
      And I don't want to have to wait for each of my PC's to download 4GB.
      • @johnfenjackson

        Which one do you need?
    • Tangible as in making a copy of your downloaded software?

      I like it that with my copy I have it forever, and no matter what reason that it's no longer available for download, I still have it, and can continue to use it for as long as I wish.

      I am also not at the whim of the internet connection or whatever keeps me from accessing the internet, no need to download, here it is.

      having the official boxed copy also means that nothing can get in my way of installing it and using it.
  • Hmm

    I don't really care if we have shrink wrapped software but, I refuse to use Software as a Service unless that software is free! I'm not going to keep paying for something over and over again with nothing but short term usage to show for it.
    • 'unless that software is free!'

      free of what?
      cost? useability? quality? reliance on third party availability?

      'paying for something over and over again with nothing but short term usage to show for it.'
      like gas for your vehicle?

      point is, we all make choices based on our perceived benefit of the use of the product.
      your choice is your choice. doesn't make someone else 'wrong.'
  • In my 8 plus year old photo editing S/W I am still finding functions

    I will continue to prefer shrink-wrapped S/W even though I am only licensed to use it and don't own it. When are "APPS" going to be rented and expire if payment for renewal is not made? I may be slow but in my 8 plus year old photo editing S/W I am still finding useful tools.
    I do not want to be paying rental fees while climbing the learning curve.
    Bruce Lamar Rosenberg
  • business owners keep a repository

    On a network share. If anyone is less invested in boxes it would be businesses.

    I miss them though,especially the physical manuals!
  • Numerous factors

    One of the things I really hate about downloadable software--at least from Microsoft--is their "help" has gone right down the toilet. I pretty much never use either Excel or PowerPoint but I had to use them this week. And I rarely use Word. MS help is absolutely useless. EVERY time I need to figure out how to do even the SIMPLEST thing I wind up having to google the problem! We're not taking "rocket science" here--to find out how to insert a non-breaking space in PowerPoint I had to google it!

    It seems like a LOT of the major companies have followed suit when they moved their help on-line. Last week I bought an upgrade for Quicken. I tried accessing Help for two different tabs and in both cases on-line help told me it couldn't find the page and they were moving things around and maybe I could find what I was looking for by searching the website. I wound up uninstalling the upgrade and going back to the earlier version (which--actually--I had downloaded 3 years ago when they were still selling a lot more physical copies) that installed the full help system on my disk. (Actually, the reason I wound up going back was because their new attachment viewer was junk, but the useless Help was also quite annoying.)

    The major reason I see why owners prefer physical disks is reality versus theory. Theoretically, downloadable software can be copied and safeguarded in numerous places. Similarly, theoretically owners will immediately make backup copies of all physical disks. Reality is that with the huge amount of data storable on drives, having it "somewhere" and being able to find it and access it fairly quickly are two very different things.

    And there's always the problem of "one little thing" no one realized. YEARS ago I copied all my Win 3.11 install disks to my hard drive and I still have the files. Recently, just for the heck of it I decided to set up a Win 3.11 virtual machine. When I copied all the install disks "way back when" I forgot that Win 3.11 didn't boot directly, it booted from DOS. I didn't image a DOS boot disk. I also decided to do a Win 98 virtual machine. Turns out the CD is an upgrade disk.

    In practice business owners tend to hold onto EVERYTHING "just in case". In practice that often just doesn't happen with downloadable software. Yeah, it should--but it doesn't.
  • Not just businesses that tend to be conservative . . .

    It's not just businesses that tend to be conservative . . .

    . . . it's people too.

    A lot of people I've met don't like the constant upgrade treadmill, nor do they want SaaS. They want software to be a single purchase, and after that, they never want to buy it again.

    Of course, you can't run a software business on that, so businesses have to choose between either constant updates or SaaS. When given a choice, many people will choose updates because it's cheaper. Software businesses would rather people choose SaaS because it's more profitable.
  • The Cloud means losing version control

    One thing missing from this conversation is maintaining version control on corporate computers. How many times have we all encountered a software upgrade that breaks other software one uses? Anyone care to move to a model where you lose both control over your data, but also whether an upgrade to one mission-critical software package rendered other mission-critical software packages (from other vendors) inoperable?

    In a corporate setting, one relies on a specific mix of software from multiple vendors. When any one vendor issues an upgrade, one must test that upgrade to ensure that it does not affect the proper operation of other company software (or access to existing data).

    The land of automatically installed updates is populated by software companies that think their single product is the only thing installed on a machine. (Or look at breaking a competitor's product as a feature rather than a bug.)

    I don't particularly care how the software is delivered, so long as I can download an installer file to a permanent site on my local network and store it securely. Comes the day that I need to reinstall mission-critical software, I don't want to rely on that vendor keeping the appropriate tested version available on their servers in order to keep my systems running.

    In short - automatic upgrades only work if you buy all your software from one company. Software as a Service is far more expensive than buying the software (MS Office 365 costs $80/year, buying Office Home & Business 2013 is $220. The break-even point for buying rather than renting your MS Office license is 2 years 9 months. Do you keep your word processing software for more than 3 years?
  • If you purchase in volume license

    You have nothing to worry about these days, since its the software vendor who controls how many licenses you can deploy.