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.
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.