Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Brief History of License Management (part 2)

You Can't Tell The Players Without a Scorecard

There have been quite a number of players in the License Management Market over the past 18 years. This is the story of some of them.

While there are many kinds of software and hardware solutions which might be called software license management, I want to make it clear that I'm describing license management systems that ISVs build into their software, as distinct from Software Metering products (which, while similar, are voluntarily used by end-users), or any kind of copy protection such as key disks or dongles.

Apollo Computer had the first commercial license manager, the Network License Server, sometime in late 1987. Apollo was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard, the product was renamed NetLS, and shortly after that, it was licensed to Gradient who developed and marketed it through the 1990's. This product became IBM's LUM in the late 1990's or early 2000's.

NetLS's claim to fame was that it used DCE (Distributed Computing Environment), which had the "Global Location Broker", which allowed a client to find the license server wherever it was on the network. Unfortunately, reports from the field indicated that the Global Location Broker was difficult to configure and unreliable. Most NetLS customers eventually converted to FLEXlm, I believe largely because of the Global Location Broker.

The second commercial license manager was FLEXlm, from a partnership of Highland Software and GLOBEtrotter Software. Highland did a great job of getting FLEXlm adopted early-on, and by the early 1990's, it became clear that FLEXlm would be the technology of choice among ISVs for Software Licensing. Unfortunately, as the product became successful, there were disagreements between Highland and Globetrotter, which led to the eventual purchase of Highland's interest in FLEXlm by Globetrotter in Jan, 1994. GLOBEtrotter then continued with the product until Aug 2000, when the company merged with Macrovision Corp. The GLOBEtrotter name disappeared in 2002, and FLEXlm was renamed to FLEXnet Publisher in 2003.

Several companies were able to gain a foothold in the market during the 1990's. Among these were:

Elan Computer Group had a product called ELM (The Elan License Manager), starting around 1989 or 1990. This was a good product which gained a substantial amount of market penetration (their largest customer was AutoDesk). Elan entered into a partnership with Rainbow Technologies in 1995 to re-sell ELM (under the name SentinelLM), and in 1998, Rainbow purchased Elan.

Another small company was Viman, who later merged with Wyatt River Systems. The Viman product, while less popular than Elan, had some acceptance especially among small EDA companies. Wyatt River was purchased by Rainbow in 1998, and the Wyatt product became the next version of SentinelLM.

Rainbow Technologies was the largest player in the hardware key (dongle) business. Rainbow had a network license manager which they called SentinelLM. They replaced this product with the Elan product in 1995. Then, in 1998, they replaced the Elan product with the Wyatt River product. In 2004, Rainbow was sold to SafeNet, who continue with the SentinelLM product line, now called Sentinel RMS.

Aladdin Knowledge Systems was the #2 dongle manufacturer who released a license management system called Privilege in the late 1990's.

From about 1989 onward, there were other competitors who appeared, but only the ones listed above were able to gain much of a foothold into the License Management Market. Some of the companies/technologies which appeared during this time, but have since disappeared were:
  • Sun with SunNet License
  • Digital Equipment Corp with PLS
  • Cooper Systems
Of this last group, Digital was perhaps the most noteworthy, having licensed PLS to Microsoft. However, in the end, Microsoft never used the PLS product, Digital was sold to Compaq, and the product disappeared. PLS was the first (and so far, the only) product to put virtually all license policy into the license key itself, removing it from both the application and the license server.

In addition, there were a number of attempts made to standardize one or another part of license management. None of these went very far, either. Among these were:
  • Software License Working Group (late 80's)
  • LS API (mid-90's)
  • Unix International (mid 90's)
  • X/Open (mid 90's)
  • COSE (late 90's)
In 2006, I brought several members of the GLOBEtrotter team back together to from Reprise Software, Inc. We developed the Reprise License Manager (RLM), which began shipping in 2006. Our goal was and is to use our experience building and supporting FLEXlm for over 2000 ISVs in order to build a better product.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Brief History of Software License Management

The Early Years (1988-1992)

When I talk of Software License Management, I am thinking of Network Licensing or Concurrent Use Licensing. The kind of license management made popular by FLEXlm(R) from GLOBEtrotter Software. (Note: FLEXlm is now a registered trademark of Macrovision Corp. following their acquisition of GLOBEtrotter in 2000.) And of course, everything contained in this document is my view and opinion of the history of license management.

Having said that, let's begin.

Floating Licensing became popular in the late 1980's, as networks of engineering workstations came into widespread usage. To understand why it became popular, we only really need to understand what it replaced.

In the early 1980's the number one method of software licensing was "do nothing and hope for the best." In addition, on PCs, a number of copy-protection technologies were popular (I say popular in the sense that they were used a great deal, not that people loved using them.) On engineering workstations, software was often "node-locked" so that it would run on only one computer, usually identified by a machine serial number (or "host ID") which was an integral part of the workstation.

The story of floating licensing begins in the Engineering workstation world, where software licenses would often cost upwards of $50,000 each. (Today that number can be well over $1,000,000 per license.) These higher-priced packages were the ones most likely to be node-locked, and at the same time, corporations were not willing to buy a license for each designer's workstation, especially if only a few would be in use at any one time.

As more and more packages employed node-locking, the users of the software grew tired of having to move to a particular machine in order to do their work. This was the environment into which the first two commercial license managers - "Network License Server" from Apollo Computer (1987), and "FLEXlm" from Highland Software/GLOBEtrotter Software (1988), were born. (Note: The Frame license manager, used by the popular Framemaker publishing software was also developed around this time. Many people thought Framemaker used FLEXlm, but in fact it was their own proprietary license manager.)

Once commercial license managers were available, end-users were able to share licenses on their networks without the inconvenience of moving to a different physical location. At the same time, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) were able to charge different amounts for a node-locked, as opposed to a floating license. Since the floating license provided more capability than a node-locked license, many ISVs charged a bit more for the floating license. End-users benefited by being able to purchase the lower-priced node-locked licenses for people who used a product intensively, and the more expensive floating licenses could be shared by several people who used the product occasionally. In this way, both ISVs and end-users benefited from this new licensing technology.

In the early days (let's say 1988-1990), there was quite a bit of end-user dissatisfaction with license management. This was due to the fact that it imposed management overhead without much benefit to the people who had to manage it. The actual software users and corporations benefited from ease of use and more effective software utilization, but the system administrators who had a new technology to manage were not terribly happy. This began to change as it became clear that most ISVs were standardizing on FLEXlm (so that the sys admins only had to learn one system) and as FLEXlm added management capabilities which not only made management easier but provided new capabilities to control access to the software and report on software usage after the fact.

I'll leave this off here, around 1991-1992. At this time, license management was still largely used on Unix and VMS systems, as networking was still very fragmented in the PC world. With 20 or 30 different TCP/IP vendors and Novell, there was no clear universal standard for PCs like TCP/IP for Unix and DECnet for VMS.