How Not to Change a Licensing Model

By on 7 Dec 2010, 21:29 GMT

The recession hit everybody and software developers don’t make an exception. Therefore, in order to best deal with this situation, some companies have decided to take immediate action and make some important changes to their licensing model. Now, most companies did this with a sense of ethics... but not all of them, so this article covers the most recent example of how NOT to go about this kind of changes.

First things first though: a company that took notice of the economic changes a long time ago was Slysoft, the developers of the popular AnyDVD. The first measure they took was to switch from dollars to euros.

Of course, as time passed by, new measures were required and so, recently, the company announced yet another change to its licensing program: the switch from lifetime licenses to yearly subscriptions.

Why is this example worth mentioning, you ask. Well, because in both cases, Slysoft not only announced the changes at least a few weeks before making them, but they also offered a 20% discount in the weeks prior to the change. Obviously, all current registered users were not affected by these changes, they didn't have to pay a single cent or change their subscription plan.

Although many of us might not like it, the most common solution to ensure a continuous flow of purchases is by far the monthly/yearly licensing model. We’ve seen hundreds of companies, from Kaspersky, ESET, Online Armor and any other security company to Daemon Tools or LastPass using it.

In either case, that’s what a self-respecting company does: it clearly states its licensing model, sticks by it and if any serious change is made, all current customers pay a very small price, if any at all. That sounds about right, does it not? You will always get exactly what you paid for from the very beginning.

Sadly, every now and then, a company ignores this basic rule of ethics, and today was Siber Systems’ turn, the company producing the popular Roboform password manager. What happened? Today, they launched version 7 of Roboform under a new licensing model that contradicts the previous one, without a serious compensation to current customers, who are using version 6.

Here are the facts: Before launching the new interface, for both their website and their flagship software, Siber Systems promised on their website ‘free upgrades’ for Roboform. While this expression is no longer present on the website, The Way Back Machine provides the proof, as you can see here.

Furthermore, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve mentioned that a serious compensation was not provided. The compensation available for current users is a $19.95 fee for upgrading Roboform Pro or Portable from version 6 to version 7. Therefore, if you bought Roboform Pro, say, in August for $30, now, in less than four months you’d have to pay an extra 20 bucks to stay updated. So, you’ve already paid $50, while someone buying it today can get it for less than $30.

Ironically, for some users, this can’t even be called compensation. Siber Systems often provided a discount for Roboform, so a lot of users bought it with a 50% discount. So, those who paid $15 for version 6, now have to pay $20 for version 7. No compensation there. Those who bought Roboform2Go on a 50% discount and also added a Roboform Pro license paying $30 just a few weeks ago, now have to pay $39.9 to upgrade both of them. Again, no compensation there either.

Somewhat of an alternative to Roboform2Go is the company’s Everywhere license, which allows you to use RoboForm 7 on an unlimited number of computers and devices for $9.95... in the first year and $19.95 in the second.

As a final shred of irony, if the prices above weren’t a sufficient source of income, upon completing installation, the Roboform setup opens a webpage, displaying an affiliate banner (meant to generate income if you click it). While we’re on the subject, Softpedia marked the installer as ad-supported and still hosts version 6 of Roboform for those uninterested in upgrading to version 7.

Before writing this article, I’ve decided to take a look at the community’s reaction. Strictly related to this matter, I found two posts on Twitter, both showing ‘dissatisfaction’ and going as far as calling it an ‘epic fail’. The company spokesperson has apologized, mentioning that upgrade fees were introduced due to the major changes brought to version 7. We’ll let you decide if they're worth it or not.

As a conclusion, a few things must be underlined: this article does not encourage people to switch to other password managers, nor does it promote them. Roboform was, is and will be one of the best password managers out there; this article is not meant to be a rant, it strictly depicts the facts as they were presented earlier today to all Roboform users; and, last but not least, this article does not encourage you to stay clear of Roboform Pro 7 or Siber Systems, that is still your decision.

At most, this article emphasizes one company’s decision and model, to underline some of the more or less ethical practices of many other developers out there, who, for financial or personal reasons, make changes to their business models that might have a very unpleasant effect on both their image and their products.

Update: It was recently brought to our attention that, on their FAQ page, Syber Systems promises free upgrades for all those who bought Roboform after September 1st. Strangely, it is also stated that this ‘opportunity’ will be available ‘for a limited time’, so one might be inclined to believe that all users who don’t take advantage of this offer in the near future might soon found out it’s no longer possible.

Furthermore, SEVERAL Softpedia employees who purchased Roboform after September 1st contacted Syber Systems to receive a free upgrade to version 7. In ALL cases, instead of offering the free upgrade, the support team stated that only two options were available: purchasing an upgrade to Roboform 7 Pro for $19.95 or switching to Roboform Everywhere for the yearly fee. ONLY after mentioning the above clause, activation was successful. Therefore, since Syber Systems staff can check when a license was purchased but still insists that users pay a fee, even if they deserve a free upgrade, we can only conclude that either the support is not aware of the company’s policy or, most probably, Syber Systems is trying to make a few extra money even off the back of their new customers.

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