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Living with Technology / Hard decisions on paying for software

Published 6:13 am, Wednesday, October 16, 2013
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Software has always been a funny thing to license.

Some software is fully free (freeware) or "open source" that can be freely used without paying the author(s) a penny.

Another model was called shareware. It's not so popular anymore, but the intent was that you could use it for free and if you found it useful, you'd send some money to the author.

The more typical model is what's called perpetual license. You pay a fee once and you can use it as long as you want.

More frequently, software is moving to what's called "SaaS" or "software-as-a-service." This is much like renting software. You can use it as long as you pay the monthly fee.

I'm typically more of the perpetual-license person. I like paying for something once and then using it until I feel I need to upgrade. Sure, the software cost may be expensive when I license it, but I know it won't cost me any more.

Until recently, Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other products) were perpetual licenses, as were most consumer software titles. Again, you pay a one-time license fee and can use it forever.

SaaS works very differently. You license the software you want for as long as you want. When you don't want to use it anymore, you stop paying the license fee and you no longer have it.

Adobe recently changed its Creative Suite (Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere and more) from a perpetual license to something that's only available by subscription in what they're calling the Adobe Creative Cloud. Prices range from $9.95 per month for a single application to $74.99 per month for essentially all of Adobe's products.

Microsoft offers a similar product called Office 365 that includes the typical Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and more. Prices for personal use are $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. Office 365 includes other items, such as Office Web Apps, essentially products such as Word and Excel that run in a Web browser. These are very nice.

In many cases, these products are less expensive than if one purchases the perpetual licenses. However, in many cases, the bundles that you must buy give you more software than people actually need.

Then there's the question of what happens if you decide to discontinue your subscription. In most cases, your files will remain with you. However, the software that you have been using, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop may cease to function, rendering the files and documents you have essentially unusable.

As I look at this, it's much like the difference between buying a car and leasing one. If you buy a car, once it's paid off, you can drive it as long as you want. If you lease one, when the lease is up, you have to lease another one. Leasing, you end up always having a car payment.

I tend to keep my vehicles at least 10 years, so that should tell you a bit about how I lean on this software decision.

That being said, in looking at the difference between perpetual licenses and SaaS solutions, both offer good value for different user needs. Look closely into the different offerings before you either jump to the SaaS model or stick with the perpetual license model.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org