Reality check on how we use software

Many consider software compliance issue a pain, taking up time they would dwell elsewhere in the business. Manoj Kotak of Image Online tells you how to tackle it

12 Apr 2014 | By Manoj Kotak

Have you or your colleagues from the print industry received calls from multinational software giants asking for number of computers and number of copies of their software used within your organization? This, followed by multiple phone calls and meetings to buy software, legal notices, all to protect these companies’ intellectual property rights?
A big chunk of printers belong to the small and medium enterprise, and many, either themselves or through their manager, either knowingly or unknowingly, let staff use unauthorised software in order to get the job done. As a result, non-compliance with software licensing agreements becomes an unending task.
While we acknowledge that compliance with software license agreements is the right thing to do, software license violation can be costly. It’s high time that printers are made aware of the seriousness of compliance.
Three things need to be done, if the printers are to avoid legal action by multinational software giants’ proclaimed intellectual property rights – understand software compliance, self-audit use within their organisation; procure licence, if not procured; and importantly, learn to make use of options of free software.
Software compliance: self audit use
When you buy any hardware (computer), you also need to buy an operating system (OS) to run the hardware, and subsequently software to run applications. You need to procure same number of operating system/software equal to number of machines you have within your organisation.
When you buy a machine you need to roughly spend approximately Rs 30,000 as cost of software (cost of OS, Office suite, anti-virus software) plus taxes. In addition, you need to procure pre-media software from Adobe and/or Corel for day-to-day print jobs, wherever such services are provided. The cost of these software used to be in the range of Rs 45,000 to Rs 50,000 per machine, but with the change in licensing policies, the cost is now levied on per month, per machine basis.
Procuring licence
One must understand that software compliance is nothing but counting the number of machines that you have, making a list of software you need on each of them and tallying with licences you have procured. There are conditions when using a client server, which one has to adhere to. Normal practice is, the hardware vendor copies all the software, whether required or not, on every new machine you buy (un-branded / assembled), thereby confusing software compliance.
Most companies keep all software on all the machines for ease of use. Understand this: whenever you install a software, legal or illegal, you accept an end-user license agreement (EULA), which allows companies of such software used, to make a call or visit your premises (once a year, by giving seven-days’ advance notice in writing) and request for proof of purchase and check on your machines. Any gap will lead you to have to buy the software, often ‘on the spot’.
Self audit the use, restricting its run (legal copies) only on computers that need it. Why? Because if you don’t, you could end up paying more.
Let’s assume, you have 40 machines, and you are actually required to have particular software on only ten machines, but your hardware vendor has copied it on all the machines. As per compliance, you have to have 40 licences of that particular software and pay for them. Under this circumstance, you are unknowingly overusing under-procured licences.
It is recommended that you install software which you need on specific computers, and paste stickers, giving details like software name, licence key number, etc, of what you have legally purchased on each one of them. Uninstall the rest. This simple technique is more than enough to remain compliant for use of software.
Is compliance too complex? 
It really depends on how many computers you are using, and the number of commercial software you need per computer.
If you have multiple computers in your organisation used as peer-to-peer (computers are just connected with each other using cables for sharing files) or you are using client server, wherein you have a server installed and each machine is connected to that server for centrally storing and accessing data, you would assume that you could buy one server version and operating system and connect your computers to the server. Not really. You need to additionally buy connection licences for each computer or device that will be connected to the Windows server. So for Microsoft Server Network you need to procure a server licence, a desktop OS licence and a CAL (connecting licence).
To control piracy and administration of selling paper licences all over world, software companies are now leaving you with no option but to use their software through the cloud. They are calling off their perpetual/paper licence systems. For this, you have to register each user/machine on the cloud, to download and activate software and pay per machine, per month, per year. This may increase your cost of ownership, when compared to the cost you paid when procuring perpetual/paper licence, by which you could use the same version for multiple years. By switching to the cloud version, you are bound to pay every month or every year, based on your usage of the software.
Unfortunately, the cloud originated as platform (using common infrastructure) for reducing cost; however, it’s being used for controlling piracy at the cost of inconveniencing genuine users.
Do we really have better option? 
We try to find an alternate option only when we start facing difficulties in sustaining the options we already have. If you feel that the cost of software is worth the task of automating within your organisation, you might never look for an option. Though, when you see compliance for using commercial software as becoming too complex and costly, you must start learning about the available alternative options.   
The established software giants have built the customised software development eco-system in such a way that to use software you still need server and/or operating system from particular software company. For example, to run CorelDraw and Adobe software, you need a Windows or Macintosh OS; you cannot run it on a free OS system like Linux. 
But if you research a little more, and do this small exercise in the from of a table , as suggested below, you will be able to save considerable amount of cost for IT infrastructure: 
Make an Excel sheet along with a list/numbers of computers and names of persons in first two columns. Keep filling up each column for each software you use within your organization; tick yes or no against each person and each software; At the end of this simple exercise, you will realise the fact that not all the software are used by all the people in your organisation; but they are still there on their machine, unused.
Let’s take this case study of multi-store digital shop, where their focus is walk-ins and on counter sales. Most of the time clients walk in with pen-drives, CD or email their source file to print in CorelDraw. Adobe Illustrator or in a PDF format. Most of the time, clients expect minor changes; and before printing, the digital print shop will also check for items like alignment, spelling, colours, resolution etc, and make corrections on the spot. In these cases they cannot avoid OS licence and licence for software like CorelDraw and/or Adobe, to work on design files to be printed. 
But these digital shops may also have people working in their marketing and administration to bring in orders from SME and corporate houses. These personnel work on quotes using emails with PDFs as portfolio. And they may never require printing related software. All they need is a computer with an OS, software to open and edit text files, software to send receive mails and browser to access the internet. As discussed, the cost of above, the basic paid software, for each machine is about Rs 30,000.
What if you can have all these basic software, including OS, absolutely free or at nominal cost? Is this really possible?
Yes. is the answer. It is all-in-one, free to download, takes 10 minutes to install and start. It has an operating system (built on Linus/Ubantu distribution), has Libre Office (Open Office), a Thunder Bird mail client, Chrome and other browsers. It also has an inbuilt video and basic image editor. You can also use software like Skype, etc. Most important, it is very robust, runs very fast, and there are no known virus for Linux so far, so there is no need to buy anti-virus software. All this, is available for free. 
If we take this case study of saving cost of software on 20 machines, at the cost of Rs 30,000 for each machine, you can save Rs 6-lakh plus taxes (at 22.5%), and yes, no compliance call whatsoever. 
To conclude, it is more of evaluating need, and finding out an option. Initially you might find it difficult to work on free software (which still support and open most files created by commercial software) but when you consider the savings and the administrative task of adhering to software compliance, it would be worth the while to consider switching to partially paid, if not completely free software.
Check these sites and which list down widely used commercial software and its open source alternative
(Manoj Kotak is director at Image Online)