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Legal Software

by Mira Vlach on January 18, 2008:

Summary: Tips and recommendations how to legalise software used by companies or individuals. With the use of Open Source, OEM licenses and other tips, using software legally does not have to be expensive. The article draws from the Czech environment, but can serve worldwide at least as an rough guide.

Omitting the moral aspect, illegal use of software in business brings risk. Though by this way one can save sometimes significant costs, it means also exposing oneself to the possibility of penalties from the authorities. This may endanger your business. When you are not able to prove the legality of the software you are using, then your computers may be seized for investigation. Such an act is able to paralyse businesses that are very dependent on IT.

One of the possible means how to eliminate this risk is software legalisation. By this, we want to reach a position when we use only software that we are entitled to use. There are 3 ways to this, which can be combined:

Hardships and Advantages

To obey the legal rights is not easy for someone who is not used to it. One usually does not feel guilty of doing anything really wrong. Moreover, the advantages of legal software are not always very apparent. The legalisation will probably cost you something or at least you will have to get used to new software. This process is often bound with giving up of other problematic activities as is the possession of illegal copies of music and movies. Therefore, it cannot be really done without a change of attitude. Because the change may affect other users as well, it is necessary that there is a legalisation leader, who will persuade others and make sure, that the change is permanent. Otherwise it may be just temporary with gradual return to the original state.

The main advantages of software legalisation are:

The leading business software producers often bid to stop using illegal software. Naturally, their campaigns unfortunately do not mention the possibilities of free alternatives. They also often take the course of threats and bid to denunciation. That does not make them very popular at their target group.

Open Source as an alternative

Personally, I support the use of free alternatives to commercial software where it is suitable and possible. For example, instead of MS Office (including MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.) you can use an excellent application Open Office. It is compatible with MS Office, so you can easily create and share documents unrecognisable from the commercial original. It is very similar in terms of interface and functionality, so it should suit everyone who does not use very advanced level functions.

Other Open Source programs also represent a way how to save and still use software legally. Though, they do not always suit the needs sufficiently, so it is better to try them beforehand. In the first place, you need to decide whether you are willing to pay for the operating system itself. If you do not need MS Windows (nowadays mostly XP or Vista), then you can use a free operating system based on Linux. It will be probably more demanding, but you can cut the expenses to the lowest level. The user support here is based mostly on solidarity among the users themselves, but you can also get a regular paid professional user support. Just make sure to check if you will be able to run all the applications that you need on the alternative operating system (business applications, games, Internet banking etc.).

There are also many free quality applications even for MS Windows. Just see the list of Open Source alternatives. Because there are many various licencing types, you need to check if the software is really for free for your purpose. Unfortunately, specialised applications for professionals (graphic software etc) are often quite expensive and without adequate alternatives.

Saving with OEM

Especially for Microsoft products (XP, Vista MS Office) it is very interesting to buy them with a new computer for a very discounted price. This form of sale is called OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). Its disadvantage is that contrary to the more expensive retail version, it can not be transferred to another computer. It has to stay with the one it has been bought with. However, it can be sold or transferred together with the computer to another person. There is also a difference in the support, as it is carried out by the supplier of the computer, not Microsoft company.

OEM licenses may be offered for other applications as well (i.e. Software DVD player with a new DVD device). The following table shows the total price of legal basic software for an undemanding user (bought with a new PC):

1.Operating system Windows (OEM version)cca 100 euro
2.Security software (anti-virus, anti-spyware etc.)cca 30 euro at the start, then annual renewal for 20 euro
3.Open Office suiteFree
TOTAL130 euro at the start, then 20 euro annually

With the price of the new computers starting at 350 euro, the extra money for legal basic software represent just 15–40 % extra expenditure. This is, I believe, a very reasonable proportion.

Business environment

Legalisation of software in a business environment should be carried out as part of a change of conception in terms of how the IT is managed at the company. There tends to be more work stations with users at different levels and with different habits, that is why it is more difficult to ensure that only legal software is used. Because of this, the software audits are performed. The use of specialised applications supporting the management of licences and other IT resources is also helpful. The users should be given clear instructions as to what they are allowed to do with the business computers, how to apply for the installation of a new software etc.

Centralised software procurement is another possibility how to reduce the costs, especially in bigger companies. Licences need to be managed during their whole life-cycle: the original media and proof of purchase should be kept archived for any future needs; amount of licences compared to the count of total installations etc. This is a part of a process called Software Asset Management (SAM).

Household environment

To legalise the software at home computers is a bit easier, because some software providers offer better prices for home and non-commercial use (sometimes it is even for free). This applies especially to security applications like anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware. At this moment, good examples of these are anti-virus Avast! and Sunbelt Personal Firewall. Of course, Open Source and OEM licenses may also be installed for the home use.

First steps: the tips

Those who are thinking of taking further steps to legalise their software can start with the following:

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