On Sept. 3, software development toolmaker JetBrains announced it was changing its licensing model from a perpetual model to a subscription model.
The company’s rationale for creating JetBrains Toolbox is that the new distribution model would cost customers less and simplify management of the licenses. The Toolbox plan also would let customers pick and choose the tools they want to use on a monthly or yearly subscription basis, or select “all products” and get even bigger savings. Further, this model would provide flexibility developers need, in terms of what they want to use and when they want to use it.
JetBrains’ subscription deal would, in theory, allow users to get updates to the software as part of the license. But if they decided not to pay for a particular update—and hence not renew the license—they would not have access to the software they’d already licensed, since the subscription would have lapsed.
Pushback from its customer base was mixed, but mostly negative. One customer wrote on the JetBrains blog announcing the switch: “Oh no, not ANOTHER subscription. Wonderful, now you’ve joined Adobe (CC) and Microsoft (Office 365) in ‘renting’ your software. Not for the benefit of your users, of course, just for your own benefit to get continuous cash coming in every month. Subscriptions are a form of ransom: If you stop paying, your software no longer works. I bought and used AppCode for years, but I hate subscriptions and now I’m going back to Eclipse. Goodbye, greedy Jetbrains!”
To its credit, JetBrains listened and changed the plan. In a blog post on Sept. 18, JetBrains CEO Maxim Shafirov wrote that JetBrains will continue with subscriptions, but would offer a “perpetual fallback” license. This would allow users to continue using the version they had licensed until the customer decides he or she no longer wishes to renew their subscription. This is available to customers who make one annual payment or who license for 12 consecutive months.
In his blog, Shafirov offered a mea culpa and addressed some concerns raised in regard to the move to subscriptions:
“On September third we announced JetBrains Toolbox—our new developer productivity tools line licensing—to replace the current scheme. The announcement was made after our research, which included surveys with different categories of customers, indicated that it was the right move. The discussions and feedback that we received after the announcement went public showed that we had failed to properly account for all considerable groups of our customers and articulate our reasoning for the move in the announcement message.
“We sincerely apologize for this.”
This is not to single out JetBrains here. Plenty of companies drop new licensing or update models on their customers without warning or input. One of the highest-profile moves of this sort recently was Microsoft’s decision in 2014 to announce that it would no longer offer SharePoint as a standalone server, that all upgrades would be made through Office 365. In essence, it told its customers, who helped make SharePoint a multi-BILLION-dollar business unit, that they had to migrate to the cloud or risk not getting any of the updates Microsoft would be rolling out.
Software companies beta test the newest versions of their software, gaining input prior to final release. Why can’t they work with customers on changes to licensing models prior to imposition? We understand that companies should be able to decide what’s best for business, but if they lose customers because of a tactical error regarding licensing or use of the software, that’s clearly not best for business. Instead, working with customers on a plan they will accept ensures continued business, without the hiccups to the bottom line or public relations nightmares that go with forced upgrades, migrations or changes to the payment plan.