Software licensing problems

Software licensing problems

by Liam McNaughton

So a recent theme at Dental IT has been around software licensing, and the problems that arise from it. I do understand that software companies spend a lot of money, time and energy developing software, and have to product their intellectual property rights, and revenue. On the other hand, this has to be balanced against ensuring that enforcing some kind of copyright protection does not disrupt or prevent real world legitimate usage of the software. Too often, unfortunately, poorly designed and implemented software protection leads to unfair and unnecessary hassle and potentially disruption.

A recent example was at a dental practice we support, with Gendex digital imaging hardware using their Vixwin software. Due to a recent upgrade to Windows 7, their software had to be reinstalled. We were under the impression that, as long as there is Gendex hardware involved, the software sees this, and does not expire – actually this turned out not to be the case, and the practice was without x-rays for a morning when all the software suddenly expired without warning, and a license had to be located and installed… not an easy task given the nature of DI support in the UK.

Another example is Orthotrac, dedicated Ortho software developed by Carestream US but also sold and marketed to UK Ortho practices. This software does not operate at all, unless there is a “gold key” licensing application running on the server. Incredibly, however, this application will not run as a Windows service and requires the server console to be logged in, in order to be operational. So if a server restarts for whatever reason (e.g. updates, power issue, whatever), BY DESIGN this software will not run again until someone logs the server back on. This is absurd and amateurish, and could be fixed by a very modest development effort – but it has been like this for all the years that I have seen the software in use in the UK. There are ways around this of course, including automatically logging the server in – but this is non-standard and insecure; why should the network have to be setup incorrectly to work around lazily developed software? There is plenty of other software guilty of this as well: Examine Pro (from SOE) will fail to start up properly if the licensing dongle isn’t fully operational – but this, or its service, has been known to fail, and when it does, the entire practice is unable to access their digital images until potentially the server is restarted, with more disruption ensuing. Since this software appears to be rebadged Acteon software (from Imagelevel), customised to work tightly with SOE Exact, why wasn’t part of the customisation to tie its licensing model into Exact’s licensing model? Kodak/Carestream KDIS (aka trophy) software works fine on workstations with Kodak hardware attached, but if you want to view the images on another machine, tough – you have to buy a license and activate the software to even read the images on another computer. Why is this? How likely is it really, that someone would choose to copy and deploy KDIS software across their network unless they were using Kodak/CS hardware? DBSWin (Duerr) and Digora for Windows (Soredex) both have freely and easily obtained licenses from the manufacturer if you have their hardware, but you still have to apply for these, and then roll them out individually to each machine.

I find it frustrating in the extreme, when practices who have excellent IT hardware and networks, with good stable systems, cannot access their own digital imaging software data or practice management software, because of poorly designed software licensing restrictions.

Part of the problem is that licensing is probably often an afterthought in the development process, so it is added on in a clumsy fashion, without proper time, effort and testing being applied. In an ideal world this should be seamless, and good software will incorporate the licensing architecture into the application properly. An example is Dental Eye (, where the software is licensed just once, on any workstation, and the licensing information is stored in the network database – so any clients that are removed or added will “just work”, without having to “roll out” the licensing information to every machine, and as long as the database is running (which it has to be anyway) the software will be licensed and operational.

Another problem is that customers buying hardware very often just don’t expect to pay for software licenses, and upgrades to those licenses when required. Some of our customers with Planmeca hardware recently needed an upgrade from Dimaxis to Romexis in order to support Windows 7, and some customers with Gendex hardware required upgrade to Vixwin Platinum – I have no problem with this in principle; as I said at the start, it is entirely in order that when software companies develop better and newer software, this needs to be paid for. But did the dealer at the time of the hardware sale point out to the buyer that there would be a requirement to update the software periodically, in order to support the latest operating systems?

And this situation is only going to get worse, as the software that comes with the latest DI equipment gets increasingly complex, and costly. One of our customers who recently installed a very capable Soredex CBCT unit, was dismayed to find that, in order to view and manipulate the 3D projects on other machines, he would need to invest many more thousands of pounds beyond the cost of the original deal, to have this obvious capability. Dealers really need to explain that, with any DI hardware, the software is as important as the hardware, and the practice should understand what this does, how much it costs, how it is supported and for how long, how many licenses it offers, whether it is client/server based, and any entitlement to ugprades as and when they are required.

But what you really don’t expect, is a massive company like Microsoft messing up licensing as badly as they have done recently with their Office 2013 software. At Dental IT we have been wrestling with this since Office 2013 came out, with no fix yet appearing from Redmond USA. The problem is that Office 2013 has to be activated online, with a Microsoft Account – this fails from time to time with all sorts of weird and wonderful errors – but what is worse, there is no way of properly tracking the license key that you have installed and activated to any individual PC – indeed worse, when adding a second PC onto the same account, there is no real way of distinguishing each separate license from the other. So in a network with 10 machines and 10 copies of Office, keeping track of which Office installation is where is almost impossible, without creating a separate tracking method of your own, on for example an Excel spreadsheet. Considering how important the Office cash cow is to Microsoft, it really does beggar belief that this has been designed so badly, and hasn’t been fixed yet.

It all makes me very pleased that our first foray into software development, our Spinnaker dental practice management software, is based on an entirely “open source” license – so no software licensing problems will apply. Anybody will be able to install as many copies of the software, onto as many machines as they like, without restriction.

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