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Rent software for time

Rent software for time

Jason Bluming is founder, CEO, president, and half the employees of Pollinate Inc. Bluming wants people to rent software through the Internet using his online licence-management system.

What's most interesting about Pollinate is how Bluming discusses licensing "granularity". Instead of buying a huge office-software suite for all the clunky personal computers in your com-pany, why not have individual employees rent the word processor when they need it?

Why should you pay for an unused spelling checker?

Why not download a word processor for the evening, with or without fax, into your hotel room's network computer?

When first run, "Pollinated" software creates a "signature" for your computer. That copy will run only after it checks for an enabling "token" with your computer's Pollinate licence manager.

An initial licence token might come with shareware, and tokens might download periodically thereafter, with or without notice, from a licence server at which you've arranged payment.

Tokens enable specified software to run for specified people on specified computers for specified periods of time. Today, the granularity of these specifications is small - the grains are big. If Pollination catches on, the granularity will increase - the grains will shrink.

When the Internet finally gets micromoney systems, we'll rent tiny bits of software for seconds at a time. Imagine renting a French spelling checker for one document once.

Software licence management is a big, new idea, much like network computers and collaborative filtering. In coming decades, it will have major, positive effects on how we develop, distribute, and use software. And we'll rent not just software but also all bits, including videos.

OK, true - there are no new ideas. Renting software has been tried, and so far very little software gets rented. In fact, the Software Publishers Association (www.spa.org) has been suing software distributors - Crazy Irving in the US, for example - that have tried to rent software the way videos are rented, or tried to let customers try before they buy, or tried to sell software and buy it back when their customers are done with it. Tsk, tsk.

Performance and price

But, hey, videos are now routinely rented by the billions of dollars; why not software? Of course, videos are typically run once and returned (late). If you want to watch a movie over and over, or avoid the trouble of returning the cassette, a video can be bought, just as software is bought.

On the other hand, software isn't popped into a computer and run the way a video is run in a VCR. On today's Wintel clunkers, you can watch the entire "Star Wars" trilogy in the time it takes to get a new program installed. And that doesn't count time spent rebooting Windows.

But that's today's monolithic software on old-fashioned personal computers, not tomorrow's component software on sleek, new network computers.

If performance isn't a big issue to you, there are plans to let you rent, for example, Microsoft Office. Office will be licensed to run on multi-user Windows NT servers to which Citrix WinFrame clients - Windows terminals - will connect at, say, $1 per hour. That's server-side rental. (See www.citrix.com.)Pollinate, however, will offer a toolkit to client-application developers interested in software licence management. Meanwhile, Pollinate offers a "wrapper" to take existing client software and manage its online licensing from a Pollinate server. In the long term, Pollinate aims to get its licence manager built into client operating systems.

Whether or not Pollinate's system is any good, software licence management is inevitable. What's less clear is when licensable bits will be downloadable on demand over the Internet or in bulk by optical disk.

Running a small, downloaded applet might trigger your computer's local-licence manager to go back over the Internet to retrieve tokens. Or large libraries of Pollinated software might arrive at your computer by courier to be granularly licensed online.

From past experience with e-postage, I'm guessing that granular software rental will drive a good many of you bananas.

Pollinate is looking for partners. Send free e-mail, while you still can, to info@pollinate.com, or pay by the minute by calling Bluming at +1 (617) 232-0532.


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