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The Net Takeaway: SPSS 13 and phoning home...


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SPSS 13 and phoning home... · 08/31/2004 05:04 PM, Analysis

Ok, I am in a tough spot. I was a beta tester for SPSS 13, and I got to play with some of the new features, including the great classification trees add on feature (no, it doesn’t replace AnswerTree, but certainly reduces the need for it in many cases). Graphics are improved again, and this seems to be where lots of effort was spent. Some nice things here.

Fields can now contain up to 32k of text, meaning long comments or text fields can be kept in the same file with the user’s other responses. A Time and Date Wizard makes date manipulation easier (though they still never seem to have formats to easily read unix log file timestamps, and probably should allow custom formats for imports). Aggregates can now be kept in the same file as the source, ala SAS. Speaking of which, SPSS 13 can read (and write) SAS 9 files. The rest are incremental improvements, in my opinion. Read more about all the new features here.

All good news… but there is one new “feature” I am not ecstatic about. In fact, it is causing me to rethink whether I want to upgrade, or recommend the upgrade, at all.

Now, I don’t know if the released code does this… but the beta included a Registration Requirement. Like Windows XP and the other recent MS products, SPSS 13 generates a hardware-based system ID key and sends it to SPSS to authorize the install.

I fully understand that I do not buy software, I license the right to use it. And, according to the current shrink-wrap license controversies, companies appear to have the right to define how and where I use their software. So, its not like they (SPSS) are doing anything illegal.

But I don’t buy products which phone home. Its kept me from buying or recommending the X1 search tool, it kept me from buying TurboTax, and I use Windows XP only because I had to (I’m not good enough with Linux to do what I want, and I use a corporate edition at work which didn’t phone home.) I don’t buy time-locked media, and I don’t buy media which requires a code to work. The few tunes I’ve bought, I’ve bought via Apple iTunes (more on this below), because they have the least restrictive procedures. If I spend my money instead of pirating a product, I expect to have at least as much freedom of use by being legal as I would stealing it. Unfortunately, yet again, that will not be the case.

I sent notes about this concern to the SPSS gang during the beta, and they were very kind to answer my concerns, including:

Why should this bother me? If I’m not guilty, I shouldn’t worry, right? Well, I am afraid that I am guilty. SPSS can be very slow on large datasets. So, yes, sometimes I will pull 3 old boxes off the shelf, install an imaged OS and install SPSS, and split the dataset. I’ll kick off the same transforms and such on each of the boxes for each part of the data, and magically, my process takes 1/3 the time. I then blow away the drive and put the machines back on the shelf.

Is this legal? Well, it is only one user (me with a KVM). From the old “book” model, its is violating the “code is running on one machine at a time” approach, but then again, that license model hasn’t been used by companies since the Borland days. But I am not a lawyer (IANAL), so, probably yes, I have violated my license in some way by doing this.

Have I duped the CD and shared my license code? Nope. Have I made a “keygen” and posted on 0-day warez sites? No, of course not. But I am still having to suffer the same “install limitation” that the pirates face.

But look at Apple. The iTunes music store allows a purchased song to be burned 10 times to CD. That’s still nothing to the pirate, who needs thousands of copies… but that’s great for me; I can make 3 mix CDs (one for morning, noon and night) and still have room to reburn if I lose one.

Could SPSS do this? Would 10 installs be out of whack? Think of the pirate: They can release their version and license code, but only the first 10 people benefit. Unless they crack it, which would lead one to wonder about why even have the install check in the first place. So, 1 or 2 installs seems absurdly small, just saying “we can, so we do”.

Allowing 10 gives elbow room, while doing nothing to encourage piracy. This is the important point. It allows legal customers to install as many times as reasonable, same as the current scheme expects… but stops broad scale piracy.

After all, that’s why they are doing this, right? It couldn’t be that they think they are losing money on the fact that I install on 3 machines a few times a year (and erase them afterwards), or that a person might have installed SPSS on a contractor’s machine for a month for some extra help. If they really think that the customers are the problem, then they may have to rethink.

From what I recall, its the customers who have kept SPSS in business for 13 versions, even without install checkers. The pirates are the problem, right? Let’s make sure we all keep that straight. Find a way to be really nice to the customers, and let the pirates suffer. They are not the same people for the most part, so treating them all under one umbrella isn’t fair, just, or equitable. All it is is bad business.

(Note: I haven’t seen 13 gold and shipping as of publish time, so none of this may apply. Let me know in the comments. If I am incorrect about the phoning home, then I’ll publish an update here in a new entry and in an update to this one.)

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  1. The use of this type of lisencing REALLY is the pits. I'm looking around for an opensource stats solution. I'd be the last to buy a SPSS product anyway. During my uni masters project, my second hand (via students book shop) spss v10 for students expired and I couldn't afford another version...( and eat ;). Anyway, I stumbled on a solution like yours and used MS Virtual PC to run it and reinstalling every 30days to an imaged virtual hard drive. (The Virtual PC demo was **cough .. cough*** ever-so-slightly patched ). One day when I pay off my student loan and have some money, I promised myself to give the equivelent to somebody worthwhile, like UNICEF or something.... Arrrghh, now where's me patch and pegleg????
    CriminalsRUs    Sep 18, 09:42 AM    #

  2. Ok, but let me see if I understand. I point out that as a legally licensed person, I should be able to run on multiple machines. You want to run after your license expires, which means you really are stealing it.

    So, well done. Your actions are exactly why SPSS has to take their actions. If you can't see the difference, then please get full value for your tuition dollars and ask a professor.

    You get no sympathy from me. I pay my license fees for my single use of the product. You don't feel that's necessary. And you're wrong.
    Michael Wexler    Sep 18, 02:44 PM    #

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