It's a lot like coming out of the bunker after a nuclear holocaust. Three weeks ago, Jetbrains, the purveyor of extraordinarily excellent development tools, announced that they were switching from perpetual licences to a subscription model. That's right, rather than buying a licence outright, you paid a regular fee (monthly or yearly) to keep using the product.

As you would expect, the user base went nuts. No, really, I've never seen anything quite like it. The staff were accused of being crooks, of setting up the customer base for a future of infinite price hikes, of fattening up the company for a sale to Oracle, of screwing their customers, basically. Many declared they would rather use Eclipse or Netbeans than bend their knee before the Many-Faced Subscription God.

Aside from the personal attacks, these folk did have a point. There were two fundamental flaws with this plan:

  1. No one liked the idea (no pun intended) that they could no longer have a perpetual licence to keep. The notion that the sofware would stop working simply because you stopped your subscription was the anthesis of … well … EVERYTHING! For me personally, this wasn't a problem. I pay for the IntelliJ upgrade every year, and this includes the years when Jetbrains do not include any functionality I need. I ponied up for the Android stuff, even though I have no intention of developing for the Android platform. Why? Because I believe that, for the cost of a night out with the chaps in London, it was worth giving Jetbrains a financial boost in order that they can continue developing tools essential for me to develop code on numerous platforms without tearing my hair out. So the change to subscription model wasn't going to make any difference, except that everything now became much cheaper. However, the subscription did come with one huge caveat, which leads me to point number two …
  2. The software would require an internet connection to keep running. Every so often, the IDE 'phones home' to check that a subscription is valid. But what if the developer isn't connected to the net when the dial home falls due. What if he works in a government department with restricted net access? What if, as I found with Adobe Creative Cloud before I deinstalled the whole bloated mess, it just doesn't work very well?

So after the uproar, Jetbrains went away, sat in a room for a week, and came back with The New World Order ver. 2.0. And they seemed to address the two fundamental problems:

  1. After paying for a year, you get to keep the licence. Now this does come with one glaring condition: you keep the version you had at the start of the subscription. This means that any new functionality you have downloaded since the start of the subscription year would be removed. Yup, you'd be rolled back (though you get to keep maintenance versions containing bug fixes). More uproar. More wailing. More gnashing of teeth. Now there is a way around this: you simply pay for another year upfront and you get to keep the current version you have. This effectively makes the perpetual model twice as expensive as the the subscription model, so again, people aren't happy. Now, as much as they like to pretend they're objecting on some moral platform, morality doesn't really come into it. They said that they would rather pay more and keep the perpetual licence than sign up to a subscription; that is exactly what've got. What they're objecting to is paying much more than they wanted to. But, as Jetbrains promised, the choice is there. It's up to the individual to weigh up what suits them best. If you're not a frequent upgrader then pay for the perpetual license and skip a couple of versions (as you will have been doing anyway). If you're the sort of person (me!) who always wants the latest and greatest then the subscription model is the cheaper option.
  2. The 'phone home' thing is optional. You can install a licence yourself without the need for the internet. I imagine that would be quite a hassle if you're paying monthly though. Anyway, if that was a sticking point, it's gone.

So we're out of the bunker and I think Jetbrains will go ahead with this, no matter how many people claim that they will dump them as a company if they do. In order to push forward with new projects and maintain the old ones, the company needs to have a predictable revenue source. People paying one year and then skipping the next two doesn't really help with that. The initial announcement was poorly thought out and poorly handled. They should have cited their reasons before just dropping something like this on the community. Still, they've held up their hands, apologised and fixed the problems … so let's move on.


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