The Upgrade/Update Policy of RP Photonics
Computer software is normally not a product which is produced once forever, sold and used over longer times in always the same version. Particularly for sophisticated simulation software, you can expect that it is continuously developed further, adding new features and fixing bugs.
In this article I explain in some depth the very user-friendly policy of RP Photonics concerning software upgrades and updates. (We have a reputation to be very fair and helpful to everybody, and consistently worked to maintain that.) I also give you some insight into the business considerations behind that policy.
Upgrades versus Updates
First, we need to be clear about what exactly upgrades and updates mean.
Products like RP Fiber Power are continuously developed further, usually with at least a couple of small changes introduced every month. I regularly learn about opportunities for improvements either when using the software myself or when doing technical support for our customers. In most cases, such ideas are implemented right away, i.e., in the same week where the idea comes up, unless it means a large amount of work.
I do not increase the version number for every small improvement, but only when substantial new features are introduced, either concerning the simulation capabilities or the user interface. Despite the continuous development, that does not occur very often; a version number may thus remain unchanged for several years. For our main product RP Fiber Power, I currently do not have concrete plans for major additions, since in its current version V7 it seems to essentially cover everything desired by our users. The current V7 now differs in a large number of details from the original V7 introduced in 2017, although major new features have not been introduced.
The price for a user license is generally somewhat increased whenever a new version (i.e., with an increased version number) comes out. For example, for RP Fiber Power we did the move from V6 to V7 in 2017 when introducing various substantial improvements concerning the user interface – see the Software News of 2017-07-13.
Now we define a software upgrade as a move from one major version to a later one (e.g. V6 to V7). Since the later version is somewhat more expensive, it is clear that an upgrade cannot be given for free. However, our upgrade prices are very fair – not substantially higher than the difference in license prices. That means that you will not be annoyed not to have waited with your purchase for the later version. (Note that others charge far more for such upgrades, even if only relatively minor features have been added.)
An update means getting an updated version of the software with the same version number – only a later compilation date. We always give such updates for free – even for many years after the license purchase.
By the way, you can always check the compilation date in the main menu at Help | About. It is identical to the date when you received that version because every time it is compiled for you (whether or not there was any change).
No Maintenance Charges
It is common in the software business to charge maintenance charges for providing even minor updates. Typically, you would purchase a maintenance subscription e.g. for one year in order to get all updates during that year. Without the subscription, your version will be increasingly outdated and might even contain unresolved security issues.
We have decided in the past not to have any maintenance charges, and we intend to leave it there for the foreseeable future. Our users very much appreciate that. It is not only that the long-term use of our software becomes relatively cheap that way, but also because the inconvenience of regularly getting a new purchase order issued and a wire transfer initiated is avoided.
With that, it is easy for our customers to always stay fully up to date, e.g. avoiding problems with any bugs which have been fixed in the meantime.
I understand well the general trend towards subscription-based licenses. For the software companies like us, the problem of selling mostly permanent licenses without maintenance charges is that in order to keep a certain yearly turnover, you have to find new software customers every year. Existing customers may occasionally purchase an upgrade or an additional license, but we cannot earn much with that. (Note that according to our policy, additional licenses are much cheaper than the first one.) For the users, it is sometimes advantageous to pay something less initially (where you may not yet be sure for how long you will use the software), even if it is more expensive in the long run.
So there are definitely some good reasons for subscription-based (i.e., temporary) licenses, but nevertheless we have decided to continue selling mostly permanent licenses. Customers like it, I suppose not least because of the convenience of having to get and transfer money only once. (Imagine, for example, that a team may not be able to continue its work because they don't get the money for the license extension due to a severe budget cut in their company!)
So far, we have done quite well with that: the software becomes better and better known, therefore new customers are coming all the time, and our revenues have been growing nicely. (Of course, my time spent on software support every month is also increasing!) It also happens that users move over to a new company and tell their new boss that they know a tool which works very well for their work.
Still, there are customers who really don't know for how long they will use the software, and thus prefer temporary licenses. Therefore, we also offer that, but most customers prefer permanent licenses – and that is what we offer by default.
How to Learn About Updates?
It is important for users to know when updates are available, and to get some information for deciding whether or not it is relevant for them. Therefore, our software regularly suggests the users to allow an automated check for new versions on the RP Photonics web server. If some available update is found, the user can read what it is about. If the update is desired, the user notifies us and gets the update by e-mail/download.
I think this solution works quite well. It would not be appropriate, e.g. to send out e-mail notifications on such things, (a) because they may easily be lost, and (b) they would not be relevant for users during times where they do not work with the software.
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