Tech & Work

Staying legal

TechRepublic readers respond to the challenge of managing software licenses by identifying three clear initiatives. Find out what they are—and take a crack at Ed Bott's new Microsoft Challenge.

Are the software police getting ready to kick down your door? Every month, the Business Software Alliance issues another batch of sobering press releases spotlighting companies that were forced to pay huge fines and suffer public humiliation because they allowed employees' unlicensed software to spread throughout the company. Fast-growing, small- and medium-size companies are especially vulnerable.

The challenge I posed two weeks ago came from a TechRepublic member who was growing concerned that he wasn't properly managing software on his 30-user network. He asked: Are there software management tools that can help a company that's not in the Fortune 500?

As fellow TechRepublic members made clear in a wide-ranging set of responses, managing software licensing intelligently really requires three separate initiatives:

1. Set up some best practices. The common thread among all the responses was simple: Take the issue seriously. Make sure you have well-documented policies and procedures in place. Communicate those policies to all users in the company. Mnjohnson sends a link to the Business Software Alliance's Guide to Software Management . Although the tone is occasionally overbearing, the checklists, forms, and sample policies are a great starting point.

2. Begin using a good monitoring tool. A surprising number of you think the job is simple enough to handle with an Excel worksheet or a quick-and-dirty Access database. Frankly, I'm skeptical of any solution that informal, especially because it's in danger of collapsing if the company grows too fast and the job has to be handed over to a new employee. The third-party software suggestions were much more creative and covered every imaginable budget:
  • Mtassin suggests installing WRQ's Express Software Manager, roughly $50 a seat, which has the advantage of being officially endorsed by the Software Publishing Association as its recommended anti-piracy software.
  • Ec364 suggests Track-It! from BlueOcean Software. For $995, you get a multi-user pack that works with all versions of Windows and includes Audit licenses for up to 100 PCs.
  • Just want to replace that worksheet with a canned database application? Kc suggests Software Tracker v2.1, for a mere $16.95, from Duck Software.
  • And if even that is too much for this year's budget, download a free version of Attest Systems' GASP from the BSA Freeware page. The BSA version is free for auditing up to 100 systems for up to 60 days, after which you need to pony up $649 for a 20-user license. Thanks to image for the tip.

3. Get your users under control. Although TechRepublic members suggested a variety of ways to lock down user machines, the most practical advice came from timgray: "Your users will install software without your knowledge, even if you have sent countless memos about firing, floggings, or public humiliation if the employees install software. First, install Windows NT or switch to a UNIX platform. You need an operating system that will let you 'lock out' everything but what the user needs to get their job done. Next, run monthly audits. Do blanket delete sessions on user directories. Notify them that if it isn't an accepted file type, it will get erased, deleted, trashed forever. Finally, never be stingy on software. If Dan from marketing asks for Photoshop 5.5, BUY IT! Don't hem and haw about a measly $500 program."

That's first-rate advice. Thanks (and 500 TechPoints) to all who contributed to this week's Challenge.

Here's Ed's new Challenge
A reader tells me he's ready to ditch his 6-GB IDE drive in favor of a screaming 18-GB SCSI drive. But he doesn't want to go through the hassle of reinstalling Windows 2000 and all his software and customizations. What's the best way to move everything from his old drive to his new one so he can resume working without missing a beat? If a third-party utility is the answer, make sure it's compatible with Windows 2000. I'll award a total of 1,500 TechPoints for the most elegant solutions. Click here to tackle this week's Microsoft Challenge.

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