New Licensing Engine in SuperLab 4.5

December 4, 2010

The just released SuperLab 4.5 includes a new licensing engine that we have spent a significant amount of time to develop. There is little doubt that some sort of license control is needed in order to prevent abuse, as proven with SuperLab 2’s laid-back licensing — one wildly popular single user license found its way into dozens of computers across three continents!

Once Upon A Time 

We ruled out the use of a hardware dongle for being too inconvenient. Instead, the third party licensing engine introduced with SuperLab 4.0 behaved like a software dongle: you could activate and deactivate SuperLab at any time by connecting to a server on the Internet. For this to work, the licensing software has to store a file somewhere on your computer that neither you, the user, can find, nor can the operating system see it and back it up.

In practice, this didn’t work out entirely as planned. The manufacturer stated that the hidden license file could survive a disk reformatting, but we estimated only a quarter of them did. This was a big problem for IT folks who had to reformat a lab’s computers on a regular basis. Also, the manufacturer never delivered a reliable Mac version.

The Visibility Shall Set You Free 

A couple of years ago, we realized that we needed a replacement licensing engine and decided to build our own, one that doesn’t penalize legitimate users. We came to the conclusion that most problems would go away if the license file was not hidden. Yes, this means that a user would not be able to deactivate a computer, but we could work around that. Here are some of the problems that are now resolved:

  • You can backup the license file and restore it
  • IT staff can now “ghost” a drive
  • Replacing a crashed disk on the same computer is no longer a problem; our server can heuristically tell that it’s the same computer and will restore the license file for you

While At It…

…then why not add features that SuperLab users would appreciate? E.g., a number of professors told us that they would like students to be able to use SuperLab at home, but have run into problems because students would more often than not forget to deactivate the license on their computer when done. So we added leasing; this allows you, directly from within SuperLab, to let others use the program for a specified amount of time:

When the leases expire, they are automatically returned to your available pool of licenses and are ready for re-use. Nifty! Also nifty is the fact that you won’t care if you are issuing a lease to a Mac user or a Windows user: licenses are now fully cross-platform.

We also added a few other features:

  • Activate a computer on a temporary basis. Leases are for others; a temporary activation is for you.
  • Why deal with numeric license keys?  With our new licensing engine, you provide your own email and password and then forget the license key.
  • Provide a short description of the computer that you’re activating, e.g. “Home”, “Lab30″, or anything you like.
  • See your own license activity from within SuperLab

How about no longer being able to deactivate a computer? For single license users, SuperLab now grants three activations. The license still requires that SuperLab be used by one person at any one time (for a given license), but you can now install it at home and at your office and not worry about losing a dongle or activation file. Combined with the judicious use of temporary activations, this should solve nearly all problems.

The Buck Stops Here 

Another big reason we decided to develop our own in-house licensing engine is to take charge: we got tired of having an unreliable partner who was not interested in fixing problems in their licensing system.

From now on, if a problem arises due to licensing, we can actually help you. We will help you. We have written all of the code on the SuperLab side, as well as the backend server, which has been up and running reliably for over a year now. We built a website for users who don’t have Internet access on the computer that they want to activate. We even developed Admin App, a program for in-house use that would give me and my team the best possible tool to assist you should a problem arise:

I welcome your feedback.

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