Electronic software distribution is where licensing is going

But you'd better get used to it. ESD is the shape of things to come, and if you buy
software for the government, you're going to have to incorporate ESD into your buying
plans fairly soon.


With electronic software distribution, you buy a license, then download the software
over the Internet. This is more than just a way to make sure you get the absolutely latest
versions of whatever you buy. It's also a way to shift much of the software administrative
burden away from your office and back to the software publishers and their distribution
channels.


ESD tracks licenses and manages software assets without a lot of paperwork for your LAN
managers.


The Defense Logistics Agency recently made a ground-breaking agreement with Microsoft
Corp.'s channel partner, CyberSource Corp. of San Jose, Calif., to license up to $50
million worth of software this way over the next five years.


Kendall Fargo, CyberSource director of sales and marketing, said a variety of programs
will be available, from the Microsoft Office suite to Windows NT Server. All the software
will be downloadable from the Internet via a World Wide Web interface.


DLA will keep copies of the software on local cache servers to speed the distribution.
DLA LAN managers who want a program will visit an internal Web page that lists available
software. When one of them sends a download request, the DLA server will return what Fargo
called a challenge, basically a key request.


The LAN manager will enter a password, which will be encrypted along with the challenge
and sent back to the server. To make sure what's stored locally is the latest version, the
DLA server will first check with CyberSource's servers.


If a later version is available, it will get the newer copy. Then the LAN manager can
download the programs, compressed and encrypted to protect DLA against the spread of
viruses.


Public affairs officer Arthur Bailey said DLA will save through faster and more
efficient distribution, less downtime for users, and less reliance on a help desk for
software and installation glitches.


Bailey said ESD reduces the total cost of ownership for software because DLA makes only
one distribution that any authorized employee can tap. If users of one version of
Microsoft Word find they can't exchange files with people using a later version, they can
get an upgrade right away.


CyberSource claims the DLA savings could be several million dollars. Bailey said it's
tough to measure exactly.


You can look into CyberSource's regular online software sales at http://www.software.com. Other online software
distribution sources are Internet Shopping Network at http://www.internet.net and AtOnce Software at http://www.atoncesoftware.com.


Companies that help organizations line up online distribution systems include LitleNet
LLC of Lowell, Mass., and Release Software Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif.


Although most agencies won't need an arrangement as elaborate as DLA's, they will need
to trade customer and transaction information with potential electronic software
providers. Several companies are creating common electronic data interchange definitions
that would streamline such buying and management services.


As ESD evolves, expect some growing pains. One problem is bandwidth. Even if you have a
high-speed connection, moving a 22M chunk of applications takes a good chunk of time. Then
there's the problem of what to do with your current software.


Last fall, the Software Publishers Association released a proposed set of policies and
procedures for publishers, distributors, resellers and customers interested in ESD. You
can find it and other ESD documents at http://www.spa.org/sigs/internet/esd.htm.
It sets guidelines for software disposition, including statements on destruction.


If you're interested only in the asset management portion of ESD, there are companies
that specialize in that. Check out Commerce Direct International Inc. at http://www.cdi.net. The Seattle company offers encryption,
wrapper and transport technology that's used by resellers.


Or visit BitSource Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., at http://www.bitsource.com/. Its SmartShelf lets
managers create what-if scenarios before they buy electronically


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
GCN's parent, Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.
 


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