Are subscriptions the new dongles?

Back in 1997 QuarkXPress introduced a dongle. A dongle is small piece of hardware that controls the legitimate use of the software. It wasn’t a good idea. Therefore Quark stopped using dongles in 2002.

And legitimate users hated dongles, as didn’t appear to be fair. The main reasons probably were:

  • If your dongle broke or there was any technical issue with the connection, you could not use the software anymore.
  • If you didn’t have the dongle, you were locked out of your work, what you created, what you own. As the software wouldn’t start anymore.
  • If there were technical changes in the environment, e.g. when Macs and PCs changed to USB, you could not use your software anymore.
  • If years later you wanted to access your archive, you probably couldn’t, as there was no way to connect the dongle anymore.
  • If you lost your dongle, years later you could not open your work anymore, as the software vendor didn’t offer new dongles anymore.
  • If you switched machines, you had to take your dongle with you.

Is there a difference between subscriptions and dongles?

A software subscription seems to do have the following issues:

  • If your connection to the internet brakes or your computer has other issues connecting to the subscription server, you cannot use the software anymore.
  • If you do not have the subscription anymore (e.g. as you switched to a better, different product) and you want to access your work (what you created and own), you cannot open the files.
    You are locked out (sure, you could just renew your subscription)
  • If there are price changes in the future, e.g. double the price for the subscription, you are forced to accept. Even if there are no additional features.
  • If years later you want to access your archive, you need to pay the subscription again to open your work.
  • If the software vendor (offering the subscription) decides to discontinue a product, you are locked out of your work and have to learn a new product.
  • If you switch machines, you have to log on to a new machine. If you logged on too many times, you cannot use your software. And probably your EULA says that if you use the software with several people on the same machine, every user needs to have a license.
  • You need to continue to pay, even if the software that you are using is in maintenance mode (and doesn’t get any additional new features).

What do you think: Are software subscriptions today’s dongles?


About the Author
Both an engineer and a layout artist, Matthias Guenther bridges the gap between technology and people. Before joining Quark, Matthias pioneered print, Web, and multimedia products for multiple German publishing companies. Since 1997 he has played a central role in shaping Quark’s desktop and enterprise software. Starting 2003 Matthias has focused on Quark’s interactive and digital publishing solutions. He is an active participant in design and publishing communities and represents Quark in the Ghent PDF Workgroup. Since February 2014 Matthias heads Quark’s Desktop Publishing business unit and is therefore responsible for QuarkXPress.