JetBrains Change Ignites Debate Regarding Mandatory Subscription Licensing

| by Jeff Martin Follow 16 Followers on Sep 09, 2015. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

September 19, 2015 - Update:  JetBrains has announced the new terms.

September 17, 2015 - Update:  JetBrains has yet to elaborate on revisions to this plan that they announced were coming on September 8.  InfoQ will provide coverage of the changes (if any), when they occur. 

JetBrains has sparked massive debate in the developer community over their announced changes to their product licensing for all of their primary developer tools, including IntelliJ and ReSharper.  Starting November 2, perpetual product licenses will be replaced by a subscription based service that is called JetBrains Toolbox.  This Toolbox will be available via either monthly or annual subscription terms.  Customers are able to choose which products are part of their Toolbox and are charged accordingly.

JetBrains states that this change will address (undisclosed) feedback that they have received on their current pricing model, and be “simpler and easier to understand” while “[providing] a more flexible model for everyone…”.  The new licensing terms will apply to IntelliJ IDEA, AppCode, CLion, PhpStorm, PyCharm, RubyMine, WebStorm, ReSharper, ReSharper C++, dotTrace, dotCover, and dotMemory.  The all-inclusive price (subject to change) is currently listed as $19.90/month for an individual developer and as high as $39.90/month per developer for “companies/organizations”.

Immediately upon announcing these changes, many developers have taken to protest and criticize the decision.  Rather than have choice as to when to make a purchase, a regular payment stream to JetBrains will be established.  No longer will the JetBrains tools be “owned”, they are only going to be “rented”, and when payments stop it is no longer to be used.  Developer Daniel Yankowsky observes that his concerns are not just licensing changes, but also includes the fact that the new software licensing requires “that the software will need to phone home… [at least once] every 30 days”. 

Reddit user “slccsoccer2” summarizes his opposition to the new model by writing:

“Jetbrains has historically added significant value to their product year over year and made the purchase of new versions worthwhile. I'm worried that this is a step towards Jetbrains focusing on subscribing customers to aging products rather than improving their offerings.” 

Reddit user “mike_hearn” comments that:

“Subscription revenue kills the incentives to improve the software.

When your customers are paying you for the exact same thing they already have, even with the best of intentions the temptation to reallocate the subscription revenue to other products will become irresistible. After all, money spent on developing new features and bug fixes for existing subscribers barely changes revenue at all. Money spent on making new products to sell to new markets increases the subscriber base and increases total revenue.”

In an update to their original announcement made September 8, JetBrains says that all pricing and conditions are still subject to change.  Further, they say that the outpouring of user comments are “not falling on deaf ears”.  However no details have been provided as to what changes will be made or if the company will reverse their plans to abandon the current licensing structure.

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