A Brief History of License Management (part 2)

License Management – You Can’t Tell The Players Without a Scorecard

There have been quite a number of players in the License Management Market over the past 18 years. This is the story of some of them.

While there are many kinds of software and hardware solutions which might be called software license management, I want to make it clear that I’m describing license management systems that ISVs build into their software, as distinct from Software Metering products (which, while similar, are voluntarily used by end-users), or any kind of copy protection such as key disks or dongles.

Apollo Computer had the first commercial license manager, the Network License Server, sometime in late 1987. Apollo was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard, the product was renamed NetLS, and shortly after that, it was licensed to Gradient who developed and marketed it through the 1990’s. This product became IBM‘s LUM in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s.

NetLS’s claim to fame was that it used DCE (Distributed Computing Environment), which had the “Global Location Broker”, which allowed a client to find the license server wherever it was on the network. Unfortunately, reports from the field indicated that the Global Location Broker was difficult to configure and unreliable. Most NetLS customers eventually converted to FLEXlm, I believe largely because of the Global Location Broker.

The second commercial license manager was FLEXlm, from a partnership of Highland Software and GLOBEtrotter Software. Highland did a great job of getting FLEXlm adopted early-on, and by the early 1990’s, it became clear that FLEXlm would be the technology of choice among ISVs for Software Licensing. Unfortunately, as the product became successful, there were disagreements between Highland and Globetrotter, which led to the eventual purchase of Highland’s interest in FLEXlm by Globetrotter in Jan, 1994. GLOBEtrotter then continued with the product until Aug 2000, when the company merged with Macrovision Corp. The GLOBEtrotter name disappeared in 2002, and FLEXlm was renamed to FLEXnet Publisher in 2003.

Several companies were able to gain a foothold in the market during the 1990’s. Among these were:

Elan Computer Group had a product called ELM (The Elan License Manager), starting around 1989 or 1990. This was a good product which gained a substantial amount of market penetration (their largest customer was AutoDesk). Elan entered into a partnership with Rainbow Technologies in 1995 to re-sell ELM (under the name SentinelLM), and in 1998, Rainbow purchased Elan.

Another small company was Viman, who later merged with Wyatt River Systems. The Viman product, while less popular than Elan, had some acceptance especially among small EDA companies. Wyatt River was purchased by Rainbow in 1998, and the Wyatt product became the next version of SentinelLM.

Rainbow Technologies was the largest player in the hardware key (dongle) business. Rainbow had a network license manager which they called SentinelLM. They replaced this product with the Elan product in 1995. Then, in 1998, they replaced the Elan product with the Wyatt River product. In 2004, Rainbow was sold to SafeNet, who continue with the SentinelLM product line, now called Sentinel RMS.

Aladdin Knowledge Systems was the #2 dongle manufacturer who released a license management system called Privilege in the late 1990’s.

From about 1989 onward, there were other competitors who appeared, but only the ones listed above were able to gain much of a foothold into the License Management Market. Some of the companies/technologies which appeared during this time, but have since disappeared were:

  • Sun with SunNet License
  • Digital Equipment Corp with PLS
  • Cooper Systems

Of this last group, Digital was perhaps the most noteworthy, having licensed PLS to Microsoft. However, in the end, Microsoft never used the PLS product, Digital was sold to Compaq, and the product disappeared. PLS was the first (and so far, the only) product to put virtually all license policy into the license key itself, removing it from both the application and the license server.

In addition, there were a number of attempts made to standardize one or another part of license management. None of these went very far, either. Among these were:

  • Software License Working Group (late 80’s)
  • LS API (mid-90’s)
  • Unix International (mid 90’s)
  • X/Open (mid 90’s)
  • COSE (late 90’s)

In 2006, I brought several members of the GLOBEtrotter team back together to from Reprise Software, Inc. We developed the Reprise License Manager (RLM), which began shipping in 2006. Our goal was and is to use our experience building and supporting FLEXlm for over 2000 ISVs in order to build a better product.

For part 3 of this article, click here


  1. Matt Christiano says:

    I would say that I’m not the right person to ask. My take on it, though, is that the Open Source community doesn’t have much use for a license manager – it’s sort of an oxymoron.

  2. Harry says:

    Responding to Anonymous and Matt’s response to him/her..
    I can think of a situation where this would make sense (my own situation). I’m in a higher ed org and we need to license, track, report, etc on a vast number of proprietary SW products. Most have their own licensing scheme. It would save us (and the academic community $1000s per campus to have a multi-platform Open Source License manager that could securely wrap ANY executable and subject it to the restrictions we decide. Thus we could enable/disable roaming licenses, allow/deny by IP, domain name, architecture, cluster name, LDAP/AD lookup, GridShib, PKA, etc. Currently we’re using Sassafras, Flexlm, and a few others and none of them work very well. An OSS LM /would/ be useful in this case and also to ISVs b/c they wouldn’t have to license their own DRM SW (but not to the author of this nice blog entry). 🙂

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