Despite the Move, Perpetual Licenses for Software Suites Will Remain Available for Some Period of Time

Autodesk will end sales of perpetual licenses for its standalone software products effective February 1, 2016. That's right — the company is giving customers a full year to get used to the idea of perpetual software licenses going away. It's the first phase of the company's previously announced gradual transition to subscription-only software.

The move applies to all individual Autodesk products in the media and entertainment market with the exception of Flame, which the company told us will remain available under its current model due to the product's hardware component. The Entertainment Creation Suite, which features Maya and/or 3ds Max alongside MotionBuilder and Mudbox, will remain available under a perpetual license for a period of time. But standalone products will be available only through desktop subscriptions, and new products will be available only as desktop or cloud subscriptions. (Autodesk's announcement last year that Smoke would become exclusively a desktop subscription product turns out to have been a harbinger for the rest of the company's line-up.)

Autodesk has posted an FAQ on the transition at its website.

Easing Into It
Aware of the general resistance to subscription-only software licensing in some corners of the industry, Autodesk is treading cautiously but deliberately. "We will partner with customers through this transition," Autodesk Senior VP of Industry Strategy and Marketing Andrew Anagnost told StudioDaily, clearly contrasting Autodesk's approach with that of Adobe. "We've seen other people do things like this. We don't like the way other people have done these things."

For one thing, if you have a perpetual software license with a maintenance subscription, nothing will change as long as you stay on that maintenance subscription plan. Users with perpetual licenses will receive benefits, including software upgrades, as long as their maintenance subscriptions are active. However, multi-year maintenance subscription discounts will be discontinued. If you don't renew your maintenance subscription, you will be able to keep using the upgraded software under your existing perpetual license — but you'll need to purchase a standard desktop subscription in order to get back on the upgrade train later. (Education customers will not be affected; educational licenses will remain free.) 

The company also plans to introduce more flexible terms over the next six to 12 months, including the ability to purchase monthly subscriptions through its channel partners. And, starting next month, multi-year desktop subscriptions will be available. Customers won't get discounts with a multi-year subscription, but they will lock in their rate for a given product. "It costs a little more than a full seat," Anagnost said. "However, they have access to that seat for three years, and they get continually updated. These multi-year desktop subscriptions are going to be very popular with customers who were buying [software updates] infrequently from Autodesk."

Anagnost also noted that some customers see business benefits, even if their chosen plan isn't necessarily the least expensive option. "The monthly plan costs more than the annual plan, and we saw some people staying on the monthly plan for 13, 14, or 15 months," he explained. "They said, 'This is just better for me. I can decide, based on the projects that come in, whether to renew, and I can bill [the fees] directly to each client."

On the software side, Anagnost promised more seamless integration and management options, especially for companies with larger installations that can be more easily updated. Software updates will come in smaller packages, but will be more frequent, with no need to follow an annual upgrade cycle. And new products and cloud-based services that may be introduced can be added to an Autodesk workflow on a pay-as-you-go basis, rather than purchased up front.

Disruptive Technology
The decision to discontinue perpetual licenses was made as Autodesk realized how important cloud-based software distribution and maintenance was becoming to the industry as a whole. "The software industry is seeing a disruption of the same magnitude as when we moved from mainframes to PCs," Anagnost said. "The cloud is the mainframe-to-PC disruption of this era, and it's causing all software companies to reevaluate how they deliver and build software. If you're not a cloud company in five years, you're not a software company in five years. That's our view at Autodesk. And we've responded to this disruption and made it integral to how we do business."

Asked why Autodesk couldn't market cloud-connected subscription versions of its software while still offering old-school perpetual software licenses for customers who opted out of those cloud capabilities, Anagnost said it was a question of strategy and resources. "If you believe that customer buying patterns and environments are changing dramatically in the future, and if you believe that software companies are changing in the future and that the strong companies are going to be cloud companies, you commit yourself to the future and you move forward with all your development efforts and you don't try to dance between two worlds," he said. "If we want to be there for our customers and provide the advancements they need, we have to completely shift over to the new model. We would be wasting money that we should be using to deliver capabilities to our customers in order to develop two models when we know one is not going to be viable five years out."