2 October 2011

The update cycle and lifetime licences

(See also: List of FAQs organised by topic)

  • Major Updates vs Minor Updates

    (Not to be confused with Stable vs Beta updates, which is covered separately.)

    Put simply, 'major updates' are when the first part of the version number changes and 'minor updates' are all the others in-between.

    All of the 9.x.x.x updates are considered to be part of the same 'major version', i.e. 'Directory Opus 9'.

    Similarly, all of the 10.x.x.x updates are part of a different 'major version', i.e. 'Directory Opus 10'.

    These terms and conventions are not absolute and aren't used by all programs. For example, Chrome and Firefox don't assign much meaning to their major version numbers and will bump them for fairly minor updates. Similarly, while one 'minor' Opus update may only contain a handful of changes, another may contain so many that it would qualify as a 'major' update for many other products.

  • Lifetime Licences vs Lifetime Update Licences

    When you buy Directory Opus you get a lifetime licence to use the current major version (e.g. 'Directory Opus 10'). All updates released for the same major version are yours for free and you can keep using them forever.

    There are typically three or four years between each major version change. (See below for a detailed look at that.)

    When a new major version is released you are given the option of buying it for an upgrade fee. (You may also qualify for a free upgrade. The time window varies but, as an example, people were given free upgrades if they bought Opus 9 within four months of Opus 10's release.)

    If you choose to buy the upgrade then you can use the new major version, and any updates released for it, forever.

    If you decide not to buy the upgrade then you can ignore it and continue using your existing version forever. (You can also change your mind and buy the upgrade later, of course.)

    So, buying Opus gives you a lifetime licence and (typically) a lot of free updates over a long period of time, but it does not entitle you to free updates forever.

    (Obviously, the 'lifetime licence' is subject to the conditions of the licence agreement. Your licence may become void if you share your registration details with half the Internet or anything silly like that.)

  • Update Size and Frequency

    If you look at the history of Directory Opus, people were only asked to pay for major updates every three to four years. (Most recently: 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2011. As an aside, the price of Opus has remained fixed over that decade, although the foreign-exchange rate has fluctuated.)

    In the years between major updates, many minor updates were given away for free. Although they are called 'minor' updates, those free updates weren't just occasional bug-fixes; some of them added significant features & improvements.

    Many companies charge money (often once a year, like clockwork) for 'major' updates with fewer improvements than you get with the free 'minor' Opus updates. Those companies would not even think of producing an update as big as a 'major' Opus update.

    A lot of work goes into the free updates while effort towards the next major version ramps up slowly in the background. Major updates are not released according to the calendar; they are worked on until it is felt they are worth asking money for. Of course, if a major update is released and you don't think it's worth the asking price then you can skip it and continue using the version you already have.

    As a guide, the list below shows the complete update cycle from Opus 9 to Opus 10, plus the Opus 10 updates to the time of writing. Each version links to a change-log so you can see how big or small it was.

    Directory Opus 9 consisted of fifty updates over four years. Free updates added hundreds of improvements and features, including a native 64-bit version (Opus 9.1 in Dec 2007) and Windows 7 support (Opus 9.5 in Oct 2009).

    In the list below, all of the updates were free except for the two major updates in bold.

  • Why not Lifetime Updates?

    You get a lot of free updates with Opus, and you get to use whatever you buy forever without having to pay again, but you don't get free updates forever. Why not?

    The short answer is that a lot of full-time work gets put into Opus and the people who do that work need to earn a living so they can keep doing it.

    Of course, some programs do give you free updates forever. How can this be? If you look at those programs they almost all fall into these groups:

    1. Programs which never get significant updates.

      It's very easy to promise to give you nothing forever for free. :) If you look at the update history of many programs in this camp, you'll get more improvements and better support from a single Opus update cycle than you will get from the other program in a lifetime. In this case, what are you really gaining from the lifetime updates deal? It often just makes it official that there will never be an update worth paying for.

      That isn't to say the programs in this group are bad. Some tools focus on one particular task and do it well without much scope for improvement or need to adapt to changes in Windows or other things they may interact with. We all use (and some of us have written) tools like that, but Opus does not really fit into this group. (If you disagree, you are free to buy the current version of Opus and use it forever!)

    2. Programs where the lifetime updates option costs several times the normal upgrade fee.

      For programs that do have significant ongoing effort put into them, there is usually a hefty premium on the "lifetime updates" option.

      Effectively, you have to pay for several major updates in advance to get the rest for free. You're being asked to pay for future versions before you know what is in them and when -- or even if -- they will actually come out. You will only save money over a very long period, and only if the developers keep making the program and you keep choosing to use it. If development stalls or something better comes along, you could effectively lose money instead of saving it. Even if everything goes well, the amount you'll potentially save is negligible given the length of time and risk involved. Put simply, there are better ways to invest your money.

      A similar option could be offered for Opus but, quite frankly, it does not seem worthwhile. It seems to give questionable value to the user while diminishing the developer's incentive to create updates that are worth buying.

    3. Lifetime update licences that don't actually last a lifetime.

      There are cases where lifetime update licences were sold for products which were then discontinued, only to be replaced by very similar products with different names. People's lifetime update entitlements became worthless because they didn't qualify for the new product and no further updates were released for the old one. Some cases might be "bait and switch" scams while others may just be the result of well-meaning people trying to offer lifetime updates, because it's a nice thing to do, but then ending up without enough income to fund future development. One is worse than the other but neither is good.

      There are also cases where companies used to offer free lifetime updates early in a product's life but circumstances changed such that it no longer made sense to offer the same deal to new customers. (Perhaps the initial deal was to help promote a new product, or the project started as a spare-time hobby but became successful enough to grow into a full-time job.) Those cases are fair enough, provided the existing agreements are honoured, but also irrelevant to Opus since Opus is a well established product with several people working on it full-time.

    4. Completely free software.

      Of course, it would be wrong not to mention free (as in beer) software, which obviously gives you free lifetime updates.

      A lot of free software falls into the first group, with updates restricted to modest changes made by people in their spare time. There are some Windows file managers in this camp but if you think they are good enough then you wouldn't even be considering Directory Opus.

      At least when it comes to polished Windows software, the free software that receives significant, full-time support and development usually has corporate sponsorship behind it, paying for the work to be done one way or another. Unfortunately, nobody has shown interest in acting as a sugar daddy for the development of Windows file managers, so this group is not relevant to Opus.

    There are always exceptions and the groups above don't cover absolutely everything, of course. (e.g. Services funded by advertising where you are the product, not the customer.) But let's be clear: Unless someone wins the lottery, it is a fantasy to expect the amount of time & effort that goes into Opus to be done indefinitely for free. In what other profession would it even be reasonable to ask for that? If you don't appreciate that time & effort, and the multiple years of free updates & support you get with each major version of Opus, then you can choose to use another file manager or to buy Opus but never upgrade it. Presumably you do appreciate the effort or else you would not be here. :)