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There is a software product I use that has a professional version, which costs money, and a community version, which is free and less capable. Also, the end user agreement for the community version restricts use to individuals and non-profits. This program is written specifically for the type of work I do and is very powerful. I've tried several alternatives, and they all seem to fall into one of two categories: 1) Powerful, but general purpose and somewhat clumsy to customize to my needs. 2) Customized to the type of work I do, but not very powerful.

When my boss was transitioning into management, he split his time between task duties and supervising. During that time he purchased a 5 user license of the software described above. By the time that license expired, he had been become a full time manager and the other people who used the software had moved on to other tasks (or out of the organization), leaving me as the only user of that software in our organization. So, the boss decided that he would not pay for the license any more. When I said I wanted to continue using the program, he told me to use the community version.

However, I feel guilty using the community version and concerned about the possible legal ramifications for me if the vendor should decide to pursue legal action. I do not report the violation, since it would be easy to determine who made that report, and I would surely be out of a job.

A one year license is a few hundred U.S. dollars. What might I do to persuade him to spend the money on a professional license?

18

Your boss gave you the option of using the community version (not legal) or a different piece of software (less efficient). By making it your choice, he's avoiding responsibility. However, that also means you need to choose the legal option, even if you are less efficient. Because if comes out, you are the one who will take the fall.

If, after changing to software that doesn't work as well, he asks why you are getting less done or the work doesn't look as well, you can point out that you are using the legal, but less effective software. At that point, it's his choice on whether he wants to buy the software to make you more efficient, or put up with you doing less.

Don't use the software illegally.

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    The boss may not be unaware that the community version is only available to individuals and non profits. The OP should make sure the boss is aware before hand and then use the legal alternative (that way he should be pre-warned that it will take longer). – Martin York Jul 27 '17 at 21:12
  • The q has been re-worked, in case you want to update your answer. – GreenMatt Jul 27 '17 at 21:30
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When I said I wanted to continue using the program, he told me to use the community version or change to a different program. I've tried a few open source alternatives, but nothing seems as good for what I do as the program for which we had a license and I am less effective at getting my work done when I use one of the alternatives.

Assuming you feel strongly about it, defend your point by creating a short feature/benefit analysis/report, and present it to your boss. (A few pages max including an exec summary.)

It should outline how, per your question, you've tried open source alternatives but nothing seems as good, complete with a comparison grid, and raise that there's a genuine legal risk for using the community version - basically, rule it out because of that.

Get your boss's response in writing. (For all you know he or she might order you to use the community version in spite of the risks, in which case you might want to update your CV because you don't want to do anything to do with that.)

FWIW managers tend to worry about costs, so slap numbers on it. Put another way, if you think that you'll likely be 10% less efficient with an open source solution at full proficiency, raise it. 10% of your salary probably offsets a license cost. As does the prospects of fighting a legal battle.

If your boss refuses to renew the license, pick a legal option. By making this short report you'll have more than enough CYA material in case it comes back to haunt you for not performing as well as you normally do, and you'll even be able to justify why you picked one option over another.

If you don't feel strongly about it, pick a legal option as well - but ideally justify it in a short email, for the same CYA reasons. (e.g. "FYI I've opted for X because Y, Z. But, again, I expect to end up less productive with it than with what we had until now because A, B, C.")

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    Your answer is better than mine. I expect it will move to the top soon. My upvote will help. – thursdaysgeek Jul 27 '17 at 18:39
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    @thursdaysgeek - I think your answer is far superior. This is a bad bad bad idea. except for the last to paragraphs – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 27 '17 at 20:28
  • this is a bad answer. why are you making a report for a question nobody is asking? what a waste of everyone's time. CYA for an employee using software provided by a company? what nonsense. – bharal Jul 27 '17 at 20:53
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    @bharal: I respectfully disagree. If an employee thinks he'll be materially less productive with the new tool, it's common sense and in the interest of the company that he actually makes that case. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 28 '17 at 8:26
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    @bharal I don't think so. It's might be that the manager is not asking these questions, but they will be soon. The community version is also inferior to the paid one, so both options will make them less productive. Raising that issue with the manager and helping the manager make a decision based on actual numbers instead of gut feeling is very valuable. It shows that the employee has maturity, knows how businesses work and doesn't just do that because they feel familiar to the program they want. It shows they think about the company, not just about themselves. – simbabque Jul 28 '17 at 8:28
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The way I see it you have a few options:

  • If it's important enough, you can consider buying the software for yourself and use it at work (only at work since it's a single license). This may be prohibitive depending on the cost but this is what I do with some programs that I want to use at work. To me, it's much less of a hassle to just buy the utilities I need than to argue with a manager. (My tools are not terribly expensive, though.) The tool will stay yours when you leave this company. You may be able to talk to the distributor and explain your situation and may get a discounted price.

  • Switch to a different program and put up with the differences. I understand that this is not very appealing but it may / may not be as bad as you think after a few days.

  • Sit down with your manager and explain that you can do without the tool but it'll be less efficient. Also explain that you think it's wrong to violate the free edition's license terms. This may or may not convice your manager. Factually pointing out how much more efficient you are with the old tool may be a good argument.

  • Stop using the tool altogether and be less efficient. You'll have to explain it after the fact that you're now less efficient because the tool you're familiar with is no longer available. This may be seen as a passive-agressive approach so be careful with this.

  • You can keep using the community edition which will technically work but is not legal and/or ethical. The chances of getting found out about it are not very high but you'll have to make the call of putting up with it or not.

  • If OP goes for your first option, they should look into whether they can write it off on their taxes (obviously this depends on where they live). – BSMP Jul 27 '17 at 18:34
  • @BSMP Yes, that's correct. Where I live, I cannot do that but I still get my own tools when I have specific preferences - it's just easier that way. On one occasion I explained to one of the company founders that I'd get Office (which was not approved) because I don't like Google Docs and he told me not to worry about it - if I really felt that strongly about it, the company would buy it for me (and it did). – xxbbcc Jul 27 '17 at 18:41
  • The q has been re-worked, in case you want to update your answer. – GreenMatt Jul 27 '17 at 21:29
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    @GreenMatt Thank you, I'll keep my answer as is. I think the same options still apply. If I decided to keep using the community edition (legal or not), I wouldn't report the company for that. – xxbbcc Jul 27 '17 at 21:35
  • In some countries, you are not allowed to use personal licences that you own in a professional setting when you're an employee. In Germany for example that's tricky. It depends on the exact licence and the company's policy, and most probably tax law. While bringing your own knifes as a chef is common, and BYOD is starting to be more common (though has security aspects), bring your own software has not really taken off, and there are no proper legal boundaries implemented for it here. – simbabque Jul 28 '17 at 8:31
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You, as an individual employee is not responsible for any potential legal matters, it's simply not your problem. Furthermore, nobody knows you use the community version for profits, so it's fine. Go ahead with the community version if this is sufficient for you.

Few hundred dollars per year isn't very expensive for a business. You could ask the costs deducted from your salary. Once your boss (using your salary) buys a professional license, you could share it on a virtual machine for yourself and your colleagues. Remotely connect to the virtual machine from your computer.

Talk to your boss and aim for only a single license copy. This is a win-win, you get to use better software and your boss wouldn't need to adjust her budget.

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