Confusion Over QuickBooks Software Licensing and Concurrency

con·cur·rent/kənˈkərənt/

Adjective: Existing, happening, or done at the same time

The use of the term “concurrent” when it comes to network, application and data licensing and access metering is applied with some fluidity, with the essential meaning being consistent, but the method of applying it varying greatly and sometimes dynamically.  The unfortunate reality is that not all software products or platforms measure or meter concurrency in the same way.  Concurrency – how it is defined and applied to your selected products – may greatly impact the cost of using the product.

To illustrate the confusion which exists in the market regarding software licensing and concurrency, I’ll use Intuit QuickBooks desktop edition as an example.  There is a lot of confusion over QuickBooks software licensing and concurrency. The Intuit QuickBooks desktop product has a licensing model which confuses a lot of people.  When the software has limitations built in, such as an inability to install the product on more than the authorized number of computers, or if the software electronically validates or activates itself to prevent unauthorized installation or use, the consumer seems to have a bit of an easier time conforming to the license language.  However, products such as QuickBooks have evolved in a market where consumer demands sometimes outweigh reasonable enforcement efforts, so the product may allow you to technically do something that you really shouldn’t do – like install and use it on a bunch of computers without the appropriate licensing to support that activity.

In the world of QuickBooks, there is a concurrency metering element which exists, but it depends quite a lot on user behavior and the existence of the QuickBooks database manager.  For example, a single copy of QuickBooks installed on a PC will allow that user to open the program and then also open a company data file.  In order for the data file to be opened at the same time (concurrently) by more than one user, the file must be in multi-user mode, which is a capability created by using the QuickBooks database manager.  When two QuickBooks licenses (either two single-user licenses, or a two-user license) attempt to open the same data file at the same time, the QuickBooks database manager allows it.  However, if two computers running the same license number for QuickBooks attempt to open the data file at the same time, the database manager will recognize that there is only a single license involved and will not allow both stations to access the file at the same time, remaining in single-user mode.  Only when the database manager recognizes more than one eligible software key (either multiple individual keys or keys aggregated as multi-user) will it allow the data file to be opened in multi-user, or concurrent user, mode.

The problem with QuickBooks metering is that it relates largely to the data file, and not the program.  In a situation where users require only single-user access to QuickBooks company data files, use of the database manager is not required, introducing a potential for unlicensed users operating in a concurrent application use mode.  The reality is that the QuickBooks program won’t generally prevent installation on multiple computers, or installation in a remote desktop environment.  Installing the product into these situations allows granting access to the program for multiple users easily.

In many environments, administrators consider access to the QuickBooks program to be a concurrent access license, meaning that as long as they have no more active users than what they are licensed for, they are in conformance of the license.  This is not the case.  A 3-user license of QuickBooks Pro does not allow any 3 concurrent, or simultaneous, users to access the software at any time.  Rather, that 3-user license qualifies only 3 distinct named human beings accessing from 3 specific computers use of the program.  Because the QuickBooks license is a strange combination of a license for a computer device and an individual person, even having two different usernames and users accessing QuickBooks on a single computer (at different times even) requires 2 licenses in order to be in conformity with the EULA.  The number of data files being accessed is irrelevant in terms of product licensing.

Users of QuickBooks desktop products need to fully understand their licensing requirements as they consider moving their service to the cloud and hosting services.  In many cases, the method of using licenses in the local network did not actually conform to licensing requirements of the developer, and all quality service providers will require that you “true up” your use of software in order to not introduce risk to the provider.  For some folks, this means that using QuickBooks just got a lot more expensive, because they were not properly licensing the product before.

There are an awful lot of folks taking liberties with QuickBooks licensing, providing access based on concurrent users rather than named users, or not even licensing users who “view information but don’t really do anything in the software”.   The fact of the matter is that, if you can run the program and open the data file, you need a license.  What you do in the program is irrelevant, in terms of product licensing.

Part of the value proposition of using hosting and cloud services is a more predictable and manageable cost of IT for the business.  Service providers may understand what their service needs to provide, but often don’t know what their quotes are up against in terms of licensing comparisons.  When comparing your cost of local IT versus hosted, make sure you fairly include the REAL cost of software, licensing, and system administration on the local side.  Unless you do, those changes in software licensing may simply reveal other issues you need to address before you can get a believable comparison of in-house versus outsourced service costs.

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