by Paul Stephens
Paul Stephens takes a sideways look at the world of IT.
HardCopy Issue: 68 | Published: February 26, 2016
It’s subscription-only, Jim, but not as we know it
Short Cuts’ favourite indie software vendor, Prague-based tools supplier JetBrains, has made a name for itself as the most agile of the agile, pumping out a stream of updates and new releases at a rate that makes even the most nimble-footed competitor look positively lethargic. Recently, however, it’s had to be agile in a slightly different way, as it’s backtracked from a move to subscription-only pricing to a position that’s still, technically, subscription-only pricing, but looks remarkably like the old licensing model too.
The fun began back in September last year, when JetBrains announced that its client-side tools, including the IntelliJ IDEA Java IDE and ReSharper refactoring tool, would henceforth be lumped (sorry, consolidated) together under the suite-like title of ‘Toolbox’, and sold only by monthly subscription, meaning that you’d have to keep paying forever if you wanted to be in a position to fix that hitherto undiscovered bug in three years’ time.
So far so Adobe Creative Cloud, but unlike Adobe’s customer base of trendy, largely Apple-using (and thus price-insensitive) media types, JetBrains’ lot were no-nonsense, price-sensitive Windows developers, and they didn’t like it. Comments on the company’s website ranged from the moderate “I want to own products, not rent products” to the less moderate “your stolen subscription model is a really sh**ty idea.” Clearly it was time for a rethink.
Quicker than you could say “Continuous Development Cycle”, JetBrains CEO Maxim Shafirov was back online, apologising for having failed to properly account for customers’ feelings and explaining why the company needed to move on from the old model of a higher entry cost then paying for upgrades. He then announced a series of changes to the new subscription model, including heavy discounts for the second and subsequent years and a ‘perpetual fallback licence’, operative after a year’s subs had been paid, which allows customers to keep using the version they originally received (which is updated annually) even if they’ve stopped paying their subs. All of which sounds remarkably like a higher entry cost, and ‘owning’ a perpetually-useable product in return, and then paying for upgrades; although of course it isn’t, because this is a subscription-only pricing model. Now that’s what we call an agile development.
Ear ear for Jenkins
Here at Short Cuts we like to keep up with key technologies, but we have to admit to having previously overlooked one that popped up in this issue’s News, sporting an unfamiliar, yet strangely familiar, name. We’re talking, of course, of the Jenkins Plugin.
To anyone who passed through the UK education system prior to 1995, the name ‘Jenkins’ is associated, inextricably, with the War of Jenkins Ear, a dust-up between Britain and Spain that ran from 1739 to 1748 and began after Spanish coastguards relieved Captain Robert Jenkins, an early Costa del Crime expat, of his left aural appendage (the ear was famously brandished in the British Parliament to help stir up pro-war sentiment). The story of the Jenkins Plugin (or, more pertinently, the Jenkins CI Server) is less bloody, although it does contain some conflict, as well as some familiar players.
Jenkins began life in 2004 as Hudson, developed by Kohsuke Kawaguchi, who wanted to smooth the Extreme Programming practice of Continuous Integration, in which source merges and software builds are performed several times a day. Kawaguchi wanted Hudson to be open source and free to use, which meant there was only one place he could develop it while also paying the rent – Sun Microsystems, then run by self-styled community software guru and one time Short Cuts Favourite CEO Jonathan ‘Dolphins’ Schwartz.
All went swimmingly until Sun’s takeover by self-styled non-community software gurus Oracle in 2010, which left Schwartzy without a role, and Hudson (plus a few other open source projects, not least MySQL) facing an uncertain future. Alarmed by plans to trademark the Hudson name, the developer community forked off with a copy of the source, and Jenkins was born. The two sides remained in a War of Jenkins Plugin until Oracle threw in the towel and donated the remnants of Hudson to the Eclipse Foundation in 2012.
Short Cuts doesn’t actually approve of Continuous Integration, since we hold it responsible for the never-ending stream of minor and often regressive app updates that plague our devices on a daily basis. In fact we’re considering one of those online petitions that would lead to a law forcing all software to be distributed on CD in a shrink-wrapped box with a printed manual, and updated at intervals of not less than two years, a move which we think would focus the minds of developers in a wholly positive way. Still, it was nice to be reminded of the days when Schwartzy strode the software stage like an open-source Colossus, albeit one funded by fast-diminishing revenues from SPARCstation hardware.