Site Licensing FAQ

What is a site license?

How do I obtain site-licensed software?

How do I request a new site license?

How do you decide whether to get a new license?

Why should I pay a renewal fee?

How do you contact licensees about new software?

Can students get site-licensed software?

How many computers can I put my license on?

Do I have to be on campus to use my license?

Does the University have public access computers with site-licensed software on it?

How do I obtain pricing for the software that I buy from Site Licensing?

What is a KMS server?

Does software always require a license key?

What is an ISO and how do I burn one?

How do I obtain software not listed here?


What is a site license?

A site license is a way to gain a bulk discount when purchasing many copies of a given piece of software. For example, if you need 100 copies of Software X, it may be cheaper to contact the company which makes Software X directly and get a 100-copy license, than to purchase 100 copies individually over the counter. Broadly speaking, site licenses fall into three categories:

  • Unlimited Licenses: For a set fee, the organization which purchases an Unlimited License of a piece of software can use as many copies of that software as it wants. This is what most people think of as a “site license”, but it's actually uncommon; some companies don't even offer unlimited licenses, and for many of those that do, the cost of the unlimited is often more expensive than just buying outright as many copies as will actually be used. Which brings us to the second category:
  • Bulk Licenses: For a set fee, an organization can use a set number of copies of the software in question. The vast majority of the licenses currently maintained by the Site Licensing Office are bulk licenses, for the simple reason that, for most of the software we license, only 100 or so people are actually interested. A bulk 100-copy license will almost always be cheaper than an unlimited license.
  • Discount Programs: The typical discount program doesn't actually give any software; instead, in exchange for a set fee, the organization gains a substantial discount when making further purchases from the company in question for the period of the license (usually one year). This is probably the most dangerous license financially, since it's very difficult to predict whether enough people will purchase enough software to make that initial fee worthwhile.

Some licenses mix-and-match these types — for example, a license may provide bulk licensing for a limited number of copies of one specific package, but also grant discounts for other software packages from the same company.

The typical site license cuts corners by providing only a few copies of the software media or manuals, and often restricts technical support contacts to a few specific people within the licensing organization. Extra copies of manuals and media, and/or additional support contacts, are an extra charge (or simply not available).

The other variable in site licenses is how often payment is due. That, also, falls into three categories:

  • One-Time Purchase: Under this kind of license, you pay a single fee to obtain the current version of the software. Once this fee is paid, you can continue to use that version of the software forever; however, if you want to upgrade when the next version comes out, you have to purchase the license all over again. Typically, this kind of license either does not include technical support, or else provides it only for a brief period after the site license is initially purchased. This kind of license is relatively uncommon for volume licenses, though it's the standard form for over-the-counter “box product” licenses.
  • Annual Fee: Under this kind of license, you don't really own the software; instead, you're kind of leasing it. You must pay a fee each year to continue using the software; if you don't pay the fee, you can no longer legally use the software. If the license is terminated, someone must sign a document guaranteeing that all copies of that software have been destroyed. Usually this kind of license will provide technical support and software upgrades at no further charge, as long as you’ve paid the fee for that year. This is by far the most common kind of payment structure for site licenses; some companies, such as SAS and SPSS, even go so far as to build a “time bomb” into their software which needs to be re-set each year, thus guaranteeing that if you don’t pay, you can’t use their software any more. The exact amount of the annual fee varies; sometimes the annual fee is less than the initial purchase cost, other times you’re effectively buying the software new each year.
  • Annual Maintenance: This kind of license acts as a one-time purchase with free technical support for a limited period of time (usually one year). After that time, you can choose to maintain the software. The maintenance fee is generally less than the initial cost of the license, and provides technical support and software upgrades for the next year. If you don’t maintain, you can continue to use the current version of the software indefinitely; you just won’t be able to upgrade or have access to technical support. Typically, if you go for a year without paying a maintenance fee, and then want to upgrade in the following year, you’ll have to purchase a new license — which is usually much more expensive than the year's maintenance you skipped.

How do I obtain site-licensed software?

The Site Licensing website provides lists of software available to studentsfaculty/staff, and departments, including costs. Orders can be placed via BuySite, using IT Services Site Licensing as a non-catalog vendor; or using an Interdepartmental Order Form 62 (DP), sent via Faculty Exchange to IT Services Site Licensing (6019 S. Kimbark - Atten: Brian Pearson). Please include the name and email address of a contact person as a Note to Supplier in Buysite, or written on the Form 62. Some packages may require more information — for example, the operating system you need (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux,...) or the hostname of the machine you will be installing the software on. The software lists note such information where relevant.

Once we have received payment, we will contact you about obtaining the software. Much of the software we have available can be downloaded from our webserver; if you are requesting this kind of software, and you include an email address, we will send you information on how to download it. If you need media for installation, there will be an additional charge and the software lists note such information where relevant.

How do I request a new site license?

If you are subscribed to the licensing-core mailing list, you can send mail there suggesting a new license. Other subscribers may respond, and you can get a general idea of how much interest there actually is; additionally, we in the Site Licensing Office read the list, and will sometimes be able to provide information about what such a site license would look like (or information as to whether such a license exists somewhere else on campus).

You may also contact us at Site Licensing directly via email to licensing@uchicago.edu. We can then investigate the possibilities of the license, and make inquiries with the licensing-core mailing list and other possibly interested people, as well.

If the license seems tenable, we will initiate proceedings to start it. If not, we will be forced to say “No”.

Two things to note:

  • You are not required to go through the Site Licensing Office. If you wish to pursue your own site license for a piece of software we do not currently license, you can; you’ll have to handle all the paperwork and legal details yourself, of course, but you’re quite welcome to do so. We do request that you let us know when you start some sort of site license; if two or three separate departments have created site licenses for the same product, it may be possible for us to consolidate them and save everyone money, as well as making the software available to other departments. But that's only possible if we know you have the license, so… Please note that we will not direct other users towards your license unless you request that we do so.
  • Putting together a new license takes a long time. Typically, it takes a month or so just to make sure of the interest level — people just don’t respond that quickly. Once we’re sure of the interest level, we'll announce a price; however, since we (quite literally) have no budget, we can't actually order the license until we've collected enough money to pay for it — which can take another two or three months, sometimes, if people procrastinate in sending us DPs. And running through this somewhere is contract negotiations and approval from Procurement, which we really have no power over whatsoever, and can take anywhere from two weeks to several months. In general, you should figure on at least two weeks to a month after you request a new license before we can really even say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and another three months or so before the license actually takes effect.

How do you decide whether to get a new license?

In deciding whether to approve a new license, we in the Site Licensing Office primarily look at the license’s real cost. Based on the feedback people give us about the license, we make an estimate of how many people will actually be using the software. We then divide the cost of the license by that number of people, and compare the result to how much it would cost to purchase the software outright, at standard academic prices. If there isn’t a significant savings, we won’t get the license. (“Significant savings” is more a number than a percentage; saving $50 isn’t worth it, saving $1,000 is.)

For example: Suppose a 100-copy license of Software X costs $10,000. Regular academic price of this software is $1,000 per copy, so on the surface this is a good deal. However, if only ten people are interested, there’s actually no money saved over those ten people buying it themselves. If fewer than 10 people are interested, the University as a whole will lose money. However, if our initial probe makes it seem likely that 15 people are interested, we’ll probably get the license, charging $10,000/15 ~ $670 each; a savings of $330 per license, ~$5,000 total, is well worth it. (This assumes, of course, that the 15 people in question are willing to pay $670 for the software; if they aren’t, then that could mean the license won't go through.)

We also examine the administrative overhead; a license which is going to require a great deal of time and effort to maintain is expected to save more money than one which consists of just signing a contract and distributing software. (To give a real-world example, at one time getting the best pricing on a Lotus Notes site license required three dedicated contacts, each running a Lotus Notes server, who had to report on the status of the license every business day by dialing long-distance into Lotus's own master Notes server. That's a little more commitment than we can afford.)

Finally, we take into account experience. If a site license for this product existed previously, and fell apart due to lack of user interest, we will be prejudiced against re-starting it without considerable evidence that interest has picked up again. Similarly, if we have held licenses based on a similar administrative model that proved untenable (i.e., created far more administrative overhead than is at first apparent, or created a number of unanticipated expenses that made it difficult to recover our costs), we will be prejudiced against it.

Why should I pay a renewal fee?

Although very few people say it in as many words, we often get people who ask us something like, “You’re asking for a renewal fee for this software. But, it'll keep functioning even if I don't pay the renewal, and I'm not interested in technical support or upgrades this year. So, why should I pay it?”

Our response:

  • Remember the Prisoner's Dilemma: If everyone follows this line of thought, we won't be able to collect enough funds to renew the license. If that happens, and you want technical support or upgrades at a future date, you may have to buy the software new directly from the company at a much higher price, or pay a fee more expensive than paying the cumulative renewal fees to help us get a new site license for the same old software. You save money in the short run, but may cost yourself (and the University!) much more in the long run.
  • It's not legal. As we mentioned above, the vast majority of our licenses require an annual fee. If that fee is not paid, you cannot legally use the software. This means that if you let your renewal fee lapse, and the software company audits the University and discovers your illicit copy, there’ll be trouble. If so few people pay renewals that we are forced to let such a license lapse, we will make every effort to transition those who have paid to a direct relationship with the vendor; however, everyone else on campus who is still using that software is committing software piracy, and the Site Licensing Office will not be responsible for any legal repercussions that arise due to this.

How do you contact licensees about new software?

The Site Licensing Office maintains a number of mailing lists dedicated to the various software packages we maintain licenses for. When you submit payment for your license, you include the name and email address of a contact person; we will then add this person to the mailing list(s) relevant to the license(s) you are getting.

All announcements regarding license renewals, new versions, new license files, and any other related features are sent out to the mailing lists relevant to the license in question — e.g. MATLAB announcements are sent to the MATLAB license list, SPSS to the SPSS list, etc. These lists are our “official” venue for software announcements. As a general rule, we send out no more than 10-12 such announcements per year to any given list, often no more than 5-6.

In addition, we maintain a central list for general site license discussions. All new licenses are announced on this central list, and important announcements about older licenses are Cc’ed to it. Please contact us if you wish to be added to this list. (Membership is restricted to current staff and faculty of the University.)

Can students get site-licensed software?

For some software titles, the answer is yes. The Microsoft Campus Agreement gives students access to current Microsoft Office and Windows upgrades free of charge here. Symantec Endpoint Protection, Mathematica and think-cell are free downloads as well. Any other titles have to be purchased and IT Services Site Licensing does not accept cash, checks or credit cards. This means that students who wish to use for-pay licenses must ask their department to act as a go between or acquire the license direct from the manufacturer or other 3rd party.

How many computers can I put my license on?

This varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Terms are noted in the software lists.

Do I have to be on campus to use a site license?

No. All of the titles can now be accessed when off-campus. Some titles are tied to a KMS server, specifically, the departmental license for Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013 and the departmental license for Windows 7 and 8. The workaround for that is to VPN to your campus desktop or to purchase single user licenses that come with a license key.

Does the University have computers public access computers with site-licensed software on it?

Yes. Academic Technology Services operates four computer-based classrooms and collaboration facilities on campus. These classrooms are available throughout the year and host a standard suite of software including Microsoft Office, SSH and SFTP clients, statistical analysis packages, Adobe products, as well as department-sponsored academic applications. Information can be found here.

How do I obtain pricing for Site-Licensed software?

A comprehensive list of the site licenses available can be found here. Each title links to a page with pricing and order information.

What is a KMS server?

A Microsoft Key Management Server (KMS) is used to activate volume licensed Microsoft products in conjunction with the appropriate media available through the Site Licensing Office and activates the product locally instead of directly with Microsoft. For more information, view this Understanding KMS page.

Does software always require a license key for installation?

No. Our departmental licenses for Microsoft Office and Windows upgrades are tied to a KMS server on campus and do not require a key for activation. Also, some of the Microsoft server licenses have the key embedded in the media.

What is an ISO and how do I burn one?

An ISO image file is an exact representation of a CD or DVD disk, including the content and the logical format. The most common use of an image file is to use it with a software tool and a blank disk to create an identical copy of the original disk including all file and folder names and volume label information. Files with the ISO image format may also be opened and their contents copied to a local folder, much like ZIP files. ISO image files may also be virtually mounted and accessed as if they were a CD-ROM device, even when you do not have a CD or DVD drive. For more information, view this burning ISO images page.

How do I obtain software not listed?

Many non-site license software titles can be purchased in Buysite in the Connection punch-out.