Friday, October 06, 2006

Set your widgets free!

I must admit that Mesa Dynamics suite of widget related tools had passed me by until their Amnesty Generator, which can turn a Google Gadget into an Apple Dashboard Widget auto-magically, was picked up by UNEASYsilence.

But I'm far less interested in Amnesty Generator than in their other application, Amnesty Singles. This is a drag-and-drop utility that converts any Dashboard widget into a standalone application that'll run on Panther as well as Mac OS X Tiger. That's great news for me as I can take my widgets, convert them into stand alone applications, and hand them to my colleagues who haven't yet got around to upgrading to Tiger yet...

I immediately downloaded the test version, looks like shipping the widgets internally to the generated OSX bundle file is only available to registered users. No problems, I'm quite willing to pay the registration fee for something this useful, it's only $9.95. Then I saw the catch, can you?

See the catch?

Note: Applications with bundled widgets can only run on computers where Amnesty Singles is registered in your name.
That's a daft restriction, it's not even a requirement that other people who are using your application have their own version of Singles, it has to be your own copy. What I want to be able to do is give other people my application, and I'm not even adverse to paying a higher licensing fee to have this capability. However it doesn't look like Mesa Dynamics want you to be able to do that, and I'm not really sure why?

It looks to me to be a case of DRM gone mad. They've obviously got some cool technology going on under the hood, and they're scared that someone wants to copy it. My advise to them, don't be so scared.

Most companies can't find their backside with both hands, and most wouldn't recognise a good idea if it hit them between the eyes. Don't cripple your application or service because you're afraid people will steal it, it'll just make them annoyed enough so that they'll give up and walk away...

Update: I got a response from Mesa Dynamics which I've reprinted, with permission, below;
Amnesty Singles is a consumer-targeted application (not a developer targeted one) and so it is meant for typical users to run widgets as standalone applications (as opposed to creating a re-distributable application to publish).

One of our biggest worries in developing Singles was that by allowing bundling of widgets into a newly built Singles application, some users would be tempted to "wrap" someone else's widget and pawn the new application off as their own creation. This would in fact be copyright infringement, and since our application would be the conduit of such infringement, we could be liable if someone wanted to bring a lawsuit. Clearly, this security risk (for us) would still exist even if we restricted launches to registered users of Singles.

When it comes to running a business, being wise about risk management is key. We cannot afford to deal with possible infringement lawsuits, and thus we had to come up with a solution that would make redistribution of bundled widgets to a third-party impossible.

Our solution (besides restricting it altogether) was to allow registered users to run their creations on any machine that had a Singles license registered to them.

So, it really isn't a DRM issue to "protect" our technology. It's a risk avoidance strategy, which in this day in age, is the reality of the software business.

Now, to get back to your point: we are going to introduce a free Developer program for Amnesty technologies later this fall / early winter. Widget developers who register will receive free licenses to all Amnesty applications and will be able to use Singles to create re-distributable applications. By using this strategy, we can insure that widget authors are the only ones creating applications from their own creations. - Danny Espinoza, Mesa Dynamics
Which, you have to admit, makes a lot of sense. I'm glad to see that they've got a developer programme in the works, and really glad to see it's going to be free, although quite frankly the application is so useful I'd be quite happy to pay for it. Thanks for the quick response guys...