In a prime example of a vendor taking its customers into consideration, software development toolmaker JetBrains has adjusted a controversial subscription model that had customers and industry observers up in arms.
Two weeks ago, on Sept. 3, JetBrains, which makes the popular IntelliJ IDEA Java development tool, among others, introduced its JetBrains Toolbox subscription model.
In a post on the company’s blog, Eugene Toporov, vice president of marketing at JetBrains, said: “As of November 2, 2015, we will introduce JetBrains Toolbox—a collection of our popular desktop tools (IDEs, utilities and extensions) available on a monthly or yearly subscription basis. With JetBrains Toolbox, you can pick and choose one or more tools that best suit your current needs, or go for the ‘All products’ plan that comes with special savings. You decide what to put in your Toolbox and for how long.”
The JetBrains Toolbox was to include the company’s IntelliJ IDEA, AppCode, CLion, PhpStorm, PyCharm, RubyMine, WebStorm, ReSharper, ReSharper C++, dotTrace, dotCover, and dotMemory tools.
As soon as JetBrains made the announcement, users voiced objections to the changes. One user, who identified himself as Chris Spencer, on the JetBrains Website, said, “This is exactly what is wrong with this new scheme. I object to being forced to pay to continue to use something which I’ve already paid for. I know in my workplace I wouldn’t have been able to prompt the switch from Eclipse to IntelliJ in the first place if it had required an annual subscription.”
In addition, Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, which offers the open-source Eclipse framework for Java development, penned a scathing post criticizing the JetBrains move.
Milinkovich called JetBrains’ switch to a subscription-only model, “a perfect example of why and how trusting a proprietary tools vendor leaves you and your business exposed to the whims of their profit margins. Make no mistake: this is motivated by what’s good for their business, not what is good for the developer community. Even if JetBrains backpedals on this decision, it is a lesson worth learning.”
Plugging his own organization, Milinkovich added, “Eclipse is the only truly community-based tooling platform. We are 100-percent open source from top to bottom. There is no ‘Community Edition.’ It’s all open source. We are not beholden to any vendor’s agenda.”
However, many developers cited the superior quality of IntelliJ over Eclipse as reason enough to pay the price for it. As Milinkovich noted, “We are well aware that IntelliJ is a great product. We are also aware that Eclipse has not been moving forward as quickly as we would have liked this last few years.”
On Sept. 4, Toporov posted that JetBrains was listening to its customer base and that their comments, questions and concerns were not falling on deaf ears. On Sept. 8, the company updated its messaging to say that the licensing model announced previously, including conditions and prices, was not final and updates would be made.
JetBrains Fixes Controversial Dev Tool Subscription Policy
Now, on Sept. 18, JetBrains CEO Maxim Shafirov offered an apology to the company’s customer base for failing to properly account for all the considerable groups of customers and to properly articulate the company’s reasoning for the move. He also laid out where JetBrains is going with its subscription strategy in six steps:
“1. We are moving forward with subscriptions with important adjustments.
2. You will receive a perpetual fallback license once you pay for a year up front or 12 consecutive months.
3. You will receive up to [a] 40% discount for continuous subscription.
4. You will be able to use the software without an Internet connection.
5. Current customers with active or recently expired upgrade subscription get first two years of subscription for the price of one.
6. We still recommend you take 10 minutes to read it all for the complete details.”
Among the key areas of concern among JetBrains tool users was that they might lose access to tools they had already paid for if they didn’t keep paying monthly or annual fees. However, JetBrains says it has addressed this with perpetual fallback licenses.
In a FAQ of sorts regarding some of the most contested issues in the JetBrains Toolbox, Shafirov’s post said: “This is the most controversial topic. We didn’t realize how many users would differentiate subscription based services such as cloud hosting, monitoring tools, communication tools or repository services from an IDE, despite some of these also having downloadable versions. We expected a lower entry cost and flexibility would outweigh the perpetuity. We believe though that now offering perpetual fallback licenses, which was also suggested by many who provided feedback, will address this concern.”
Indeed, Shafirov defined the perpetual fallback license as such: “The monthly or annual payment is a subscription fee; however, when purchasing an annual subscription you will immediately get a perpetual fallback license for the exact version available at the time. This license will allow you to use that exact version of the software should you decide not to continue with the subscription after the year is up. If paying on a monthly basis, as soon as you pay for 12 consecutive months, you will also receive this perpetual fallback license providing you with access to the exact version of when your 12 consecutive months subscription started. You will receive perpetual fallback licenses for every version you’ve paid 12 consecutive months for in a rolling fashion.”
Although many customers continued to voice concerns, the perpetual fallback license appears to have alleviated the concerns of others.