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In the world of software licensing, the license dongle was once the solution of choice for software developers, but no longer. Today’s ISVs require flexible licensing solutions that can help them introduce new licensing models, products and features faster and more easily.

What is a licence dongle?

software protection dongle

Dongles (known as licence dongles or USB keys) are electronic / hardware-based protection locks initially introduced by ISVs to protect and prevent unauthorised usage or unwanted distribution of their high-value desktop software applications. The connection was initially done through parallel ports but now it’s more commonly done through USB ports. The license dongle contains the license details for a particular version of an application.

How are license dongles used in software?

The dongle’s firmware is integrated with the software of the application and contains information used to authorise access – what and how the end-user can use the software. Whether it’s time, location, or limiting the packages/features available, the end user’s access is controlled by the dongle. The user can get access to the software application only if the license dongle is physically present on the computer.

The dongle was once the solution of choice for software licensing, but no longer.

What type of software is a license dongle used with?

Traditionally used for desktop applications, license dongles can be used for web applications as well. For example, a user can plug the USB security key into their device, visit the application’s web page, log in with their username and password, then the software validates the license dongle before loading or unlocking features of the application.

What are the drawbacks of using licensing dongles?

It’s not unusual to still encounter ISVs in specialised domains like GIS, Image Processing or Medical that still use dongles but this is increasingly rare.

License dongles have had a long and potted history as ISVs started to struggle when their usage became widespread. A few of the factors contributing to their increasing unpopularity are:

  • Increasing operational costs (device cost, storage & delivery costs to name a few)
  • License dongles are easily lost and are prone to damage (aka ‘dodgy dongle’)
  • Replacements incur extra costs, becoming a turn-off for the customer
  • Some license dongles have compatibility problems in certain environments such as different OS or different network configurations
  • License dongles can be passed on from one user to another
  • Hardware cloning was/is also a threat to traditional license dongles
  • Upgrading and updating hardware keys to the latest available software can be a chore

If you are still using license dongles and some of the issues listed above are familiar to you, why not consider moving to a Licensing as a Service (LaaS) provider such as 10Duke? The 10Duke licensing solution, in particular, our pioneering identity-based licensing approach offers significant advantages over using dongles for licensing. Identity-based licensing is a method of controlling access to digital products based on the authenticated identity of an individual, while also retaining flexibility in terms of licensing a product to him/her based on a number of constraints such as company, device, location and application type.

For more information about how identity-based licensing can be used to deliver your application to customers, please contact us or learn more about the 10Duke Entitlement Service.
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