The Dodgy Dongle

The Dodgy Dongle

London 2017-07-19

In the world of software licensing, the dongle was once the solution of choice for software licensing, 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?

Dongles (known as a licence dongles or 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 dongle contains the license details for a particular version of an application.

How are dongles used in software licensing?

The dongle's firmware is integrated with the software of the application and contains information used to authorise access - what and how can the end-user 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 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 the dongle used with?

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

So 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.

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)
  • Dongles are getting lost and are prone to damage (aka 'dodgy dongle')
  • Replacements incur extra costs, becoming a turn-off for the customer
  • Some dongles have compatibility problems to certain environment such as different OS or different network configurations
  • Dongles can be passed on from one user to another
  • Hardware cloning was/is also a threat to traditional dongles
  • Upgrading and updating dongles to the latest available software can be a chore

If you are still using dongles and some of the issues listed above are familiar to you, why not consider moving to a Licensing as a Service provider such as 10Duke? 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.

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