The Elan License Manager package offers control over applications in both single user and networked environments. License management has become an increasingly important issue as applications migrate to network-wide use. There have been several successful license managers available in the past, but none have established dominance in the field. Elan Computer Group hopes that their latest release of Elan License Manager will help increase their market share. Elan License Manager is designed to be configured by the developers or distributors of applications, although it will be used by end users.

Elan License Manager is designed to provide three different license functions: user-based, component, and timed expiry. A user-based license is one that controls the number of concurrent users of an application. As such, a user-based license is configured for a particular machine or network, not individual users. For example, you might want to license an application for ten users at any one time. A user-based license doesn’t care which ten users are using the package, but it will limit concurrent use to ten users. This is often a useful licensing method for applications that do not need to run all day and need only short execution times.

Component licensing allows Elan License Manager to control access to individual modules in an application. For example, you may develop a large database application that has several optional modules (such as a graphing routine, date import procedures, and so on). When you sell the package to a customer, they may not want all the modules. You provide activation keys for the modules that are required and the unwanted components do not launch. In the future, if a customer decides to purchase another module, a simple license key can activate that component instead of requiring another software load.

Finally, timed software is designed to expire after a particular amount of time. Timed software is often used as part of a demonstration routine, with start and finish dates controlled by license parameters. Timed software is useful for not only demos, but also for rented or leased applications, or those that require periodic subscriptions to be paid. For example, you may have to pay yearly to license an application, with the software expiring if you don’t submit the appropriate fees. A new license key would activate the software again for the next period after payment.

Elan License Manager handles all three of these licensing systems through a surprisingly elegant and simple key. All three methods, as well as some other features such as host server identification, are controlled through a single ASCII keystring, which obviously is encrypted. Elan License Manager is a client-server application, and usually resides on a license server on the network. The license server does not have to be the server the applications Elan License Manager controls resides on, but for convenience often is.

For developers and software distributors, the Elan License Manager is quite complete. The software comes on three diskettes for SCO Unix, stored in tar format. Our copy of Elan License Manager used an expiry date demonstration key, showing the value of demo-ing your software with itself! Two manuals complete the basic package. An Intergrator’s Guide shows how to combine Elan License Manager into your applications, and is intended for developers. The Reference Manual explains the Elan API, and again is intended for developer use. An optional manual is the System Administrator’s Guide, which is intended for the end-user. This document shows the user how to install the Elan License Manager and manage the system.

The Elan License Manager interface at the system administrator end is X-based, and easy to use. It shows a summary of all registered software Elan handles, as well as details of its licensing. A command-line based interface is also available, although the GUI is much easier to use.

For developers, the Elan License Manager system is surprisingly easy to use. I’ve worked with three other license systems over the years, including some which require dongles (those plug-in verification blocks that connect usually to a parallel port). Usually, integrating license management routines into an application is not so much difficult as awkward and time consuming. Elan License Manager is amongst the easiest to work with I’ve found. There’s still a chunk of coding required, but it is logical stuff. This isn’t trivial coding, either, but there are routines in the Elan API to handle just about any conditions you want to put into your applications.

Not everyone will care about license management, but developers should and usually do. For them, Elan License Manager is an attractive alternative to some of the bulkier and less friendly license managers on the market.