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JetBrains Switches to Subscription Model

"Today is a big day ..." the PR note in my inbox proclaimed. As of Monday, JetBrains, maker of the venerable code-centric Java IDE, IntelliJ IDEA, is bundling all its desktop developer tools into the JetBrains Toolbox, and selling those products via a subscription model.

The company announced its plan to switch from a perpetual licensing model to a subscription-only model on Sept. 3, and the news generated more than a little negative feedback from its customers. JetBrains argued at the time that the change would simplify management of its product licenses and ultimately cost less. But unconvinced customers complained about the pernicious spread of software "renting" schemes and the risk of committing to tools they don't actually own.

In a blog post published at the time, Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, denounced subscriptions in general and JetBrains in particular: "The news this morning that JetBrains is switching to a subscription-only model is 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."

JetBrains CEO Maxim Shafirov responded to critics of his company's subscription plan in a blog post of his own: "The discussions and feedback that we received after the announcement went public showed that we had failed to properly account for all considerable groups of our customers and articulate our reasoning for the move in the announcement message. We sincerely apologize for this."

JetBrains would stick to its plan, Shafirov wrote, but it would also address its customers' concerns with a "perpetual fallback" license. Purchasers of an annual Toolbox subscription would be able to use the version they bought (the "exact" version), even if they decided not to renew their subscriptions at the end of the year. This perpetual fallback would also apply to monthly subscribers as soon as they paid for 12 consecutive months. He also promised "continuity discounts" for customers who renewed their subscriptions without interruption.

The company officially launched JetBrains Toolbox with 14 simultaneous updates for all its desktop products, including IntelliJ IDEA 15, PhpStorm 10, ReSharper Ultimate 10, WebStorm 11, PyCharm 5, AppCode 3.3, CLion 1.2, RubyMine 8 and a preview of 0xDBE 1.0. It also shipped the 1.0 beta of its open source Kotlin language.

The new subscription model is now in effect, though the company has said that users with a valid upgrade subscription need not switch to the new model immediately. And apparently the company could use some time to work out some launch-pad kinks. JetBrains responded on Twitter (@jetbrains) to "reports about issues" with its license server: "We're already investigating. Sorry for the inconvenience."

Love the software subscription model or hate it, it's winning over a rapidly growing number of software makers, and we're going to be seeing a lot more of it. We should hope that they're all as responsive to their customers as JetBrains has been during its transition. It's worth noting that I often refer to IntelliJ IDEA as "the venerable IDE" because it was one of tools that survived the Eclipse juggernaut that swept the market about a decade ago, and in my view, it has earned its many devoted fans.

More details are available on the JetBrains blog site.

Posted by John K. Waters on November 3, 2015