Microsoft Announces SLP Services to Streamline Software Development and Sales
Today at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver, Microsoft announced that a new suite of products called Software Licensing and Protection Services (SLP Services) will become available in the October timeframe. The products comprise a set of tools designed to help developers — from ISVs selling software to those working on internal line-of-business applications — protect their intellectual property (IP), easily and flexibly create and license product versions, track product and feature usage, and integrate into backend business processes.
Making the announcement today was Thomas Lindeman, group product manager of SLP Services. Lindeman’s earlier work in the field of IP protection began with eBooks. He has worked on Rights Management Services for protection and usage control of documents and e-mail, as well as new Microsoft technologies used for product activation. The group he now leads is focused on providing similar kinds of technology and business models to external ISVs.
As the new suite of products gets ready for launch in the coming months, PressPass spoke with Lindeman to get a better idea of what the technology does, and how it is expected to benefit developers and software businesses.
PressPass: What is the technology you are announcing today?
Lindeman: In January we acquired a company called Secured Dimensions that had unique .NET protection technology along with a licensing server and hosted online service. Since the acquisition, we have worked to solidify the offerings and add additional features to increase the value the product will offer to the industry. The result is three core offerings to help third-party ISVs control and manage their intellectual property, as well as manage sales and licensing processes.
The first is the Code Protector SDK. This is a software development toolkit with an intuitive user interface, application programming interfaces (APIs) and code samples, which will be available at no charge from the Microsoft Download Center. A version of it will also be included in the next version of Visual Studio, code-named “Orcas.”
This toolkit is specifically designed to help protect and fully transform managed code or .NET code. Full code transformation for Win32, or native code, is on our product roadmap and will be coming soon, but licensing and activation of native code applications will be available with our first release. The Code Protector SDK also allows developers to easily mark features as “licensable entities” that can later be controlled through various kinds of digital licenses, as well as providing client-side protection of those licenses.
Next we have a server product, the Software Licensing and Protection Server, in standard and enterprise editions. These allow the ISV to host their own servers, create licenses for their products and offer them in very flexible scenarios, either directly or through partners. SLP Services enables simple creation of machine-based licenses, time-based licenses for subscription models and trials, user-based licenses for roaming, as well as feature-based licenses — supporting a wide range of business models.
The third major feature is the SLP Online Service. This option allows partners to do all of their license management without hosting their own servers. We have three different levels of service available on a yearly subscription basis. Starting in October, all MSDN Premium subscription members will get a free subscription to the SLP Online Service Basic edition.
PressPass: How does the code protection feature work?
Lindeman: The product is using a concept called “transformation,” which is different from encryption or simple obfuscation. SPL Services creates what is called a “private permutation” for each company, which is then downloaded and used with the Code Protector SDK. The code to be protected is recompiled against this permutation algorithm, turning it into something called Secure Virtual Machine Language.
At this point a piece of code called a Secure Virtual Machine (SVM) now resides inside the application, and it translates between the “transformed” code and code that is readable and executable. So it’s a strong, one-way transformation. You’re turning it into a representation of the machine language, and then putting that secure virtual machine back inside the application. This enhances the protection of the code.
As far as licensing enforcement, sometimes we call it “positive control,” which means that what you intend your end users to do is all they can do, and the SVM handles this protection and management as well. So there is a client-side license enforcement process that makes it down to the end user, and then the licensing component of the code protection software looks at that license and controls the application in whatever way the license states. It basically enforces the license’s rules.
PressPass: How does the product support licensing and sales processes?
Lindeman: Another main feature that Code Protector SDK with SVM performs is to allow the ISV to mark different functions and features as licensable and monitorable entities. That means when the ISV’s business or product-marketing group wants to create digital licenses for certain feature bundles, or SKUs, they can easily turn on and off those features that were marked as protected and deliver only the desired functionality to the end-user.
They can also gather the monitoring data, which can be used for things like billing, such as utility based billing at the end of the month, or to create statistics on what usage has happened within the application for future product planning. Application monitoring is an optional feature, and we expect the ISV to allow the end-user to opt in to such a process.
An important point here is that the code is separated from the digital licenses that control it, and they do not need to be created or finished at the same time in the product cycle. This enables what we call “SKU agility” — the ability to fine tune software offerings even after the product has been shipped.
If it’s five or six months after the ISV shipped the product, and it turns out that the Brazilian market, for example, really wants a package that has certain features, they can generate new licenses for that new SKU on demand. They don’t have to go back to their development team and say we need a new SKU or new build — basically a new product. All they need to do is create a new digital license and make it available, and it will unlock and enforce those features. So with this, the ISV can flexibly distribute and license applications any way they want to, even after the product has been released, depending on their business model.
Additionally, it is possible using our API and documentation to tie SLP Services into an existing back-end billing system or customer relationship management system. In the future, we plan have tighter CRM integration, and allow ISV business partners to perform these functions as well, further streamlining end-to-end customer relationship scenarios.
PressPass: What kind of business value can a system like this bring to ISVs?
Lindeman: The flexibility to create new products without having developers recompile and reship code is huge. With this product, you can take care of that at a licensing level, and it’s done in seconds. Your developers can focus on the next version. So it saves a lot of time and hassle, and we’ve heard from customers that they want to be able to do exactly that.
Another benefit is tied to that — being able to target customers in a direct way, where you’re giving them exactly what they need and only what they need. You can think of a utility-based model where they’re only using the features or functions or amount of time that they want, and you can bill them after the fact. Customers could pick and choose a certain number features that they want to use, get a use license, and only pay for those features.
As far as lowering costs on a back-end basis, if you have this tied into your CRM or billing system, you have to do less manual processing than you might normally. When an order comes in, you can set it up so that a license is automatically generated, or so that it comes out of a pool that’s already been pre-generated, and is then delivered to that partner or customer. It’s traditionally been difficult to integrate a licensing system into all of these back-end processes, so we’re trying to make that very easy.
PressPass: In October 2006, Microsoft announced the Software Protection Platform. How is that technology platform different than what you are announcing today?
Lindeman: The Software Protection Platform (SPP) is the set of anti-piracy technologies that Microsoft is using internally and it is built into Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Today these two platforms (SPP and SLPS) are separate technologies and we do not have current plans to make SPP an ISV offering.
PressPass: What resources are you making available to help partners understand SLP Services?
Lindeman: We are demonstrating the code protection technologies as well as the licensing creation and product creation in the portal. Partners attending the Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver this week can stop by booth 1153 to see this product in action.
More importantly, we have a new web site for information called www.softwarepotential.com. The site provides information, training materials and other resources that partners can check out throughout the summer in preparation for our launch in early October. Interested parties can sign up for a newsletter and be notified when new training or education materials become available in the coming months. We also have a Technical Adoption Program that allows certain companies early access to SLP Services, and are putting together an evaluation so companies can try things out before October.
Over the course of the summer there will be various materials and seminars for partners, resellers and Microsoft sales personnel to learn about the technology and enable them to talk about SLP Services in a very clear way to their customers. SLP Online Service will be sold directly through partners that are specially trained and have an agreement with Microsoft, and the enterprise and standard SLP Server products will be on the Volume Licensing price list in October.
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