After many conversations with the support people at Rita Mulcahy, I got an email telling me that they would extend me a special offer to extend my license for an additional 90 days for $75.

While I still have a problem with the whole idea of software license expiring, I understand the idea, and have politely suggested that they increase the visibility of this in their sales literature and product packaging. Software as a service is becoming more common, but extending that to shrink wrapped software is by no means normal (at least in my experience as a software professional).

If I still had a copy of Windows 3.x, I could install it.  In fact, if I took inventory, I’d bet way over half of the software I use is many years old, and far from the latest version. Anyway, I may pony up the $75 next week to get the license for long enough for me to get through my PMP certification.

I just had an interesting experience with some exam preparation software that I bought a couple years ago for the PMP certification from Rita Mulcahy. According to the installer, the software license had expired !

I took a class to prepare for a certification exam, and bought a bundle that included an exam simulation called PM FastTrack for PMP.

I was only slightly annoyed that I had to be connected to the internet to install it: lots of software has started following the annoying activation model. The license says the software can be installed on (1) work computer and (1) home computer, so they have to manage the count some how.

Anyway, at the end of my class, I got on one of those gigs that sucks all of your free time out, and didn’t have a chance to finish my studying and simply didn’t think about the software. Top that off with the fact that I’ve been running it all in virtual machines that I tend to have to rebuild, and I end up not uninstalling the software from somewhere I don’t have access to any more.

Time goes by, and here it is almost two years later, and I try to install the software (I’ve long since reimaged my machine, so it’s time to try again). First I get several annoying messages that tell me to change things that make no sense (control panel change to get the date format right) and another that says to download a new version of the software.

Finally I get to a screen that tells me to contact support. This ends up with me downloading a new version of the software, which then tells me that the license key has been installed too many times, so I call support (which of course is closed) and leave a message.

I get back this email that says:

I received your voicemail. You first installed the software on January 28, 2006. There is a one year term of use from the date of the first installation according to the license agreement. Your license has expired. If you would like to use the FASTrack software, you would need to purchase a new license.

Well, first I was surprised it had been that long, but second I was more than a little irritated. I looked all over the CD case, and could find nowhere that it said the software was only good for a year, only that it is limited to two computers (I even scanned the case and sent that to them).

It feels a bit like my experience with renting a movie from the iTunes store: I rented the movie, started watching it on the plane, and then by the time I got to watch the end of it, it had expired. They gave me a one time refund on the transaction so with the exception of my having to rent the movie a second time to see the end, it was a positive experience.

Now I understand that for software that helps you pass an exam, they want to make sure you’re using a new copy, but shouldn’t I be able to use it regardless of whether it is outdated or not?

I’ve recommended this software to others in the past, and probably generated more than a few sales for them. From a sales perspective, it seems like they should want me to continue that, and perhaps buy the next version of the software when it comes out.

But repeated phone calls, and emails, and no response. If I had to guess, I’d say they feel they have a locked in market, so they don’t have to try to be good about this.

Guess maybe it’s time to build a competitor product, I’m sure I could build a web based Q&A that would do as well for less than $299 a year.

And now I find the license info on their web site (not on my CD) which does have the notice about only working for a year after initial install here. They even have some verbiage about paying $75 to extend the license for three additional months, but that apparently doesn’t apply except for the 3 months immediately following the install.

So apparently, my choices are to either buy a new copy of the software (which will be no good in a couple of months since the test is changing), wait for the new software (which won’t be out until the end of this quarter), simply do without.

I’m just glad they didn’t print the book and flash cards with ink that fades away over time. Not a great way to operate a business if you ask me, but I guess I never had that sort of monopoly.

I recently had an experience that reminded me that you truly can negotiate anything.

I got a call from a buddy telling me that he his manager was looking for a contractor to replace somebody who wasn’t performing to the level they needed in a business analyst type of position. The person they were replacing was a low-range contractor, so the rate they had been paying was substantially lower than what I’ve been making (as a program manager), but they also expected they’d need to pay more to get the skill-set they were looking for.

That set my expectation to expect that there would be some serious negotiation around rate, so I tried to take my usual approach: avoid discussing rate with the client. In general I was able to succeed, and and instead talk about the job and how I would be effective in helping them (particularly in areas that the prior person had failed).

I do have another rule, however, which is that I will honestly answer a question put to me directly, so inevitably the question of rate did come up. The dreaded question of “what was your last rate?” comes up, and is always uncomfortable for me. I thought I did a good job of answering the question by letting them know that rate is not the deciding factor for me, that I expect a fair rate for the work being done, and that I wasn’t expecting anything like my prior rate. After that preface, I did let them know my last rate (as a program manager on an implementation project), and tried once again to set the expectation that I wasn’t expecting to recieve that sort of rate on this engagement.

I had this conversation with the Director of the group that was looking for help, and everything went well there. We connected well on our phone screen, and he turned me over to his hiring manager to complete the process (since it was her group and I’d be working for her).

At the end of the process I asked my usual questions about how I did, and whether they had any concerns that would keep them from offering me the job. It seemed I had done well, and that the next step was for them to complete their interview schedule, and check references. The Q&A about prior rates came up again, and I thought I once again responded with rate not being the deciding factor for me.

I diligently followed up with a thank-you email to each member of the team, and continued to ask my buddy about my chances. Eventually I got an email from the hiring manager telling me that it was between me and one other candidate. My friend told me there was no comparison, and that the only reason I might lose out would be on rate, since I was more qualified and had his backing.

After another weekend, I got an email from the hiring manager telling me that they had decided to go with the other candidate based on rate. This surprised me a little since I didn’t really think we’d ever discussed rate. So I dropped an email back to the Director (cc’ing the manager) asking why they thought my rate was too high when we hadn’t discussed it. I carefully crafted the email as a question about my communication skills and helping me to improve them:

I heard  from <your manager> and my friend that the decision was to go with  another  candidate based on rate.

I was a little surprised since I   didn’t think we had gotten to the point where a negotiation of rate  had  started, beyond my responding to questions about my rate on prior  engagements.  My experience in the past has been that if the  rate is too high,  they simply ask me if I’ll take less.

If you  could help me out in  understanding if I set an unreasonable  expectation, or if this was instead  just a matter of the other guy  being a better fit, I’d appreciate any feedback  you could give me.

Interestingly what the net result of this email was, was that the negotiations were reopened. He replied to me that they had compared the rate I had told them from my previous work, to the rate that the other contractor was asking for, and simply assumed that I wouldn’t be happy with a reduced rate. We traded emails back and forth a few times, and we agreed on a rate that was the same as what they were looking for with the other candidate, and it felt like there was a chance I’d won the engagement.

In hind sight, I think one mistake I made here was sending this email to the Director instead of to the hiring manager, since she was the one who would ultimately make the decision. That said, I did re-learn a valuable lesson about negotiating: it ain’t over until it’s over ….

It’s all about getting to yes, and by asking these people if they could help me understand why we hadn’t negotiated on rate, I helped them understand they could have negotiated for a more valuable resource a little better, and kept the negotiation open.