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Pervasive PSQL Summit v10 Licensing Changes

The software industry used to rely on the honor system, but this was wiped out when massive "software pirating" efforts caused lost revenue for software publishers back in the 80's and 90's. The net result is that managing software licenses is becoming easier at times, but it can also become a bigger and bigger challenge.

Further complicating the license issue is that fact that Pervasive Software does NOT allow returns on their product licenses. This is a complete ban on all returns: no way, no how, no sir! Users who purchase the wrong license are simply stuck with their product, even if they don't have any use for it. Many resellers, including Goldstar Software, have offered to take product returns in the past, knowing that we would re-sell the packaged licenses to another user down the road. However, as you will see below, even this flexible, user-friendly practice will likely be eliminated. As such, buyers need to be aware of the ramifications of their purchases.

History of Pervasive Licensing

In the days of Btrieve 6.15, licenses were tied to a software installation. If you purchased a 100 User system, your install media (floppies at the time) were specific to your serial number and user count. Under this design, upgrading user counts was difficult. First, Pervasive had to make a number of upgrade SKU's for each starting and ending user count. Second, the user had to completely uninstall, then reinstall his software (and any patches). Of course, if the install floppies went bad, users could be left with no way to install the software.

Pervasive Software improved the licensing of the product in 1997 with the release of Pervasive.SQL 7. With this release, they moved to a new distribution medium (CDROM) and the use of separate license "keys" (provided on a floppy diskette) that could activate the software. These same license keys could also be used to add more users to an existing install, and the concept of the stackable license was born. Therefore, a user with a 20-User system who needed to add 10 more could easily do so without needing to reinstall anything -- just apply the license and reboot. (Pervasive.SQL 2000i even eliminated the need to reboot.) While Pervasive sold SKU's for NetWare, Windows, and later Linux, all license keys were indeed the same, allowing users to easily consolidate servers or migrate from one platform to another.

Pervasive also started a new concept -- discounts for special "User Count Increase" licenses which provided a discounted price structure for the user count increases. The UCI licenses, as they were called, shipped with no installation manual or media -- just the license key itself, which helped to cut production costs. This justified the price break (around 10%).

Pervasive again improved their product licensing in 2002 with the release of Pervasive.SQL V8. This release eliminated the use of floppy diskettes for shipping license files, which reduced product costs and shipping expenses. Instead, they moved to a 24-character license keycode which was provided on the license document and on the CDROM label. This license format would endure for many years and provide the ultimate in ease and flexibility for the users.

During the release cycle for PSQLv9, Pervasive realized that the discounted User Count Increase licenses were sometimes being used incorrectly by unscrupulous sorts to license a "full" engine installation at the discounted price. To combat any loss of revenue from such an installation, they opted to increase the cost of the UCI license to match the cost of the full license. By eliminating the price break, many resellers (including us) stopped carrying the special UCI SKU's, which were really no different than the full licenses, but without the manual and CDROM. Instead, we started selling the full licenses only, which were also fully stackable. Eventually, Pervasive also stopped shipping manuals with the product, making it even sillier for resellers to carry the UCI SKU's, since a user could almost always use the spare CDROM in case the original was lost or damaged. The net result was that users would often purchase full installation media and simply stack the enclosed licenses, as they've been able to do since 1997.

During the PSQLv9 days, Pervasive offered a special "platform switch" license. These licenses provided Pervasive users with an easy way to legitimately swap their NetWare license for a Windows license, or Windows for Linux, and vice versa, instead of just using their existing key on the new platform, which was discouraged by Pervasive. Unfortunately, these licenses were only available sporadically, and for very small time windows (usually 30-90 days) at a time, and the pricing varied wildly with each "promotional" offer. A such, they never caught on, and Pervasive never really understood why. Of course, we've seen that users often blindly installed their license onto the new platform and didn't worry about it.

Changes to Licensing for PSQLv10.00

With the initial release of Pervasive PSQL Summit v10, Pervasive changed the licensing rules to more strictly enforce the product platform. With PSQLv10 the platform (Windows 32-bit or Windows 64-bit, and later Linux 32-bit and Linux 64-bit) is built into the license key itself. If you have a license key for Win32 and try to install it onto any other platform, it will not work. Strangely, you don't always get back an error message, but it just doesn't work.

Pervasive also created a permanent SKU allowing users to switch platforms (called a Platform Switch, or PS) or bit levels (called a Bit Switch, or BS) for a flat fee of $95. This "service fee" is not provided at any discount to resellers, so many resellers either had to increase the pricing to cover their costs (like credit card fees) or simply refuse to carry the PS/BS licenses. When a PS/BS license is sold, Pervasive requires that the end user submit an anti-piracy form via fax, which further increases sales costs for resellers. In many cases, we recommend that the end user deal direct with Pervasive on this type of purchase. We did observe that the BS licenses were shipped as special "WinAny" keys, instead of either Win32 or Win64, so users could theoretically switch back and forth as much as needed. We never sold any Linux BS or PS licenses, and cannot confirm that they were done in the same way.

Changes to Licensing for PSQLv10.10

Pervasive made additional (and sweeping) changes to the licenses for the PSQLv10.10 release. These changes centered mainly on the use of Base and User Count Increase licenses.

Whereas previous versions allowed users to stack ANY licenses in any combination, v10.10 introduced the concept of a separate Base license. With this version (and all future, we assume), there can only be ONE Base license installed to each server. Attempting to install a second base license will return an error.

When a site wants to add more licenses to a Base license, they now need to purchase the special User Count Increase license -- again in the correct platform and bit level. (If you purchase the wrong user count or bit level, then plan on spending additional money to do the PS or BS swap, too.) The UCI license can then be applied to the server to increase the user count.

As a side-effect of this change, if a site is running PSQLv10.00 with two licenses stacked together (whether they be true base v10.00 licenses or one v1.00 base and one v10.00 UCI), any attempts to upgrade to any version v10.10 or above will result is the loss of the extra licenses. Only the FIRST Base license will stay in the system, and all other licenses will be silently wiped out during the installation with no warning or errors. Attempting to re-apply the missing license will continually result in errors.

Resolving this issue requires a call to Pervasive. At the time of this writing, they are still offering a "free" product exchange to exchange a base license for a User Count Increase, or a v10.00 UCI for a v10.10 UCI. Although there is no monetary cost, the user must contact Pervasive directly via Email (they do not provide this service via phone) and provide the details of the license swap that is required. Pervasive will get the Email and reply with the needed anti-piracy forms that they want to complete the swap. The user must then fax the forms to Pervasive and wait for a reply. In practice, we have seen this process take anywhere from 1 to 7 days, depending on any intervening holiday and weekend days. In short, if you need to upgrade a v10.00 system with stacked licenses, you MUST plan on contacting Pervasive in advance of the upgrade. Failure to do so may result in a system that only partially works until the other user count license can be applied.

Another side effect of this change is that if a site was running PSQLv10.00 and wanted to add additional users, they would either have to purchase a "special" v10.00 UCI SKU, or they would have to upgrade to v10.10 or newer FIRST, and then use a normal v10.10 UCI SKU. If they opted to use the "special" SKU and later patched the environment, then the secondary license would disappear during the upgrade, as noted above.

If you examine the price list, you will find that there is no facility to upgrade licenses to User Count Increases. This means that a site with a 30-user configuration for PSQLv9 (20U + 10U) cannot easily upgrade. They would need to buy the 10U Upgrade, a 20U Upgrade, and then convert one of the base licenses to a UCI. Ugly! To address this area of contention, Pervasive offered a new idea -- PSQLv10 upgrade licenses are available for the same user count, or the next user count higher, of the existing software license. Further clarification has changed this to read that users can upgrade to the same user count or the next user count higher of their TOTAL license count. As a result, a site with 30U (20 + 10) can upgrade directly to a 50U base license and avoid the need for the UCI altogether. Further, two stacked PSQLv9 6-User licenses in a 12-user configuration can properly upgrade to the 20-User version of PSQLv10 at the upgrade pricing. This makes it ideal to upgrade the user count at the same time the version is being upgraded.

Changes to Licensing for PSQLv10.12+

During this release, Pervasive was starting to experiment with their electronic licensing capability, including the ability to track installed licenses, as well as prohibit licenses from being installed multiple times. Starting with v10.12, Pervasive uses a process called Electronic License Reporting (ELR) to send an electronic report back to the Pervasive servers during installation and during every patch update process to report the installed license counts.

In these releases, if the machine is not on the public internet, or if network connectivity is not available, the ELR process silently exits without reporting, and the installation or patch process continues normally. This made the update process a bit slower, but otherwise had no major impact on the operations or procedures for managing the Pervasive environment.

Later versions of v10.12 and v10.13 started including some new versions of License Administrator that also supported the use of a new 25-character "Activation Key", in addition to the 24-character License Key. However, this support was added solely to provide additional changes in the future and typically had no impact on the user, except for changing the screen design of the License Administrator tool (and changing the button text from "Apply License" to "Activate"), which messed up some installation documentation.

Changes to Licensing for PSQLv10.20+

With the release of PSQLv10.20 in July 2009, Pervasive started shipping the new 25-character Activation Keys for all orders placed on their web site, including both new engine purchases and User Count Increase licenses.

These Activation Keys were different from the older License Keys in that they now used the new Electronic Licensing System (ELS) servers to handle the product licensing. This change now requires that the Pervasive Server (or the client machine, if activating the license from a client workstation) have sufficient Internet access to submit the license data to Pervasive at the time of the installation. This process submits machine-dependent data to Pervasive along with the key, ensuring that the license key is only installed ONE time. This makes the Pervasive licensing work similarly to that from Adobe acrobat and some other applications that rely on machine-specific identifiers.

If the machines were not available on the Internet for the Activation process, then Pervasive made a manual phone-in process available for these users to activate their license.

Changes to Licensing for PSQLv10.30+

With the release of PSQLv10.30 in November 2009, Pervasive started shipping the new 25-character Activation Keys for ALL shrinkwrap product shipments through resellers as well as their own web site, including both new engine purchases and User Count Increase licenses. (Interestingly, they had intended to make the change with ISV's first, but probably got substantial push-back to delay the ISV's and do the shrink-wrap boxes first instead.) This change will then mark the first time that a majority of the user community, including large quantities of smaller users who have no experience with the intricacies of ELS, will get to experience ELS for real.

One obvious change is that the server computer will now need access to the Internet to properly install, as mentioned above. If the server itself is not internet-ready, then the activation can be done from a client workstation that is on the 'Net. If the entire environment is isolated, Pervasive has added some new utilities in v10.30 that will make it possible to use a USB key or portable hard disk to capture the machine-specific ID from the server, transfer it to a workstation with Internet connectivity, activate the license, and transfer the activated key file back to the server via the USB drive.

The largest change that this will create is the inability to install a license onto multiple servers. In previous versions, a user could (illegally) install a license onto a second (or third, or fourth) server with no detection whatsoever. This is obviously a big problem that some illegitimate users capitalized on, as it robbed Pervasive of revenues due to them. With this new change, the user will be able to install the software ONE time onto ONE server, and that is it. Attempting to install onto a second computer (without first deactivating the first server) will result in an error. This should help protect Pervasive's intellectual property rights and their revenue stream.

Users must be aware that materially changing the server (memory, CPU's, disk drives, and more) will result in a material change to the machine-specific ID generated by the software. if the change is too great, the software will believe that the license has been installed to a new server and fail to work properly. If any hardware changes are planned, or if a PSQL engine needs to be moved to a new server, users are cautioned to deactivate their current license at the start of the process (which releases the license in the ELS system), make the needed changes, and then reactivate the license on the newly-configured server. According to the documentation in v10.30, this can be done up to three times. It is not clear what will happen after the third time, but we do expect to see this sometime in the next few years as some customers go through multiple OS and hardware upgrade cycles.

In another light, the ability to install a license multiple times was also beneficial to users with mission-critical systems. According to the Pervasive license agreement for many, many years, a user has the right to install his PSQL license to a secondary server in the event the primary server fails, then use it on the secondary server until the primary server is replaced, and then migrate back to the primary server again. This allows a site to keep running a mission-critical system in the event of a complete server failure. As you can imagine, the use of the new Activation license will change all of this. Since the old server has failed, there is clearly no way to deactivate the license on that server before moving it to a new server. As a result, there is no way to bring up the standby/backup server in its place.

To address this difficulty, Pervasive suggests that sites that need a fail-over box install a trial license on the backup server when they need it. This will allow them to run for 30 days. Unfortunately, the trial licenses are still only 20 users, and since it is the larger sites that will typically have the backup servers, we don't expect this to be a viable option. Another problem with this recommendation is that the 30-day trial will eventually expire 30 days after the first install. Since there is no easy way for users to remove a trial license, and since a trial license cannot be installed two times on the same server, the only viable solution will be to perform a complete OS re-install after every server failure. The only other solution Pervasive has been able to offer is to purchase a second license for the standby server, doubling your license costs.

Another change made for v10.30 was to increase the cost of the Platform Switch and Bit Switch licenses. Whereas the old $95 fee created a "stupid tax" for people who inadvertently purchased the wrong license or bit level, the new pricing model for PS/BS licenses is keyed on the user count, with 6-User licenses being $85 and Unlimited-User licenses being $1905. This raises the "stupid tax" quite considerably, to the point where we will expect users who purchase the wrong license to first attempt to return it (until they run into Pervasive's absolute "no return" policy). Upon that failing, we expect users to start filing disputes with their credit card companies, generating credit card chargebacks and raising the costs of selling this product for everyone. (OK, not everyone -- Pervasive will see higher revenues.)

To counteract this inevitable outcome, we are starting to urge users who purchase the wrong software to exercise their shrinkwrap software license right to "return the software within 10 days of purchase for a refund".

Expected Licensing Issues

If all goes well, then users should not see any major issues, and licensing will work according to plan. However, it is also possible that license issues will arise. Unfortunately, we do not expect all of these issues to arise during normal Pervasive support hours of 9-5 on weekdays, since a majority or users will schedule installation, patching, and upgrades for after-hours and weekends. To that end, we have come up with a number of expected issues and their recommend resolutions.


Goldstar Software will continue to work out the issues as best as we can when they are encountered by our customers. However, please recognize that we are only resellers of the Pervasive product line, and the software and license decisions are not ours to make. In fact, we're trying to figure this out at the same time that you are. Since Pervasive does not yet have solutions for us to offer to our users for all of the above problems, we urge everyone having licensing issues to contact Pervasive directly.

In the US, you can contact Pervasive Software by calling 800-BTRIEVE (800-287-4383), select options 2, 2, and speak with someone in the inbound call center. (International users should find the closest contact point from Actian's web site at You can also send an Email to Their CIC representatives should be able to help address any licensing problems. If you find that you are NOT getting a reply via Email, then you may wish to also call and confirm that the Email was received, and request priority handling for your request. If you are reading this page after-hours and are unable to reach Pervasive Software via this number, please roll-back your upgrade until someone at Pervasive can be reached to help you fix it.

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