Why owning stuff is still important

Why owning stuff is still important

Let’s start with a few questions:

  • Do you own your home or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?
  • Do you own your car or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?
  • Do you own your TV or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?
  • Do you own your computer or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?

If you’re like me, you answered the same for most or all of those questions. I own all of the above and rent none of it. I prefer owning all of the above. Why? Three Cs:

  • Continuity. If I own my home, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be able to go on living in it as long as I like. There are exceptions (wars, natural disasters, etc.), but ownership is generally much safer than renting if it’s important to retain access in the long term. This is because it removes the significant possibility that the owner may eventually terminate the agreement for reasons of their own, or make the relationship financially impractical.
  • Control. If I rent my home, for example, there are strict limits on what I can do with it. I can’t just install an air conditioner if the place gets too hot in summer. The owners or their representatives can come calling to make sure I’m looking after it as they desire. If I want to keep pets or smoke in the property, my options are severely limited.
  • Cost. There’s a reason people invest in property to rent out to others, or run profitable multinational businesses hiring out cars. It makes sense to be on the side of the relationship that’s taking the money rather than the one that’s paying it out. In other words, it usually makes financial sense to be the owner rather than the renter.

That doesn’t mean renting things never makes sense, of course. I wouldn’t buy a car to drive around while visiting another country, for example. Many people can’t afford to buy their own homes and have no alternative but to rent. But that doesn’t alter the basic point that ownership is the most desirable situation to be in. Let’s look at another situation and see if that point still applies:

  • Do you own your music or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?

There are an increasing number of people who feel that owning music is old hat. For example, have a look at Scott Sheppard’s blog post on this subject. Here’s one thing Scott has to say:

When you think about it, you don’t want to own an album or CD, you want to hear the songs when you want to.

Sorry, Scott, but there is more to it than just hearing songs when I want to. I have thought about it, very carefully, and I do want to own an album or CD. I want this for the same reasons I want to own my home, my car and so on.

  • Continuity. If I own a CD and look after it, I know I’m going to be able to keep using it indefinitely. I don’t have to worry about whether the rights holder wishes to continue making that music available, or changes the terms of the agreement to my detriment.
  • Control. If I own a CD, I can listen to it in good conditions on my home system without the music suffering from lossy compression. I can put it in my car’s player along with a few others and quickly flip to it without having to search for it among several thousand tracks. I can rip the music from the CD and place it on my iPod Nano watch, or Android phone, or computers, and play it when and where it’s convenient. I’m not reliant on any external parties or connections.
  • Cost. Once I’ve paid for my CD, the incremental cost of each listen is extremely close to zero. I’m still enjoying music I bought years ago, cost-free. My eldest daughter only listens to music on her iPod, but she generally buys CDs rather than downloading songs from iTunes. She does this because she works out what’s cheapest and it’s usually the CD, even allowing for one or two tracks she doesn’t want.

The cost issue may or may not apply, depending on the album and the service, but for me the other two factors are dealbreakers anyway. Besides, there are other reasons I want to own an album. These include artwork, lyrics, the pleasure that comes from collecting and owning an artist’s works, and so on. I understand that these aspects are down to my personal preference. There are plenty of kids out there who just want to listen to this week’s stuff without thinking about the future too much. However, huge numbers of those sort of people aren’t customers, and don’t enter into the commercial equation. When they download music, they don’t pay for it.

Scott’s experiment with Spotify is hardly a compelling argument for non-ownership. He lists a whole bunch of things that are irritating and which detract from his ability to listen to the music when and where he wants to. Things that don’t apply to those of us who own our music (or those who download it for free). In fact, it’s a very convincing argument that the “anytime, anywhere” mantra needs to be turned on its head. Want to ensure that you’ll be able to listen to the music you want? Anytime, anywhere, uninterrupted, problem-free and independent of external factors? Ownership, not Cloudy stuff. Every time.

With that in mind, let’s look at one more situation:

  • Do you own your software or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?

Let’s sidestep the convenient (and court-approved, in some locations) legal idea that customers don’t actually own the software they buy. Let’s interpret the word “software” above as the ability to use the software. This includes whatever is required to do so, from a media, technical and licensing perspective. While you and I might prefer to permanently own our software (or licence to use that software), Autodesk likes to think that society:

is moving from [sic] only requiring access to products instead of owning them

and so it wants to:

move from offering a perpetual license with maintenance to a termed subscription model

In other words, Autodesk doesn’t want you to own software any more, it wants to rent it to you. This desire is clearly the prime mover behind its Cloud push. Never mind that the last time Autodesk tried renting out its software, the experiment was a dismal and short-lived failure because of a lack of customers. This has nothing to do with what you want, it has everything to do with what Autodesk wants.

Is this all OK with you? Do continuity, control and cost really not matter when it comes to software? Are you happy to hand matters over to your friendly vendor and not think about the future too much, like some pop-happy teenager? Or, like me, do you think owning stuff is still important?


  1. R. Paul Waddington

    “This has nothing to do with what you want, it has everything to do with what Autodesk wants.”

    Steve what Autodesk “wants” is what is behind their call to the cloud and, I believe, you, I and others understand their reasoning. Additionally, on the surface, CAD in the cloud has all the hallmarks of an ideal application of the technology. However the advantage which seems apparent is only a surface covering a much more complex set of business and personal scenarios.

    “Is this all OK with you?” NO.

    “Do continuity, control and cost really not matter when it comes to software? “

    I, personally, will for the foreseeable future prefer the perpetual licence model form of “ownership” in preference to rental (what ever that means). As a continuing exiled user of Autodesk software it is important I have as much control over when, where and how as is possible; traits a “rental” model cannot deliver.

    “Are you happy to hand matters over to your friendly vendor and not think about the future too much, like some pop-happy teenager?” NO

    “Or, like me, do you think owning stuff is still important?” Not only important but of vital importance in ensuring a diverse range of users are able to continue their important participation in our industry on terms agreeable, and of benefit, to both customers/users and vendors.

  2. ralphg

    The difference between owning and renting is that you rent what you don’t care about (or don’t need for very long).

    Since CAD ceos are fond of silly analogies, I’m waiting for the first one to proclaim, “You’d rent a watch, wouldn’t you?”

    1. Any such difference only applies if you have a real choice in the matter. I rented a TV as a teenager because I couldn’t afford the lump sum (TVs were a major investment then). Given the choice, I can’t think of anything I’d want to rent beyond the short term, trivial or important. LOL @ renting a watch.

  3. Dave Ault

    Two good posts today Steve and important to anyone with half a brain.

    There must be a lot of perceived potential cash for Dassault and Autodesk in this cloud paradigm if they could only get away with the convenient customer friendly cloud deception. A product that has little provable market for and based on stuff whose inner workings are deliberately hidden from potential customers.

    When you run out of ideas like bring a better product to market and customers will reward you and replace product superiority with hostage taking and mercenary cash gouging one could say the companies pushing this stuff have forgotten what it is that put them on the map to begin with.

    How does such a thing with no proven track record and such obfuscation about ROI, reliability, security, external new costs like ISP data caps and data ownership keep getting such traction? When Dassault and Autodesk talk about something but refuse to stand behind it with service and security guarantees and proof of financial benefit to customers I have to say that it is a deliberate policy of deception towards people they want as chattel and not customers. I figure there will be a ton of users here staying on old permanent seats and will discover that they did not have to spend all that money every year anyway. These guys are shooting themselves in the foot in more ways than one.

    Two years ago I posted through Ralph’s blog forty questions about the cloud and not one major corporate officer anywhere has answered any of them. Scott and Carl will not answer any of them now either and the proof is in the pudding. Why should any customer or potential customer trust companies that have as their modus operandi deliberate deception and obfuscation?

  4. S Lafleur

    On the surface, the concept seems reasonable – of you’re someone who’s going to get a new car at regular intervals anyway, leasing one makes some sense. If you’re likely to keep a car well after it’s paid off, not so much. With Autodesk products, since we’re paying for subscription annually anyway (whether or not we upgrade annually), what’s the difference buying or “leasing”?
    I don’t think the concept of renting/leasing is the real issue. I think it’s the Cloud concept that’s the problem.
    I have a big enough issue with my company’s timesheet only being available to update on a web site – there are times and places that the internet isn’t available. I KNOW! Shocking, right? (Admin’s answer to that is “you can access it on your smartphone”. My answer is “buy me a smartphone”.)
    Anyway, Cloud access and all it entails aside, what happens to customization? What happens if you don’t want/can’t use the latest version? Too bad, so sad, here it is anyway?

    1. The big difference between buying and leasing/renting is in the ability to stop paying and keep using the product indefinitely. At the moment, if you step off the Autodesk Subscription treadmill you are at least allowed to keep using the current release of the software as long as it is practicable for you. If you’re convinced that there will never be any reason to cut the umbilical then that doesn’t matter. Personally, I don’t think that’s a sensible position to take, given Autodesk’s history and current attitudes.

      1. S Lafleur

        Yeah, I don’t like the idea either – I was speaking hypothetically. For some companies it may make sense, at least at first glance. There was a time that leasing computers and other office machinery wasn’t all that unusual – I guess for budgeting/bookkeeping reasons. That still holds true for some offices, I suppose. For an individual or small company, it would probably be a nightmare. Then again, I suppose if you need to use a certain software for just one project, and don’t know if making the commitment forever is the way you want to go, renting might be ideal. Or if you’re staffing up temporarily for a project. It should be an option, not the only way to go…

        1. R. Paul Waddington

          “It should be an option, not the only way to go…”
          I think your closing comment is hitting one particular nail on the head. Coming back to the fact CAD software is a business (in the main) tool, having differing options including “purchase of a licence to use” is important. Bear in mind Steve has already touched on Autodesk previous rental option
          I venture to say there is not one of “we critics” of CAD in the cloud who are advocating it should not be an option – however, as you say it should not be the only way to go.

          The variation in size of companies/individuals who utilize CAD, the huge variations, within the organizations, of the complexity of the CAD documents and the importance to some for greater security than others all conspire to make the application of CAD software a very individual process. Lots of similarities in differing users: but, also LOTS of individual requirements, many of which should not have to be changed because a tool supplier has an agenda which is different to the customers.

          As an aside: If, when I need to a temporally increase my draughting staff, I have to chose between those who have their own tools – being amortized over a period of their choosing and included in their hourly rate – or individuals for whom I would have to rent hardware and CAD in cloud, it is quite probable I would favour those with their own tools – for a number of (business) reasons. Any business person looking at that example could write a paper back on the financial variations, advantages and disadvantages inherent in my choice.

          “It is our intention to maximize our returns…..” This statement was part of a conversation I was having with an Autodesk employee to do with the replacement of software into an organization which had just burned to the ground. The statement also defines a change which had crept into Autodesk, some time ago, that being Autodesk are not content with supplying tools, to individuals or companies, which can be used to generate revenue far in excess of the value of the software. Put simply Autodesk (and others) have long believed they have a right to have returned a value on their CAD software based on the value of the projects in which it is deployed. Forcing to the cloud is the only way they can achieve that goal.

          40 cents/hour is roughly what AutoCAD (my ownership) costs at the moment and Inventor costs 94 cents/hours. Neither is used constantly and never are they used constantly simultaneously – I only got two hands 😉 – not uncommon however, both will be running (and needed), whilst only one is being driven at a particular point in time; whilst handling/juggling multiple issues for different customers. CAD in the cloud costs/charges/allocations would be a nightmare in these situations.

          For most, I venture to say, the ramifications of a cloud only CAD solution will be increased project costs due to the overall costs to all stakeholders – the exception being the CAD vendors – due to hourly cost charges, reductions in productivity and a reduced level of competent users available and able to leverage on the CAD tools available; through a lack of knowledge brought about by intermittent use and access.

  5. Matt

    Another excellent post. No matter how desperately they try to sell the cloud, the fact is that a lot of the time I want to work on CAD without doing anything requiring a super powerful CPU or GPU. And if I want to do that while I’m offline, then why shouldn’t I be able to?

    It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. My guess is that the nightmare scenario of cloud-only will never be realized.

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