When I was comparing back up software, Acronis, Paragon and Aomei, the licensing terms were very different. Paragon provided updates until they released another major update. Acronis would update you for that year’s version. Unlike the others, for an extra $30 Aomei would give me lifetime updates.  In order to do the review, I bought all three packages but like a moth drawn to a flame, I paid Aomei the extra money for lifetime updates.

It’s true, despite having been burned several times, I’m a sucker for lifetime licenses. Time and again, I’ve been very lucky with lifetime licenses. OpinionbyPen is based on a lifetime license from Elegant Themes. I bought it during a sale for about three times the cost of a yearly license. Five years later, I’m still using the theme and very happy with it.

I paid the equivalent of three years for a lifetime subscription to a Lord of the Rings video game. That was almost ten years ago and the game is still active. True, I haven’t done more than wander around the game in the last two years but they’ve certainly given me my money’s worth.

The idea behind providing lifetime updates is sound. The developer is looking for badly needed up front money to continue development. The risk is that having sold all  lifetime licenses, the only money coming in is from new customers. If competition is very strong, the developer may find himself supporting a lot of lifetime licenses with no more money coming in to support his overhead or provide incentive to produce better products.

That’s when the manufacturer decides to develop a new software package with the same features as the old package and announces he’s stopped development on the old package. Just in case you haven’t learned from the experience, they’ll also offer lifetime updates on the new package.

On the other hand, I have several lifetime licenses that did not survive even one year of use. I absolutely loved WinPatrol but shortly after buying lifetime licenses to all three of Ruiware’s products, they quit providing updates. Of special note was Poserworld. Less than a month after I purchased their lifetime license, they decided to charge a $10 a month activity charge and then went out of business six months later.

As all of us Windows 7 holdouts are painfully aware, Microsoft only provides version updates for a limited time. While I would far rather just pay for another copy of Windows 7 than be railroaded into Windows 10, I have to admit Microsoft has been clear about this.

Think my Garmin Nuvi is still in my car

Garmin with lifetime updates.

Lifetime updates aren’t limited to software. I paid extra for lifetime map updates on my Garmin. We had a technology shift on our phones and between Waze and Google maps, I haven’t seen my Garmin in the last few years.

After discovering that Ruiware had been abandoned, I decided I needed a decision tree to aid me in deciding the worth of lifetime updates. After thirty seconds of intense thought, I decided the spreadsheet approach was a better choice. How much more does lifetime support cost, how long do you expect to be using the software and can you trust the supplier? Making the supplier confidence a number from zero to one based on your confidence in the supplier, the formula becomes Lifetime Cost/ Annual cost X Expected Use X Supplier Confidence factor.

If you end up with a number greater than one, it’s probably a good purchase. Of course supplier confidence is very subjective. PoserWorld had been in business for a number of years but they were starting to show signs of financial insolvency. Lord of the Rings was a new video game company with an unknown track record. There was no guarantee it would last the three years needed for me to recoup my value.

As in my Garmin, you also have to consider the rate technology changes. If the software was written for Windows 3.1, can you really expect anyone to provide free upgrades to run on Windows 10?

Serendipitously, this formula is also valid for lifetime warranties. Admittedly, warranties have zero value for me. Failures are either opportunities for a technology upgrade or a repair challenge. If I can’t upgrade it or fix it, I toss it and write a bad review for it. I’m more interested in the availability of replacement parts. When Samsung decided to use a solid metal bearing for on my dryer’s belt tensioner, it was a given that it was going to fail. Some engineer did the calculations on lifetime versus cost and decided a solid bearing would get the majority of us through the warranty period. He was right. My bearing failed just outside the warranty period.

For those of you not suffering through life with an engineer, warranties are probably important. Given the rapid change in technologies, keep in mind the technology may be outdated before the warranty expires. I wonder how many people bought extended warranties for their Betamax machines.

There’s another hidden cost to most warranties, shipping. When returning an item for warranty, you frequently have to pay for shipping in both directions. Often that cost will be more than you paid for the original product. I’m fairly sure some companies have a business model based on providing shoddy merchandise with lifetime warranties. They recoup more on shipping charges than they lose by providing you with a new widget every year.

You also need to consider the terms of the warranty. Painful as it may be, if you intend to rely on a warranty, read it carefully. Most life time warranties cover only the cost of the defective component, not the labor involved to identify and replace the defective part. You’re usually better off buying a replacement without a lifetime warranty.

Do yourself a favor, the next time you see lifetime updates or lifetime warranty, take the time to evaluate the terms. Feel free to use my formula. Odds are that unbelievable deal isn’t the bargain the vendor wants you to believe.

© 2019, Byron Seastrunk. All rights reserved.

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