Steinberg: “The future will be dongle free.”

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Steinberg, the company that produces Dorico, Cubase, Nuendo, and other professional audio applications, announced today that they would be moving away from the hardware license key, which requires users to plug in what looks like a USB thumb drive to their computers any time they want to run a Steinberg. This key, called eLicenser, was the single greatest annoyance for me as an early adopter of Dorico. Remembering to carry an extra thing around, finding adapters for modern notebooks that have removed USB-A ports in favor of USB-C, danger of bumping a port while working, and just the general inelegance of the whole thing. Product Marketing Manager Daniel Spreadbury has been saying for years that they’ve been trying to work on this, and it seems things are finally happening.

I have no idea what the result will be, but I’m convinced it will be better than the current situation, if only because it will have been created by people who have seen what computing looks like in the 2020s: mobile devices and super-thin notebook computers with limited USB ports. When the eLicenser was originally developed, the idea that you could run something as complex as Cubase on a laptop was absurd, and so the hardware licensing system didn’t seem like a burden, but obviously that is no longer the case. Even among media pros, laptops are increasingly common, and the eLicenser feels increasingly anachronistic.

The trick will be to balance the needs of users—simplicity, flexibility, and reliability—with Steinberg’s need to protect its massive investment in the development of these applications. I’ve seen some speculation on social media that this is a signal that Steinberg is moving to a subscription model, but I don’t see any evidence of that, and it’s something Spreadbury has stated in the past is something he opposes for Dorico.

My hope for this future licensing platform is that it will be easy to transfer a license over the Internet, but that an active network connection would not be required to use the software. I think it’s reasonable for a person buying license to professional software like this ($600 USD before any discounts) would expect to be able to use it on at least two to three computers (say a desktop and a laptop) without too much hassle. Long-time Sibelius users will likely recall the tedium of transferring Sibelius licenses by copying long numbers back and forth between computers.

The replacement for Steinberg’s eLicenser technology isn’t here yet, so if you’ve got an eLicenser, you can’t ditch it yet; and of course, other applications like Vienna Symphonic libraries still use this same system, not to mention Avid’s iLok. But, I’m happy to see this commitment to our brighter, dongle-free future.