The Meaning of OEM Software

There is much confusion surrounding the direct sale of OEM software

What is OEM software?
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OEM stands for "original equipment manufacturer" and OEM software is a phrase that refers to software that is sold to computer builders and hardware manufacturers (OEMs) in large quantities, for the purpose of bundling with computer hardware. The third-party software that comes with your digital camera, graphics tablet, smartphone, printer or scanner is an example of OEM software.

What Is OEM Software?

In many cases, this bundled software is an older version of a program that is also sold on its own as a stand-alone product. Sometimes it is a feature-limited version of the retail software, often dubbed as a "special edition" (SE) or "limited edition" (LE). The purpose is to give users of the new product software to work with out of the box, but also to tempt them to purchase the current or fully-functional version of the software.

A "twist" on this practice is offering earlier versions of the software. On the surface, this may sound like a great deal but the real risk is the fact these same software manufacturers won't upgrade older software to the latest versions.

OEM software may also be an unlimited, fully-functional version of the product that can be purchased at a discount with a new computer because the system builder sells in large quantities and passes the savings on to the buyer. There are often special license restrictions attached to OEM software which attempts to restrict the way it is allowed to be sold. For example, the end-user license agreement (EULA) for fully functional OEM software may state that it is not allowed to be sold without the accompanying hardware. There is still much debate as to whether software publishers have the right to enforce these license terms.

Legality of OEM Software

There is also a lot of confusion about the legality of OEM software because many unethical online sellers have taken advantage of consumers by offering drastically discounted software under the "OEM" label when it was never authorized by the publisher to be sold as such. Although there are many instances where it is perfectly legal to purchase OEM software, the phrase has often been used to trick consumers into buying counterfeit software. In these cases, the software was never published under an OEM license, and the seller is offering pirated software which may not even be functional (if you are lucky enough to receive it).

This is especially true in many countries. It is not uncommon to be presented with a list of software you would like to have installed on your new computer and it is there when you pick up the computer. This also explains why many software manufacturers such as Adobe and Microsoft are moving to a cloud-based subscription model. For example, Adobe requires you to have a legitimate Creative Cloud account and that, every now and then, you are asked to provide your Creative Cloud Username and password.

Software downloaded from Torrents is usually "pirated" software. The real risk you run here is the possibility of being sued by the software company for copyright violation. As well, you are also on your own when it comes to tech support. If the software has an issue or you are looking for an update and you check with the manufacturer the odds are almost 100% you will be asked for the software's serial number and that number will be checked against the legal software numbers.

In today's web-based environment the practice of bundling OEM software is being rapidly replaced by Trial periods in which the fully functional version of the software can be used for a limited period, after which the software is either disabled until you purchase a license or any content you produce will be watermarked until the license is purchased.

Though bundling is a dying practice, smartphone manufacturers have no problems with loading software, commonly known as "bloatware", in their devices. There is a growing backlash against this practice because, in many cases, the consumer is can't pick and choose what is installed on their new device. When it comes to OEM software on devices, things get a little murky. Depending on the device manufacturer, you may find your device cluttered with apps that have little or no relevance to what you do or are of little interest or use to you. This is especially true when it comes to Android devices. The problem here is much of this software is "hard-wired" into the Android OS because the manufacturer has modified the Android OS and that software can't be deleted or, in many cases, disabled.

Another nasty practice on smartphones is the practice of encouraging the user to purchase extra features as they are using the application. This is especially true with games that have both a free and a "paid" version of the app. The free version is where the begging for feature upgrades is a common practice.

The bottom line when it comes to OEM software is a direct purchase from the software manufacturer or a reputable software reseller is more often than not the best route. Otherwise, that old axiom, caveat emptor ("Let the Buyer Beware") is not a bad idea.