I sense a disturbance in the Atlassian force…

Great products are the foundation of a great company. Atlassian has great, rock-solid products (If I wouldn’t be a rather stern German, I would say these are absolutely fantastic products). They improve those products thoughtfully and continuously. We have been customers since 2006. Actually. we have been customers for so long that I find e-mails from a co-CEO answering dumb questions of mine during our JIRA evaluation.

JIRA 2/3

First, we purchased the JIRA Enterprise Edition and renewed our maintenance/update every year. Rock-solid product. Worked great. Atlassian kept improving it. Pretty steep pricing for us, but it had unlimited users which was important as we had a product with about 150+ customers reporting their feedback through JIRA.

JIRA 4 license change

Then, Atlassian introduced JIRA 4, and nixed the unlimited users Exterprise Edition. Changing to the user tier we needed would have doubled our yearly maintenance costs including the risk of running out of users again in the future. We didn’t do it but decided to stick with JIRA 3 for this particular project. We put all the other projects on a newly purchased JIRA 4 50 user license (about 15 active engineers (devs & support) and about 20 marketing/sales guys/gals which would mostly be read-only/comment-only – with a yearly maintenance/update fee which was absolutely worth it because Atlassian kept improving the product.

Greenhopper

After introducing Scrum a few years ago, we looked at Atlassian’s Greenhopper offering. As expected, a great product. However, we would have had to purchase a 50 user Greenhopper license to match our 50 user JIRA license – although we only have about 10 devs on our Scrum team. The rest of the users couldn’t care less about Greenhopper. Plus Greenhopper is quite steeply priced (about 50% of the base JIRA license) for both the product and the yearly maintenance. So the Greenhopper purchase never happened for us.

Confluence

Because JIRA was working so well for us (from a product point of view), we looked into Confluence. Another great product. We looked at the pricing and found there was no 50 user tier, just a 100 user tier. So we would basically have to pay for 50 users we didn’t intend to use in the foreseeable future. However, the product is – as mentioned before – a really great one, so we decided to go for it – of course including a yearly maintenance/update fee which was absolutely worth it because Atlassian kept improving the product.

Dropping MacOS

Probably about 1.5 years ago, out of the blue, MacOS (our platform for both JIRA & Confluence) was no longer supported as a production environment for both JIRA & Confluence – Mind you, I’m not disputing the decision, I was baffled because there was absolutely no mention of this rather important news (“We cease support for a major operating system platform”) on any of Atlassians developer blogs / website etc. So we’re running our JIRA / Confluence production systems on some unsupported operation system – but hey, it still works. Still rock solid. Still great products.

Team Calendar

Atlassian came out with a new plug-in for Confluence called Team Calendar, which – you know what’s coming – is actually quite a great product and would be a nice fit for us. However, we would have had to purchase a 100 user Team Calendar license to match our 100 user Confluence license – although we only have about 10 devs which would use Team Calendar (rest of the company is on Exchange/Outlook – let’s not go there). Plus Team Calendar is very steeply priced compared to the base Confluence license for both the product and the yearly maintenance. So the Team Calendar purchase never happened for us.

Confluence license change

Last night, I received a lengthy, nicely layed-out HTML e-mail titled “Upcoming Changes to Your Confluence Download License” in my inbox. The e-mail was talking eloquently about the latest Confluence 4.3 release and how great it was – agreed. Another solid release. It also mentioned prominently that I would be able to purchase yearly maintenance at the existing price for two years – although the licensing would change – and that there would be additional “Enterprise” licensing tiers. It talked about existing users being able to renew at existing prices or upgrade during a grace period, but no mention how the new licensing & pricing would affect existing customers. Connecting the dots, I decided to click through to the FAQ page get more details on this “license change”. On item 5 (of 13), I found that Atlassian intends to increase the cost of our yearly Confluence maintenance/update fee by a whopping 80%. Words fail me.

The message I receive

  • Atlassian tends to make unexpected, substantial licensing changes
  • The pricing of plug-ins seems somewhat off compared to the base product
  • The pricing of plug-ins is tied to the user tier of the base product
  • An 80% price increase for yearly maintenance / updates

From where I stand, all these moves are maximizing Atlassian’s profits at the expense of their users. I’m not sure how I can align this message with the set of values Atlassian is based on.

I conclude that there’s a substantial risk involved with being an Atlassian customer. It’s not the risk that you end up with a set of bad products. The products are great. Rather, it’s a business & financial risk and a lack of mid- and long term licensing cost predictability (both financial and feature set predictability). And no, a two year grandfathering period doesn’t change the message I receive.

P.S.: Dear @atlassian employees reading through this rant (I know you will): If there are any factual errors in my rant, please do not hesitate to contact me at hm dot kern at gmail dot com, via Twitter @hmkern99 and I will update this post right away.

[Update 1] I updated the section “Confluence license change” to more accurately reflect the content of the mail. Thanks for the feedback, Matt!