Think twice before buying “activation required” software

Microsoft has certainly endorsed a dangerous trend: software that requires activation to install and run it. More and more, it’s not enough that you purchase software and install it with a serial number they give you; you must also be connected to the internet or call their telephone activation center to activate the software when you run it.

The reason for this is simple: the software publishers basically don’t trust their users, and want to monitor every installation of the software closely. It makes sense from their point of view, as long as you assume your users are out to screw you. But from our point of view, this trend is dangerous.

The first of these activation schemes was Adobe Corporation’s “Type on Call.” They would sell you a CD full of fonts, and you would call Adobe to “unlock” fonts you had purchased.

Over the years, I purchased over $2,000 worth of fonts from Adobe. That really isn’t as many as it seems, as some of the nicer faces cost upwards of $500 to purchase all the different weights and styles. My corporate identity was built using the Adobe fonts.

Then a couple of years ago, I bought a new computer. I went to install my Type-on-Call fonts and discovered that the activation servers had been shut down. Adobe had decided to discontinue the service, and suddenly I was no longer able to access fonts I’d paid dearly for. No one at Adobe was able to help, until bombarding the upper management with letters led one marketing manager sent me a CD-ROM of the fonts in question.

Herein lies the danger: in the interests of their fraud protection, you are integrating the business fortunes and decisions of the software vendor into your infrastructure. If they go out of business, get acquired, or just decide to stop supporting their service, the next time you need to install their software, you can’t do it. If that software is critical to your business, you’re just plain out of luck.

And even if they’re still in business, it’s still a business burden for you. You won’t always have a net connection when setting up a new machine. Sometimes–for security reasons or otherwise–you might want to install your software with your new machine disconnected from the network. Whatever the case, you’ll now have to jump through activation hoops. Windows already takes way too long to reinstall, thanks to its convoluted architecture. If you have to make activation phone calls and convince the $3.95/hour clerk on the other end that you own the software you’ve already bought and paid for, you’re spending more of your time and money just to satisfy their paranoia.

Of course, no company would ever use this as a technique for forcing you to upgrade. Microsoft, for example, would never abuse their activation system by dropping activation of old products, forcing you to upgrade. But if a Microsoft doobie reads this article, watch out, they just may change their mind.

Some of the best software I’ve ever used (and continue to use) has been discontinued over time. If it had required activation, I’d be out of luck, forced to use inferior software. Some great software has started requiring activation, so I’m sticking with the last version I could install at will:

  • Windows 2000. XP is nice, but requires activation.
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX. MX 2004 is nice, but requires activation.
  • AdSubtract Pro 2.55. AdSubtract Pro 3 is nice, but requires activation.

Anyone have anything else to add to the list? It’s a sorry state of affairs when vendors so callously disregard the business integrity of their customer, but as a customer, be wise and pressure vendors to sell us software that works the way our businesses require.

Think twice before buying “activation requir…

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