Slashdot discusses the fact that the new version of the Adobe Creative Suite is saddled with the same kind of product activation that aggravated the TurboTax user base last year: Adobe Makes Products Harder to Use, More Expensive. There are a number of excellent comments, with this one articulating the primary reason that I continue to do all I can to support and use open source/free software:
Problems with product activation (Score:5, Insightful)
by FattMattP (86246) on Sunday October 19, @01:42AM (#7252209)
[I originally posted this on a digital video forum so I’m reposting it here on slashdot]
I have a problem with product activation because it puts too much control into the software publisher’s hands over how I use the software I’ve paid for. There are a lot of legitimate reasons to need to reactivate. I want to plan my software and hardware upgrades according to *my* schedule, not some vendor’s. Fortunately, some companies are already learning hard lessons about product activation. Check out this story on Intuit: http://money.cnn.com/2003/05/19/technology/techinvestor/hellweg/ [cnn.com]
The company I work for bought a program called Stream Anywhere from Sonic Foundry a while back. It’s great. We use it on every streaming media production that comes out of our video edit suite. But Sonic Foundry doesn’t sell it anymore and they were just bought by Sony. Will Sony issue me a new activation code in the future if/when I move to a new computer? Will they even keep the key-generator around for an end-of-life product? What if I upgrade my computer in two years and I need to reactivate but they can’t or won’t give me a code?
We also spent $6,000 on a product to let us sync PowerPoint slides to live streaming video. When you install it and run it for the first time, it wants to connect over the internet to register. When we installed it on a different machine that we bought just for this purpose, I had to call them and talk them into letting me activate it again. This isn’t an activation code — it actually talks to their servers to activate.
What do I do if this small vendor goes out of business and I have to reinstall Windows for whatever reason? Am I just SOL? I wouldn’t be able to reactivate even on the same machine because of the method they use. This isn’t as much an issue with someone big like Microsoft or Adobe, but smaller companies usually follow ideas of the larger companies. I could see in a few years where everything from big commercial apps down to small shareware programs require activation.
Even with a big vendor, what’s going to happen when they end-of-life the product? Will I still be able to reactivate PhotoShop CS or Windows XP several years down the road when there’s a newer verison out? Or will they refuse to reactivate it and tell me I have to purchase a copy of whatever newer program they are currently selling? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the later. They have everything to gain yet the customer stands only to lose.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’m writing to Abode to let them know I don’t like it and won’t purchase any of their products that use product activation. Most importantly, I’m going to vote with my wallet (and my company’s wallet where applicable).
A really striking dimension of this whole thing is the fact that software copy protection (at least in commodity software) was tried twenty years ago and essentially dropped, a point that DRM opponents keep raising today. The argument has been that copy protection failed then because (1) it was easy for professional thieves to break, (2) it aggravated paying customers and (3) it raised costs for software publishers without a noticeable beneficial effect to the bottom line. The story goes on to say that, with the removal of copy protection, sales rose and firms overall had a net increasein income.
That’s a cute story, but then why is software activation coming back? Are these firms too dumb to avoid repeating the errors of the past? Has something changed to make the story wrong? Or, was the story wrong even then?
Increasingly, I’m beginning to believe that the story was never right in the first place. I think that what really happened was that the big players (Microsoft, Lotus, etc.) learned about the power of the "network effect" and saw how to exploit it to garner more income than copy protection would ever have given them. By essentially giving their software away to a subculture of users operating in the gray economy, these firms gained the market power that allows them to monitor and charge firms operating in the white economy who have to give their workers the tools that the gray market users have made the standard — Windows, Photoshop, Excel, Word, Powerpoint, etc. Moreover, the gray market users were far less expensive than paying users, because they did not require/could not acquire technical support from the vendors.
In effect, this strategy exploited the very features of the networked community that the open source/free software movement describe — the power of community to add value to software. Granted, in a more limited way — no one gets to rewrite the code. But the community was able to provide technical support and bug detection at a very low cost to the firms who actually did write the code.
And now, these firms believe that they are secure enough in their market position that they can return to the use of (significantly improved) copy protection tools whose effectiveness is increasingly defended not through expensive software R&D but instead by the power of the State — anti-circumvention, for example.
Of course, this is only supposition on my part — but it’s an interesting research question, too…….