Activation Threshold


My experience with software activation is mostly related to Macromedia and Microsoft software. One of my more recent “brushes” with activation was with an OEM version of Windows XP Home, which I had purchased for the desktop system I had built a couple of years ago. My first mistake with that purchase was buying an OEM version. It wasn’t until after I purchased the software and installed it that I learned it was non-transferable, meaning I cannot install my copy of Windows XP Home on another computer that I own even if I remove it from the first computer. The cost of about $150 is high when considering this. Windows XP is currently not installed on this computer. It’s running Fedora as its OS. Now I have a shiny Windows XP Home disc just sitting around that’s useless unless I decide to remove Fedora a install Windows XP. That’s something I don’t really want to do.

I’ve had two occasions that required re-activation of my Windows XP Home. The first was when my system crashed. I don’t remember the specific cause but the registry was trashed (being an IT person of course I didn’t make a backup.). I don’t remember if I was able to do a repair installation or a “fresh” installation, but it was a reinstall of some kind. So I reinstalled Windows XP. I also decided this was a good time to remove a DVD drive and take my DVD burner that was in a USB enclosure then and put it back in the desktop. After all of this was done I booted Windows and the first thing I saw was the activation screen. Unfortunately, I had to call Microsoft to get a code that would allow me to re-activate my $150 copy of Windows XP that I legitimately owned.

I called Microsoft and waited a while before a support rep answered. The process was relatively simple and once I entered the code it was back up and running. I think a day had passed between the time I had booted the computer and when I called Microsoft, as I had been working very late on the computer and simply didn’t feel like calling until the next day. Fortunately, the rep didn’t give me a hard time about why I had to reactivate.

Within the last year I had to activate again. I had some old IDE drives sitting around that I needed to pull data off. I completed several swaps, which involved adding one of the drives, copying data from it to my primary drive, removing the drive, and then doing the same with the next one. After a few times I was forced to re-activate Windows XP due to too many hardware changes in that amount of time. Fortunately, it was much simpler as all I had to do was re-activate over the Internet. Still, I feel compelled to ask why it’s any of their business how often I swap parts out? Truthfully, I am more apprehensive about upgrading my computer or installing parts as I don’t want to have to deal with activation again.

It’s my computer. I paid for the parts and I paid for the software. After having spent as much as I did I shouldn’t have to justify how I use my computer.

I’ve also run into activation problems with Macromedia. The same time my system crashed I had Dreamweaver MX 2004 installed. Because of the manner in which Windows XP failed there was no way for me to deactivate Dreamweaver (and it didn’t carry the activation over when I reinstalled, which probably means I did a fresh install of Windows XP Home). The only saving grace is that Macromedia had the “wisdom” to allow two installations per license. Rather than call Macromedia I simply let one activation go out into limbo until it was eventually released due to inactivity (Dreamweaver “talked” to Macromedia occassionally to renew the activation).

ll of this reminds me of my earlier experiences with Audible is an excellent site that provides audio books for a nominal fee. At one time I had it installed on my iPaq, my IBM ThinkPad iSeries 1400 notebook, and a workstation at a part-time job. Over time I had wiped my ThinkPad system clean and started from a fresh install of Windows, forgetting to deactivate Audible. I also had problems with the iPaq and was unable to deactivate it a couple of times prior to a firmware restore. Over the course of a couple of years most of my activations eventually became tied up. Audible provided for activiation for up to six devices; being more generous than most companies are when it comes to activiation. The ability to burn an audio book to CD requires another activation slot, thus a desktop computer can have two activiations tied to it. Removing an activation in the event of a system crash or format, as has happened to me, was possible using a page that allowed one to manually selected which devices to deactivate. Back when I used Audible on a frequent basis, the form often did not work and it was also frustrating because only one device could be removed every six months. I think I finally straightened it out sometime this year.

I bought a nice digital clock for Windows XP that displays multiple time-zones in the system tray. It’s called ZoneTick. The program works very well and has a nice interface but it seems rediculous to have to activate a clock! I haven’t even bothered to install it on my new work computer. The process is simple and Web based, but it just seems like too much for so little.

I wonder if software activation has decreased illegal copying? I’d like to see the figures. I think the only difference it has probably made is that users who “pirate” software have become more knowledgable of hacks and cracks or have become better friends with those who already know. I have no doubt there are some people who have probably resorted to using cracks for software they legally own simply to bypass frustrating features such as activation. The game industry isn’t left out. Many games come with programs that prevent users from making backup copies of their software or running the disc content from an emulated drive to improve performance and free up the CD/DVD drive.

On the bright side, such things help promote open source software. I have been willing to use open source programs that were “inferior” to commercial packages simply for the lack of “bloat” that so often comes with such applications. What is the point of activation if it refuses to install but doesn’t report the act of piracy? How is it really meant to thwart piracy if it only works against those of us who paid for our software?

I find it interesting that I haven’t heard reports of warehouses filled with illegal software being found because someone tried to install pirated software.

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