More on Activation

May 13, 2006

Last night I remembered something about why I decided to try product activation after KIT got cracked (far too easily) and that was this article by Ambrosia Software in 2002. Reading it again, it isn’t quite the same as I remembered. Basically they said a few things that I seemed to join together.

One point was that crippling shareware before purchase (note: crippling, not the trial expiration I use) produces increased sales. The next point was that they devised expiring license codes that need to be renewed on the server after 30 days, which is basically deferred activation, and finally that renewal process showed them that piracy for Snapz Pro was rife.

After my own brush with software crackers, I was edgy enough to try and implement something that showed me whether this was really an issue. Also the likes of eSellerate and even Panic used some form of activation at the time (not sure if Panic still do), so it seemed worth a try.

Maybe it’s because I’m not in the utility and games market but my experience is that in the last 21 months only 71 (around 2%) of activation requests have failed validation (although there is also validation in the app itself that would prevent a number of requests getting through) and that of those 71, only 10 were totally bogus. The rest were user errors, usually repeated, such as typos, etc. It could be down to volumes too, of course.

So is it worth doing product activation? In my case, I don’t think so, apart from freeing me from the FUD created by the Ambrosia article, but it probably all depends on what kind of apps you sell and to whom.

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5 Responses to “More on Activation”

  1. hanso Says:

    I agree it’s all about what kind of apps you sell and to whom. Also, it depends on who’s selling what.

    Just look at Miscoroft (it doesn’t even deserve correct spelling, does it?). You have to call them to activate your legitimate license and when you call them, you are to read all 25 alphanumeric digits of your serial number, only to be read at a 30-letter activation code in a thick Southern-Indian accent:

    A as in Adam, J as in James, number two, X as in XP…

    That’s when I stop hang up the phone. Come on, you do marketing even when you’re reading an activation code? =)

  2. Joshua Says:

    Thought I would chime in…

    You know, I never even thought about having to be connected to the internet to activate Feeder. I just got a new Mac mini to replace my iBook at work (don’t want to keep taking the iBook in to work) so I just installed Feeder on the mini (so you will see an activation). It was pretty harmless, except I was busy and kept missing the Little Snitch pop ups asking me if I wanted to allow the connection.

    Since you linked to Ambrosia I must offer my opinion on their activation scheme. I hate it. I hate it almost more than Microsoft’s and Adobe’s but not Macromedia’s (more on that below).

    Seriously, I understand that Snapz Pro X is a great program (I love it) and they are probably making money off of it since its so damn expensive ($70 for the video version!?)

    But being a Computer Science Major (recently graduated) I would always be pushing my system to the max, and often reformatting and starting fresh. And every-time I would have to reactivate my Snapz Pro X, and almost every time run into some strange glitch and would have to try again.

    I bitch about this because 1) its a royal pain in the ass, 2) I’ve almost always had some issue and have had to try multiple times (yes I paid for it), and 3) they are SLOW to update Snapz Pro X. Seriously. If my memory serves me right it took them a hell of a time to get it fully compatible with Tiger, and Intel Macs have been out since when? January and it’s May and they still don’t have a Universal Binary out yet?

    Microsoft’s system is a pain, but I’ve only had to call them twice, and thats because the hardware fried and needed to install my non volume license XP Pro on a new system. And the other time, my HD died and needed to get Office 2000 back up and running. I was honest, and got no grief from the support agent. YES it was a pain to type in all those numbers.

    I do hate how you have to install their stupid Genuine Windows shit just to download updates. Working in a 99.9% Windows hardware High School, that .1% is my Mac which I purchased because the school wont, I have to deal with the MS BS every day.

    Adobe is the same way. But I think Macromedia takes the cake. I’ve never in my life have had to call a company so many times to get my software activated. As a student and now as a teacher I’ve purchased a lot of education software, I purchased Studio MX, MX 2004, and Studio 8. The software has a built in limit in which it can only be installed on two machines, well, if your OS gets hosed and you can’t go in and deactivate your copy of Studio, and try and reactivate you can’t.

    You have to end up calling and bitching to them that your system got fried. They say well, our records how that you have activated your product a number of times in the past, and have also called in X number of times.

    HELLO!!! that is not how to treat a HONEST paying customer. I’m the one who had to reformat my system, find my files on backups, get everything back the way I had it, and now I have to deal with you assholes just so I can continue using your product, that I legally paid for. PLEASE!

    I give Apple * major points for not requiring any kind of activation in their OS, iLife, iWork, etc apps… but just because there isn’t activation doesn’t mean that gives you the right to pirate. I believe in paying for software that is useful to continue development.

    As a matter of fact, with the new Intel Macs they come bundled with Comic Life, a very cool app I had seen before but never checked it out. I like it so much, and even though i have a license (because it came with my new mini) I’m thinking of buying a license just to show the company my support for an outstanding product.

    * Please don’t say iTunes needs activation… I consider that different. I’m perfectly content with the rights/limits set by iTunes.

    With every activation scheme there are workarounds. For example, if you activate your product, and the activation writes a file to your HD, most of the time backing up that file will bypass the activation (on the same system, I’m talking about reformatting not piracy). So you could say, clone your hard drive, and not have to worry about the activation the next time you restore your HD.

    … I better quit now …

    Sorry I’ve made your post a soap box… stepping down. šŸ˜›

    [steps back up]

    Oh… how about a post on apps that call home? I love ranting about that.

  3. Joshua Says:

    P.S. Sorry my rant was longer than your initial post! LMAO

  4. Steve Says:

    No problem, you make a lot of good points and I’m glad you’re thinking about this stuff!

    With my apps I tried to make it as painless as possible, so that’s probably why I have had no complaints – and if I had received legitimate complaints I would have removed the activation. I could never inflict the same sort of trouble on my users as with the companies you mentioned.

    BTW, I hate Ambrosia’s scheme too. I was one of the first to buy Snapz Pro, which means I always have to get help when activating and it is as annoying as hell because the perfectly legit code I have doesn’t work.

    I think there is nothing worse than problems down the line. With Feeder, if you copy the Feeder folder over to your new machine (the one with the existing library), the license goes with it. My licenses don’t expire and I also have a way to bypass activation should anyone get stuck.

  5. Steve Says:

    Oh, and congrats on graduating, Joshua!


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