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Readers speak out on Adobe licensing

I hit a nerve discussing my own hassles with Adobe software licensing. And I wasted another 20 minutes of my time finding the right Adobe contact number and phoning Adobe (not so easy—they don’t really want to talk to you, since they already have the money).

I still don’t have my licenses restored, but I have a promise that an email might show up within 24-48 hours (note to Adobe: email should take 60 seconds). If it doesn’t, I get to waste more of my time explaining the problem again to the next random person. Every time I call Adobe they seem to have no record of the last call, a sort of negative feedback loop to discourage pesky customers.

It is Adobe’s position that activation is a non-issue (“Adobe is committed to eliminating unauthorized use of its software in a manner designed to have a minimal impact on licensed users”). I don’t consider the impact minimal. Adobe also publishes blatant lies on their web site:

Activation does not transmit any personally identifiable information, except to the extent that IP addresses may be considered personally identifiable in some jurisdictions, nor does it hinder licensed users' ability to use the software the way they always have under the Adobe product license agreement.

Well, it sure as hell is hindering me. And I have a static IP address that anyone can look up to identify me via reverse DNS. What about the fact that Adobe knows when I’m using the software and where I’m located? Disingenuous.

Below are reader emails showing just how pernicious the scheme is. I didn’t receive any emails defending Adobe.

What happens if you have a disk failure? You obviously can't deactivate at that point.

The issue I and other photographers I know have is the entire “only 2 computers” for the license issue. Nowadays as pro photographers we use more then just 2 machines. I wanted to set up CS3 on another machine and Adobe told me sorry, no way. Sure would be nice if they would institute a small fee for a legitimate license and allow us to install on a 3rd or 4th machine.

I completely agree with you it is nothing short of shameful, the way we as customers are treated.

When I purchased CS3, there was nothing on the box or anywhere else that explained about their policy of only 2 uses. Shortly afterwards, I had to perform a disk erase and reinstall. Something nobody really wants to do. If that wasn't enough of a headache I soon discovered that when I went to fire up my reinstalled CS3 on my G5 it wouldn't work. I went through the box and instructions and found nothing to explain what was going on.

After considerable grief, I finally went online to Adobe's site for help and it was then I discovered their policy. It was in one of those FAQ's sections. If I remember correctly the question was "doesn't this impact the true customers too much". Of course the answer was "no" with the caveat that Adobe loses millions on pirating and blah, blah, blah.

In the end I called Adobe. Living in the Netherlands it was a toll call. I assume I reached someone in the states and not in India, as the accent was American. It was on a weekend (as most bad things like this happen) and I got some guy whom when I gave him my serial number informed me (in a rather obsequious tone) it was an upgrade, as if . . . what? I first bought PhotoShop at 5.0 and have been upgrading since from Adobe, and that makes me something less then a real customer? Anyway he told me that I had to call back on a weekday and hung up!

That next Monday I called again. This time the person was really polite (again with an American accent) and got me back-up quickly, but still, what a hassle. Especially considering the fact that I know of a lot of people, who do not have this problem, because they pirate their software. So I asked the representative, if she was familiar with an old bumper sticker that said "when guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns". She didn't see where I was going with this, so I elaborated and said "when software privileges are outlawed only outlaws will have privileges" she actually took it quite well, much to her credit. Of course I was so happy to get my PhotoShop back up and running, that I had told the whole story with a laugh.

I really dislike Activation schemes, IMHO they are only a disadvantage for the honest user and doesn’t solve the piracy problem. I try always to buy software with unlimited updates (paying the extra is an investment with good software) avoiding as much as possible to buy software with an activation scheme because:

- what happens if my hard disk get broken? I loose all the licenses, I have to call here and there asking “please activate me?”

- what happens if I want to install the software on the same computer but under different virtual machines. As a developer I have about 20 virtual machines, Windows&Linux. Most software I need on several machines, and I am one developer with one computer. Why can’t I install Photoshop on the same computer but different virtual machines?

- why do I have to spend an extra time for activating, deactivating, I am a legitimate user, In Italy we say that you should kiss my feet.

- who wants to steal does it in any case: download a torrent client (uTorrent), enter Photoshop in the search box, click on the resulting torrent and wait few hours for to download your fresh copy of Photoshop ready with the anti-activation scheme. It’s too easy for who don’t want to pay a license to obtain a copy and use it in freedom like a customer should do. Without any restrictions.

John Nack is actually a pretty responsive guy to deal with. I had a license for PS CS3 Extended.

I wanted to upgrade to CS4 regular; at his blog, John claimed this was an option. Adobe customer service claimed it wasn't, though. I emailed John - he actually had someone from Adobe call me at my registered phone number to sort it out. And it was sorted out, via a complicated series of manual overrides.

Of course, now if I want to install a second copy on another machine (permitted by the EULA), I probably have to go through the whole rigmarole again, including getting John to intervene personally again.

I do agree with you that the activation scheme - and all activation schemes in general - are clumsy, annoying, and punish the innocent. John is a nice guy and committed to customer service, but that doesn't change the fact that there is an underlying rottenness in the whole process.

I lost a CS3 Design Standard activation. I spent ages on the phone with Adobe. At first they said they could restore the activation. Later they told me that was wrong and they couldn't, because they lacked the technical means to do so. I asked them what would happen if I sold on my copy of CS3. In that case they said they could bring it back to two activations. But they wouldn't do it for me.

Now I'm the precarious position of having 1 activation left. If I lose that I will presumably have to phone Adobe every time I reinstall CS3 and beg them for a temporary activation key. I'm not terribly happy about this.

How I lost the activation: I deleted a standard (non-admin) user account and every file owned by that user. I had found the files using the UNIX command 'find'. What I didn't realize was that some of those files contained activation details. I had activated CS3 from that user account, but when I was asked for my admin password and activation was effected system-wide, I wrongly assumed it would be the administrator who owned any relevant files.

Perhaps because of having done successful disaster preparedness in anticipation of the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, and learning to think several steps ahead, my sensitivity to the stupidity of software re-activation is higher than most.

I see it as a deliberately created single point of vulnerability due to the negligence of the company that can take down an industry (or the entire economy, in the case of Microsoft). For example, what happens when millions of people are dependent on product reactivation if the company goes out of business, or if there is a natural disaster or attack that removes the reactivation capability. Could a sophisticated terrorist, foreign military, or disgruntled employee succeed with a bit of data corruption in permanently destroying the company's ability to generate valid new keys, thereby spreading widespread disruption? ... or just some unexpected failure?

Microsoft had an activation server malfunction that demonstrated this quite well. Companies that create such single point vulnerabilities that are failure prone and likely to be exploitable through cyber-warfare are being incredibly naive and irresponsible. Plus just the cumulative economic loss due to wasted efforts of honest software users dealing with false hits by such activation schemes must be staggering. Maybe one of these days, tort lawyers will figure out how to collect damages for software malpractice, hopefully giving doctors some relief while making the computer industry less irresponsible.

I feel very strongly that I don't want to purchase intellectual property without a permanent license, and see product reactivation not only as annoying and oppressive but as unacceptable because it requires the company to be in existence and competent in the future.

You take a substantial risk when you become dependent on CS4 without knowing that you will be able to continue using it. In hard times such as these, the risk of any single company suddenly going away becomes magnified.

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