At 02:26 PM 3/10/2004, Tony Karavidas wrote:
I think Altium's protection is decent.[...] It's a simple activation that give you a file which allows the S/W to run indefinitely. I can install it on a couple machines and all is well. If my copy gets out on the net, Altium knows I messed up.

Altium's protection is not, in most cases, fully what I'd call Activation, which is shorthand for something like XP activation. I'm a little worried by the expiring activation codes, though.


Strong Activation has two effects: it really would make unauthorized use of the program very difficult, not just inconvenient, and it also creates a risk of program failure for a legitimate user, who might not have, for example, internet access. And it might be a weekend with the software company staff not available. Or it is a few years down the road and the company has gone belly-up. The receiver in bankruptcy realizes that there is money in continuing to provide minimal service: for a fee, we'll fix your program that shut down because of an Activation problem.

I don't think activation hurts at all.

There are two separate questions. One is how an activation scheme affects legitimate users. Some schemes may have little effect on them. The other is how it affects illegitimate users. Now, Altium apparently has a strong educational discount program. That makes a path for startups to acquire the software cheap (that's not exactly how an educational program is designed to be used, but it could be "abused" by, for example, enrolling an employee in some educational program). What is important for the health of Altium is that new users out there, even if they have little money, are given a way to start using the program. This is software, not hard goods where "theft" is really theft, i.e., a direct loss.


The situation with Protel 99SE was quite what I'd think would be good for business in the long run. A user can download a demo and it is not hard, just a nuisance, to keep the Protel 99SE demo running indefinitely. Just the right amount of obstacle, I'd say. I don't know how much the situation has changed. Not having a downloadable demo will somewhat depress demo usage while it increases the cost of providing demos. If the activation scheme is really effective in suppressing software reinstalls, I'd think that the long-term effect on sales will be negative. Short-term, less of an effect but probably not positive.

A sensible software company will want as many people as possible using the software, paying or not! As long as the situation does not become such that significant numbers of customers who would pay don't pay because they can get away with using the program contrary to license, there is no loss. Rather, the more people who are using the program, the more who will eventually buy it or cause others to buy it. If it is a good program. If it is a lousy program, by all means, copy-protect it so that only people who buy it and who are stuck with it use it. Nothing worse than having a lot of non-paying users bad-mouthing the program!!!

I"ve explained this many times, but I'll essay it again. I'm a newly-graduated engineer and I'm starting a company in my garage with a few friends. I need to design PCBs. What program am I going to use? I have little money, this is a shoestring-startup. Am I going to use program A, which has a good reputation but has strong copy protection so I have to buy it for, say, $10,000, or program B, also with a good reputation, which has looser copy protection, I can get around it, and it sells for $8,000, or program C, which is primitive but will get the job done and is licensed at $300 per year with strong copy protection (a dongle).

I'll want program B, for sure, though I might go with C. If software company B goes with strong copy protection, I'll definitely go for C. So strong copy protection will *not* cause me to buy program B. I might buy B, I might buy A, if I can afford them, but I can't. In a startup, one does not know how much money is going to be needed to get over the hump. In the situation described, many startups, in the early, informal days, would go for B and get around the copy protection. If they fail, that's it. Nothing is purchased. If they succeed, they almost certainly *will* buy B. If they are among what may be a minority of young engineers who just won't ever do anything illegal, they will go for C. Not B.

My informal proof: what company's software has been most commonly been used contrary to license? What company has allegedly "lost" the most money to unlawful use? And what software company is the largest, the most financially successful in the world? I do not find it surprising that the same company is the answer to all three questions. How can you "lose" the most money and end up the richest? The answer is that illegal software use does not cost the software vendor *anything*. Illegal *sales* might represent a loss, under some conditions, that is another story, and that is more deserving of the title "piracy." What if one thought of illegal use as a no-cost demo? There are quite a few companies that made it as shareware companies, they did not *force* users to pay, at least not at the beginning.

Absolutely, it is the right of a software company to set its own license conditions (as long as they are not unconscionable, that is another matter). It is the right of a company to take steps to prevent all unlicensed use. I just think it is not always the most profitable course for the company, it might only rarely be the most profitable course.

 Now I do dislike it the way Microsoft
did it because I can't install on more than 1 machine (even if I'm the only
one here). Apple was a lot better about having a family pack license. It
fits better with the way people use computers. (Hand-me-downs for the kids,
etc.)


From what I've said, you'll understand that I think it is Microsoft's right to push the market toward Linux by developing and implementing strong Activation with their products. I just happen to think it's foolish, I think their sales have not been helped; instead, they are pushing a certain segment of the market toward Linux and other competitors.


But it is their choice, just as it is my choice what OS I use. Sure, if I want to use Protel, I can't choose an OS from any other company than Microsoft, not yet. So that factor will be part of my choice. But what will I use, for example, on a portable computer I used just for e-mail and word processing? I'd prefer to use the same OS as for Protel. But not if I have to pay another $200 for it!

Protel allows multiple installations with a single license (but not multiple installations running on the same time on a network unless network licensing has been purchased or more than one license). That pretty much unavoidably opens the door to some level of use contrary to license. I hope some MBA, someday, doesn't manage to convince Altium management that they are "losing" millions of dollars to such usage and therefore multiple installations should be prevented with strong Activation. The MBA might somehow come up with an estimate of the number of unlawful users, multiply that by $8,000 and then point out that implementing strong activation will cost a fraction of that. Were I in Altium management, I'd ask this MBA, if we are losing so much money, in what account do we report the loss so we can save on taxes?

I have multiple computers. I like Windows XP, but I'm continuing to use W2000 on the majority of my computers. I bought Office XP. I can only use it on this computer. I see no good reason for this. I'm a single user, my use of the software in multiple installations would not increase the cost to Microsoft by any significant amount (potentially, there might be an increased support cost, though not in actuality), it is purely arbitrary that multiple installations are not allowed. Essentailly, MS thinks, it is a way to double their income with little increased expense, a way to really extract more cash from the same customer base. But it isn't working with me. I've just restricted my use, I do all my web site design, for example, on this noteboook, the one running W-XP and Office XP. Microsoft has, from me, not made a penny from their Activation scheme; in fact, I'd have bought XP long ago if not for Activation. Activation has definitely cost them at least a thousand dollars in sales on my account. I don't think I'm unique; I might be a tad cantankerous, true, but dislike of Activation has been widespread wherever I've seen it discussed. I belong to an MYOB accounting software user list, and when Activation was discussed there -- MYOB just implemented Activation with the latest release -- *many* users said they were not upgrading because of Activation, users that had been upgrading every year for years. I think it pretty likely that they (MYOB) shot themselves in the foot.




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