Product Activation Gains Ground
Symantec is testing product activation in downloadable editions of its flagship Norton AntiVirus 2003 program, with very few reports of problems. If the tests continue to be successful, the technology will begin to appear in other Symantec apps this fall.
Graphics software giant Adobe has already begun using product activation in Australia, but says the technology won't appear in all of its products until the company is sure honest consumers won't be inconvenienced.
Product activation enforces software licenses by limiting installation, usually to just one computer. It generally associates the program's unique product key, entered during installation, with a randomly generated number or a "fingerprint" of the computer's hardware configuration that is then transmitted to the vendor's server. If, on subsequent installations, the product key is paired with a different random number or fingerprint, the user must explain why no license violation has occurred.
The technology certainly inconvenienced some TurboTax customers. In
With an Intuit patch, the program now removes the product activation software when TurboTax is uninstalled, but a pending class-action lawsuit claims Intuit's introduction of the technology was deceptive and negligent.
Steve Mullins, a computer-science graduate student in Bozeman, Montana, had been installing TurboTax on multiple computers for years. This year, however, Mullins was unable to view his tax files on a second computer (which the current edition should have permitted). Intuit's tech support advised him to return the product for a refund, then buy a new copy. "Next year, TaxCut," Mullins concludes.
Michael Silver, Gartner vice president and research director, says that since product activation offers no benefit to consumers, "vendors need to ensure that the honest, paying customer has as little pain as possible." But low-hassle approaches usually don't protect products very well.
Jeffrey Tarter, publisher of the software industry newsletter