Phone or Internet?
When a user installs a software which requires product activation, the user must activate the product through the Internet or the phone, either during installation or within a certain period after installation.
Two of the earliest instances of widespread implementations of product activation occurred in two of Microsoft’s products, Windows XP and Office. Other software companies which have incorporated product activation into the installation of their software include Adobe and Norton.
Product activation does not necessarily have to take place immediately after installation; Adobe allows its users thirty days to use their products before activating it, while Symantec offers a fifteen-day grace period.
Example of a bogus activation number, When the user decides to run the product activation process, the hardware identifier of the computer on which the software is installed will be hashed with the product key.
Should the user choose to activate their products through the phone—an option available to users of both Adobe and Symantec products—they would usually need to enter their product key using their phone, and a software activation key would subsequently be read out to them. At the appropriate fields during the activation process, the user would then need to key in their activation key into their software to activate their software.
If the user chooses product activation over the Internet, however, the computer’s hardware identifier would be hashed together with the product key of the software. The software will then send the installation key, which is the new key generated, to the software company over the Internet.
The vast majority users would not need to reactivate their products after activating their products once, either through the Internet or through the phone. Users who upgrade their computers or make drastic changes to their computer’s configuration, however, may need to re-activate their products.
Seems benign, but come with many criticisms…
The software activation process as outlined above seems benign enough. However, since product activation has become widespread, it has come under much controversy; articles criticising the use of product activation, especially in Microsoft software, can even be found on a few web magazines.
For one, it is at least theoretically possible that a notebook running Microsoft Windows XP suddenly deactivates when the user is using it while travelling. In this case, the user would not be able to reactivate his operating system before reaching home. With his operating system disabled, the user would not be able to use his notebook during the time he is outdoors. In these situations, product activation can seem too sudden, and seems to be unfair to users of genuine software.
Those opposed to the implementation of product activation sometimes take issue with a user’s need to re-activate her product when she changes her computer’s hardware configuration significantly. Microsoft has conceded that it is possible for this to happen, but claimed that only a small part of its users need to re-activate their software due to their changing their computer’s configuration.
As well, some users are also uneasy about having to connect to software companies during the product activation process. While Microsoft, for one, claims that it does not collect personally identifiable information during product activation, other software companies collect users’ personal information through their software outside of the product activation process. Some people are thus worried about their privacy when they activate their software products.
Not impossible to circumvent
Product activation is supposed to reduce the incidence of casual copyright infringement as it makes things harder for users wanting to share their commercial software without authorisation with friends or co-workers. It is, however, not completely impossible to circumvent the system. Those intent on sharing their software can work around product activation through the use of cracks.