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Daniel Eran

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Headaches with Flash
When this happened at a design company in San Francisco, it caused hours of downtime in determining what was required to reauthorize the software. The verification software in the installer insisted that Flash had been installed on too many computers. To perform a transfer of license, the installer recommended printing out a PDF request and faxing it to Macromedia for consideration.

When a phone authorization was attempted, the software requested the user to call an automated line and enter a series of 14 sets of five or six numbers, one section at a time, pausing for an automated voice to repeat the numbers back, entering a digit to verify the number sequence was correct, and then proceeding through the next set of numbers. After several minutes of entering all the numbers, the phone system reported that the phone verification system was experiencing technical problems and the caller would need to talk to an operator.

The call center operator explained that the original license key was tied to previous installations, and carefully reported the date and time that the software had been originally installed. After some time in explaining the situation, the call center agent agreed to grant a 'one time' additional authorization over the Internet, but said Macromedia could not delete the existing authorizations, even though they were tied to software installations that no longer exist.

Privacy, Schmivacy
While Macromedia insists that no personal information is sent as part of the 'anonymous' verification process, both the verification and the user's personal registration information are tied to the same serial number; Macromedia doesn't say they won't use information gathered in verification along with registration data for marketing purposes. In fact, their privacy policy includes the statement that the company 'may occasionally update, amend, or change their privacy policy based on user feedback and as needed.' The Macrovision SafeCast they chose for DRM lock down was expressly designed to gather personal data from users.

Software buyers are already familiar with copy protection methods that use a software key or hardware dongle to protect against software piracy. However, these simpler methods do not include spyware to monitor and report back on how the software is used, nor is the mechanism they use obfuscated or potentially dangerous to user's data. Choosing SafeCast indicates Macromedia's DRM initiative isn't solely intended to just stop software piracy.

Smells like Quark XPress
Users who tried to buy and use Quark XPress 6 this year faced similar obstacles with online license verification restrictions and limitations. For many designers, this hassle was just yet another reason to jettison Quark and move to the competing Adobe InDesign, which does not use draconian online license verification at all, and instead focuses on features useful to customers. Similarly, the nuisance of Windows XP requisite licensing verification has prompted many of Microsoft's former customers to evaluate Linux and even consider a switch to the Mac platform. Mac OS X does not require a license code to operate, and does not run in a crippled mode if registration does not take place.

If Macromedia's products become increasingly difficult to use through excessive licensing verification measures, users will simply switch to competing products. While Flash does not have an obvious direct competitor, Macromedia should recognize that much of the user base and interest in developing for Flash comes from users who got started on shared copies of the software. If Macromedia can successfully wipe out all unauthorized copies of Flash MX on the development end, they may find that continued development in Flash may be the real casualty.

Development could easily stagnate with previous versions of Flash, since most Flash developers still use older versions and don't require features new to Flash MX 2004. Additionally, advertisers want Flash animations designed to work on the widest audience possible, which is currently Flash 4/5, not MX. By forcing users to give up convenience, flexibility and familiarity in order to upgrade to the latest version of their applications, Macromedia could win a DRM battle but lose the war in developing software that matters to consumers.


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