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  • Memo to Apple: Please Keep the Honor System

    May 7th, 2007

    One thing that's been part and parcel of the Mac OS ever since it was a free download is the lack of an activation code. That means you can freely install it on multiple computers and not face nasty messages from the "mother ship" or finding that your system no longer functions.

    Now this doesn't mean that, from a user license standpoint, you are free to install the Mac OS on all these computers. If you want to be fully compliant, you would consider ordering, say, the family version at $70 more, which makes Mac OS X street legal on up to five computers.

    For businesses, there are other license programs so you get the appropriate number of seats to accommodate a company's needs.

    At the same time, however, you aren't forced to assemble massed license codes and figure out where they are to be used. Of course, in all fairness to Apple, some software companies that depend on individual licensing may deliver a single company license number that will cover a predetermined maximum number of users, and use network checking and online verification to make sure you don't exceed that number. That at least simplifies the setup process.

    But let's compare this to the Windows situation, where the licensing requirements for Vista have been tightened up yet again. As usual, it is one license per machine, even if you have a notebook and a desktop computer that are seldom or never used at the same time, and if Microsoft's servers decide your operating system shouldn't be activated for any reason, you find yourself running a crippled system. Worse, Microsoft is checking your hardware setup when you activate Windows, and if you have made too many changes, it might require that you go through the irritating and perhaps time-consuming process of calling Microsoft to prove to them it's the same computer.

    It only gets more mind-boggling. Take virtualization. Instead of running Windows Vista native -- and this is a new wrinkle -- you decide you'd rather use Parallels Desktop or the VMWare Fusion beta on your Mac. You still have to pay the very same amount of money for your copy of Windows, but Microsoft's user license strictly prohibits running the Home versions on a virtual environment, which is what Parallels and VMWare offer. That's right! You have to buy one of the higher-priced Business versions.

    Why should it make any difference to Microsoft? Well, they can provide some obtuse spin that it has something to do with the fact that only businesses ought to have any interest in virtual machines. It's not that the home user might want Vista to run business-oriented software for which there's no Mac requirement to be compatible with what they use at the office.

    Now this doesn't mean that a home version of Vista won't activate on a virtual machine. From what I hear -- and I won't officially say I've tried this myself -- it does work just fine. That's because virtualization presents a standard hardware configuration to Windows, so it assumes it's just another PC.

    As far as Apple is concerned: The lack of an activation scheme is restricted to the operating system and low-end apps. Many Apple products, even iWork '06, come with a user license number. Some applications, such as the Logic Pro, the audio editing application, even include a dongle, which is a hardware activation device that plugs into one of your Mac's USB ports.

    So what's going to happen when Leopard arrives? Well, I suppose if Apple added its own activation scheme, and continued ultra-cheap alternatives for multiple user licensing, they'd still get lots and lots of complaints. "They're becoming like Microsoft!" would be the common complaint.

    Indeed, when Apple first stopped providing free copies of the latest Mac OS in the early 1990s, there was a hue and cry that was simply ignored. If you want the latest and greatest, prepare to pay. Only maintenance updaters are free.

    These days, the $129 you shell out for a Mac OS X upgrade is, in fact, rather cheap in the scheme of things. Compare that to what Microsoft is asking for any version of Vista, particularly the ones with all the features intact and not crippled in some fashion.

    In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the price for Leopard went up, nor would I be surprised if Apple did provide unique licensing and some sort of checks and balances system to make sure the same serial number isn't being used on another Mac. This would simply be a matter of enforcement, really, because the user license already says it's one copy per Mac. Besides, Mac OS X Server already comes with a licensing number system, so it would only be a natural progression.

    At the same time, however, I do hope Apple will leave things be, and rely on the honor and honesty of Mac users to buy the number of software licenses they truly need.



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    8 Responses to “Memo to Apple: Please Keep the Honor System”

    1. Michael says:

      One of the problems with Microsoft product activation is that it frequently gives false positives - apparently, far more frequently than MS has ever admitted. Now, I've never heard of a case of someone not getting that sorted out with a phone call to MS, but that is more fuss than necessary. There are other problems: some people will, of course, reinstall and then find they've lost the piece of paper or sticker with the activation number. All this kind of thing is hassle for the customer.

      Microsoft is, to a certain extent, in the position where it needs to do this - because it is basically a seller of software. In a similar way, with the purchase of a machine from the likes of Sony, Dell or HP these days, you don't get an OS CD/DVD either: you get a hidden "restoration" partition instead. And this is because of Microsoft's worries about copying of the media.

      I think that Apple, since it is more of a hardware-centric company, really doesn't need to do this. With Apple you get the software, including the OS, on a DVD when you buy the hardware, and the media is of no use to someone who hasn't got an Apple machine. (This is true even on the Macintosh Intel platform.) To be sure someone could upgrade more than one existing Tiger-running Mac with a new Leopard DVD rather than buying a family pack, but I think Apple is better off accepting that than giving all its users unnecessary hassle.

      Hassle is what Windows machines are for, isn't it? Hassle because you've got "crapware" on them, hassle because you haven't got an OS disc, hassle because you have to activate, more hassle if the activation process throws a false postitive. I don't think Apple should do anything to close that hassle gap.

    2. Noddie says:

      Hear, hear. I would suspect, though, that Apple doesn't want to pay for the support headache of product activation. And it's inevitably a bad PR hit.

      In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the price for Leopard went up

      They need to provide a lot more interesting user-visible features than they've shown so far if they intend to raise the price. Right now, discounting third party apps, it's a set of minor tweaks, something like moving to System 7.5 from 7.1. Bundling the iWork suite might be a start.

    3. It's fair to say that we don't know the entire feature set of Leopard. I, for one, hope that iLife will be bundled, but I don't anticipate iWork.

      Of course, we all know that nothing is predictable when it comes to Apple :)

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. SteveP says:

      Clearly everyone has a slightly different situation and 'rationalization'. Mine is this: I currently have a Mini using 10.4 and iBook using 10.3. I suppose I could pay 129 or whatever it ends up being for 10.5 and load it on both. But for what I actually do, it's not really a justifiable expense. Especially since I want a faster Mac with more storage in the semi-near (within a year) future.
      I'm not a 'family'. I use one at home - connected to a 60" Sony TV (don't need an Apple TV.) The iBook when traveling.
      What I would like to see - and be willing to pay for - is a 'special upgrade package' that would give you a copy of 10.5 that could be used on all your registered computers - up to 3? - when you buy a New Mac. $ 50.00 would be an acceptable price.
      As I understand it the install discs that come with each computer will only install on that model. Am I wrong in this? If so, I guess I could use the most current disc set to update all my Macs.

    5. Clearly everyone has a slightly different situation and ‘rationalization’. Mine is this: I currently have a Mini using 10.4 and iBook using 10.3. I suppose I could pay 129 or whatever it ends up being for 10.5 and load it on both. But for what I actually do, it’s not really a justifiable expense. Especially since I want a faster Mac with more storage in the semi-near (within a year) future.
      I’m not a ‘family’. I use one at home - connected to a 60″ Sony TV (don’t need an Apple TV.) The iBook when traveling.
      What I would like to see - and be willing to pay for - is a ’special upgrade package’ that would give you a copy of 10.5 that could be used on all your registered computers - up to 3? - when you buy a New Mac. $ 50.00 would be an acceptable price.
      As I understand it the install discs that come with each computer will only install on that model. Am I wrong in this? If so, I guess I could use the most current disc set to update all my Macs.

      Well, here's the deal: For Tiger, there are separate versions for PowerPC and Intel Macs. Evidently Leopard will have a Universal installer, which means it'll work on both. So that's one advantage.

      The kind of upgrade package you envision would seem almost absurdly petty, but I can see the value in it for one who wants to be street legal and all that stuff.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. One of the problems with Microsoft product activation is that it frequently gives false positives - apparently, far more frequently than MS has ever admitted. Now, I've never heard of a case of someone not getting that sorted out with a phone call to MS, but that is more fuss than necessary. There are other problems: some people will, of course, reinstall and then find they've lost the piece of paper or sticker with the activation number. All this kind of thing is hassle for the customer.

      By "false positives," do you mean that it fails to activate? Yes, I can see where that can cause difficulties, especially if that activation sticker isn't readily available. Sometimes they're affixed to the computer itself, and if you're into spring cleaning, you can easily lose it. I wonder what Microsoft does then, if you don't have the original serial number?

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Michael says:

      By "false positives" do you mean that it fails to activate?

      Rather that it falsely identifies the software as "pirated". Microsoft's initial response was:

      "Of the hundreds of millions of WGA validations to date, only a handful of actual false positives have been seen."

      http://arstechnica.com/journals/microsoft.ars/2006/7/21/4722

      Microsoft are including as non-false positives validations that fail even though the user has not deliberately copied the software. This might include scenarios such as this: the user buys a copy of Windows from a computer repair shop, fails to notice that the packaging is not sealed, and installs the software not knowing the computer store illegally sold it after already installing it on another machine. I guess its fair not to count that as a false positive, as the WGA software has not malfunctioned. But, as a user, I still wish to avoid such problems, which I can, definitively, by going Mac or Linux.

      Nevertheless, it seems Microsoft might have been being disingenuous there. It's been suggested that the real figures for false positives are much higher than they acknowledge. ZDNet say they found that 42% of those who reported a WGA validation failure to Microsoft were actually running genuine copies of Windows. It seems the WGA software can mulfunction or can be caused malfunction by third-party software. Apparently, it's known that some McAfee software was causing WGA to report genuine installations as fake ones.

      "In our research, we discovered that two Microsoft employees have publicly and repeatedly acknowledged that a particular type of WGA false positive is "coming up more commonly now." We found a widely used security tool from McAfee that triggered WGA failures on perfectly legitimate systems. And we read dozens of reports from frustrated Windows users whose systems are running legally licensed copies of Windows XP but who are blocked from receiving security updates via Windows Update and who are blocked from installing premium Microsoft downloads such as Internet Explorer 7 because the WGA tool mistakenly identified their Windows installations as counterfeit."

      http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=142

      It's been by no means a negligible problem, although for all I know they may have it under control by now. I haven't seen much press on it recently. If it were currently making big headlines wouldn't malfunctioning WGA make an excellent Mac/PC ad? I can just see Hodgman saying, "Shh ... I'm hiding from the viruses, because I can't get my security updates. You know how it is: you can't get the updates if they think you're bogus." Justin Long would reply, "No, with Macs you just get the updates."

    8. Bill says:

      Everyone assumes click-through licenses are enforceable, regardless of what the developer puts in them.

      I'm not sure that is the case, since with retail purchased software there is no opportunity to review the terms before purchase, and there is usually no recourse for the purchaser after the purchase is made.

      I am very skeptical that there would be any enforceable damages against an end-user who chooses to "virtualize" their own retail-purchased copy of Vista.

      Love the new "Wheel of Vista" Apple ad, though!

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