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Product activation is a license validation procedure required by some proprietary computer software programs. Specifically, product activation refers to a method patented by Uniloc where a software application hashes hardware serial numbers and an ID number specific to the product's license (a product key) to generate a unique installation ID. This installation ID is sent to the manufacturer to verify the authenticity of the product key and to ensure that the product key is not being used for multiple installations.

Alternatively, the software vendor sends the user a unique product serial number. When the user installs the application it requests that the user enter their product serial number, and checks it with the vendor's systems over the Internet. The application obtains the license limits that apply to that user's license, such as a time limit or enabling of product features, from the vendor's system and optionally also locks the license to the user's system. Once activated the license continues working on the user's machine with no further communication required with the vendor's systems. Some activation systems also support activation on user systems without Internet connections; a common approach is to exchange encrypted files at an Internet terminal.

Microsoft first used product activation in Microsoft Office 2000 with SR-1. Some copies sold in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States required the user to activate the product via the Internet. After its success, the product activation system was extended worldwide and incorporated into all subsequent versions of Windows and Office. In 2009 Microsoft was found to have willfully infringed a patent for the creation of unique hardware signatures held by Uniloc.

An 'unactivated' product usually acts as a time-limited trial until a product key is purchased and used to activate the software. Some products allow licenses to be transferred from one machine to another using online tools, without having to call technical support to deactivate the copy on the old machine before reactivating it on the new machine.

Contents

Transfer/deactivation

Some companies require users to "transfer" activation when moving a product from one computer to another, when replacing hardware in an existing computer, or when reformatting a system hard drive. Transfer may involve deactivating a product on the old system before activating it on the new system. Users may be required to be online and to transmit the deactivation to the software provider.

Criticisms

  • If a computer is stolen or destroyed, the activation records on it may be completely lost. It is only by the goodwill of the company that products can be re-activated. This makes backing up to guarantee prevention of substantial loss impossible.
  • It can cause inconvenience for the end-user, particularly if phone calls are necessary to complete activation or technical problems, such as firewall blocks or activation server downtime, prevent the activation process from completing.
  • It can enforce software license agreement restrictions that may be legally invalid. For example, a company may refuse to reactivate software on an upgraded or new PC, even if the user may have a legal right to use the product under such circumstances.
  • If the company ceases to support a specific product (or declares bankruptcy), its purchased product may become unusable or incapable of being (re)installed unless an activation-free copy or final patch that removes or bypasses activation is released.
  • Although many activation schemes are anonymous, some are accompanied by mandatory registration which require providing the user's address, phone number, and other personal information before the product is activated.
  • Many argue that product activation does not protect against piracy at all; pirates often find a way to circumvent product activation.
  • Product activation has also resulted in many software vendors treating their customers with much more hostility than they did before they introduced it into their products. This can mean that all users, including those with no intention to illegally distribute their products or knowingly acquire or use bootleg copies, are suspected of being involved in activities related to piracy.
  • Product activation where there is no straightforward way to transfer the license to another person to activate on their computer has been widely criticised as making second-hand sales of products, particularly games, very difficult. Some suspect companies such as EA to be using product activation to reduce second-hand sales of their games in order to increase sales of new copies.

List of products utilizing product activation

See also

References

External links








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