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Product Activation

Any process through which a piece of software is linked to the hardware upon which it is installed via a technological method can be considered Product Activation.

While implementations vary, the most common form of Product Activation works in the following manner:

1) The software combines the Product Key entered during installation with a key that is generated via data regarding the host system's hardware.

2) This combined data forms an Installation ID, which is sent to the manufacturer, who validates it, and uses it to create an Activation Key that is sent back to the host system to complete the activation process.

3) If at any time the host hardware changes (after an upgrade, for example), the Activation Key will no longer be valid, as the data regarding the host system's hardware inside of the Key will no longer match the current hardware.  This will cause the software to require re-activation.

Typically, software that has not been activated will fall back to a "limited use" mode, in which it will not function completely, or will only function for a set period of time.


Product Activation is undesriable because it takes away freedom from the person(s) who has legitimately purchased a piece of software.  It forces active communication between the user, and the manufacturer/vendor, and gives no guarantee that such communication will be successful.  

Examples of potential issues with Product Activation:

1) The software in question stops being supported. It is not feasible, nor expected for a software developer to support a piece of software indefinitely.  When the software is no longer officially supported, the manufacturer/vendor has no reason to keep the activation servers running.  At this point, all future activations will fail, and all legitimate users will no longer be able to reinstall their legally purchased software.

2) Frequent upgrades.  Power users who frequently upgrade their computer may reach their "activation limit," at which point they will be denied activation.  Calling the software's technical support and begging them to allow use of the software may be the only option for such users.

3) Lack of internet service.  Most forms of Product Activation use the internet as their primary means of activation.  For users that do not have access to the internet, activation can be difficult, or impossible, depending on the implementation.  

4) Phone support may only be available during business hours.  If a user has reached their activation limit, or they do not have access to the internet, activation via phone may be their only option.  While some companies provide 24 hour activation helplines, many are only available during normal business hours-- leaving users who require a piece of software during off-hours left hanging.

5) Can be easily abused to create Subscription-Based Licensing.  Because activation is required in order to fully use a product, a manufacturer/vendor with ill intentions could easily force users to pay a fee in exchange for re-activating a product.  Combined with forcing a user to re-activate the software at regular intervals (Periodic Product Activation), such a fee could easily be used to create a subscription payment model for a piece of software.

This list does not by any means fully ennumerate the many reasons why Product Activation is bad, and must be considered unacceptable.

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