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Summary:

Last year I (bluntly) ranted about trying to activate Microsoft Reader on a new computer and being locked out because I ran out of activations.  Six devices can be activated after which your attempts at new activations fails and you fall into a Microsoft bit bucket.  […]

Last year I (bluntly) ranted about trying to activate Microsoft Reader on a new computer and being locked out because I ran out of activations.  Six devices can be activated after which your attempts at new activations fails and you fall into a Microsoft bit bucket.  My original article recounted the attempt to activate a seventh device on the MS Reader and the subsequent process I fell into trying to get an additional activation.  I never got one and totally stopped using MS Reader as a result.  This was a shame as I own a lot of DRM protected works in Reader format which I was unable to access on the new computer.

Recently this article came to the attention of the Microsoft Reader team and I was contacted by the Digital Documents Group Manager who wanted to try and resolve my activation problem.  We had a rolling email conversation over the next few weeks and I have now been able to activate my Sony U750 successfully. According to Microsoft when you first try to activate your seventh device you get the web page that informs you your activation has been denied as I previously reported.  You are then directed to another page where you enter some additional information to request an additional activation.  In my case I was immediately told my request was denied and that I would be contacted by a Microsoft representative about the denial.  I never heard from Microsoft when I went through this process last year which prompted my rant.

During the course of this recent correspondence some surprising facts about the Reader activation process came to light. The Microsoft manager informed me this process is by design.  That’s right, even though the online process tells you to request an additional activation online the system is designed to immediately deny your request.  It is designed this way to kick you to the activation team who will then decide the particular request on a case by case basis.  Why the subterfuge?  It would be a trivial thing to ask you to enter your passport account number so someone could contact you instead of making it look like there is a chance that an online request can be granted.  To Microsoft’s credit they admitted this is a very poor design and will be revamped sometime this year.

At the urging of this manager I attempted to activate my Sony again and got the same results.  Request denied, a representative will consider your case and get back to you.  Once again, I never heard back from anyone which lead me (as it would anyone else) to believe the issue was a dead one.  This time I waited a couple of weeks and just tried to reactivate the Sony again and it was granted.  So someone, somewhere within the MS campus put at least one additional device slot into my Reader account.  But no one ever contacted me to tell me that had happened so if I hadn’t just tried again days later I would never have known that.

This system is flawed, just as flawed as the activation scheme itself that MS uses for its Reader format material.  There should be a method for the end user, without assistance from anyone at MS, to deauthorize a device when it’s no longer needed (e. g. when you sell a computer).  This frees up a previously occupied slot and insures the consumer has control over which of his devices and computers he can use to access material he/she has paid for.  Unfortunately, even though I made that point with the MS manager during the course of our correspondence this was never addressed and unlikely to change.

Kudos to Microsoft for contacting me in the first place.  I know from personal experience that Microsoft employees do care what the customers think and they genuinely want to help when needed.  There was no real need for him to contact me and I appreciate the fact that he did.  But please, fix this abysmal system that by design locks legitimate consumers out of their properly acquired content.

  1. This sort of thing is one of my big concerns about DRM and software activation. Imagine those files were “critical” to some part of your business. Imagine there was no Microsoft to contact (unlikely with them but smaller software co’s come & go).
    I had a Sony Sonicstage database write itself off it decided all the “life’s” were used up on all tracks(i found i was not alone in this). It was only a hassle as all the content was off my CD collection but imagine there was precious ex-download items wriiten off…

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  2. I realize we will never be without some sort of DRM for copyrighted material but it should NEVER be difficult for the consumer. We’re a fickle bunch and don’t hold loyal if there are unreasonable obstacles between us and our purchases.

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  3. This is why I switched to uBook reader on the PPC and Windows.

    DRM is too big of a hassle.

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  4. Heck yes! uBook is the best! :D

    http://www.gowerpoint.com

    -arebelspy

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  5. uBook isnt of much use though if you have DRM secured ebooks :)

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  6. I wrote to Microsoft and suggested that the actuation process be changed so that an activated reader “times out” once every (for instance)ninety days. Have the reader application nag on startup for the last ten days “activation will expire in n days, please reactivate”, or some such thing. Allow a given passport to have a handful of activated readers at anyone time. This approach solves the problem of migrating from one machine to the next.

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  7. The nag screen they already have is too much torment! (This Reader has not been activated yet — or somesuch.) All I want to do is read *non*-DRM ebooks — so I shouldn’t even have to see *that*.

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  8. Clifford V Brooks Monday, February 14, 2005

    As an ebook fan, I hate to see these problems crop up. I’ve had problems in the past too, and let’s face it, they’re a major obstacle to adoption. When you want to read your book, you want to read your book. As a solution, why not allow 5 or 6 activations per year? That should cover every legal situation out there and still make it difficult for someone to take advantage of the system.

    Come on Microsoft, get this one right!

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