MS Reader activation woes- a followup


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.



I have many e-bools purchased from from 2004-2006 which they have ceased supporting. My problem is that all but one of the machines that I had authorized are no longer working and beyond repair. The one laptop that I have authorized is 6 years old and probably won’t last much longer.

I have tried to activate new machines but to no avail. I sent off an e-mail asking Microsoft how to deactivate older machine and authorize new ones but they have not responded.

Is there anyway to resolve this and not lose several hundred dollars of ebooks?


“To Microsoft’s credit they admitted this is a very poor design and will be revamped sometime this year.”

haha – this is a 2005 article and the situation has gotten worse, not better. I’ve been trying for 3 days to activate Reader and the process just times out. I wonder if the new iPad with have these hassles? I know Kindle doesn’t.

This is just one more in a long line of Microsoft’s great ideas that they just couldn’t execute properly.


I usualy buy ebooks in Adobe format. As I find Adobe more flexible. This time around the books I wanted were only available in lit format. I bought them (6 books) installed MS reader, went through the activation process. I read the first 2 books. and planned to enjoy the rest during thanksgiving. a week later (today) I try to start reading where I left off, But MS reader refuse to open the books, saying that it’s been updated and I need to re-activate again. I am a tad irritated at this point, but no help for it, I try to re-activate it and I get : “Microsoft Activation Server is offline for regular maintenance or upgrade, or it may have technical difficulties now. Please try activating again later.”. I am very busy and I have only week-ends and holidays, to enjoy my reading. being locked out of books I bougth that are on my hardrive. because of an “update” or other technical issue at Microsoft, left a bad taste in my mouth. it was a mistake trying this format. I’ll stick to pdf from now on.

Stan Hjerleid

Well it’s October 2006 and it is the same thing all over again. This is the 2nd time I’ve gone through this, 2 yrs apart. I upgraded from Axim X30i to Axim X51v. I do a lot of testing, Vista, XP Pro etc and a lot of rebuilds. In the process I have used up my activation quotas.

This time I have been trying for 6 days now. Every time I go to the activation page, I get message that quota is exceeded and to request another. It states specifically that someone will call back. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. Finally when I submit a request (via their webpage) it won’t allow me to do it stating I have a request pending and to call MS Product Support (read that to mean at least 2 hours wasted if you can get someone who speaks English). Called last night and after an hour they told me that the people that need to act on the request would call me. I gave them a window ot 6 AM to 10 AM MDT. Alas, 10:45 came and went and no call. I called them again and went through the same exercise. Then again they needed a phone number (which I’d given to 3 different folks as I climbed the phone tree) and a time window they could call me. I refused and told them I wouldn’t give them one as they won’t call anyway. That seemed to give the agent pause as he said he would escalate. I did get an email from the agent and he said if I didn’t get this resolved in 2 days to email him.

I’m not very hopeful.
If I did not have several hundred dollars of MS Reader ebooks, I wouldn’t even be going through this.

I have a new philosopy as of today. I will never buy another ebook that uses Microsoft Reader. If I can’t get it in another format, eReader/Mobipocket, I’ll order the book in hardcover from Amazon.

Wong Jor Fei

I had the same painful experience with MS Reader.

I’m using a USB-to-IDE cable so that I could use additional hard disks with my notebook – I have about 10 hard disks from my old desktop PC. Every time I plugged in an additional hard disk, I was asked to activate my MS Reader again. At first, I didn’t realize that there was a maximum of six activations per Passport account. I only got to know this when there was a failure with notebook’s primary hard disk and I was unable to activate my MS Reader after replacing the faulty hard disk. It took me months to get a new activation.

Now I stop purchasing e-books in MS Reader format. I prefer e-books of Adobe format. Adobe allows you to deactivate devices that you don’t use anymore. Do you know that MS Reader does not have a feature to rotate the page making it difficult to read material printed at 90-degree orientation. Adobe reader does have this feature.


I recently updated my IPAQ h2200 pocketPC’s firmware to version 1.10.07. Since then, I have been unable to read any Microsoft Reader ebooks that require a DRM. I have attempted to re-activate the application many times in the last month. This is the second time that I have had an activation issue on my PDA. I will never buy a Reader ebook again.


The reason Microsoft doesn’t talk about de-authentication of devices is because of one critical design flaw in their DRM:

There is no way to de-authenticate a device.

From what I can tell each “download capable” authenticated device (desktop/tablet) gets its own key and all content that device can read has to have been encrypted with that key. I’ve always had to go re-download content from Amazon/Fictionwise after authenticating a new “download capable” device.

Since all of the content is permanently encrypted with that devices key how would Microsoft de-authenticate the content?

The X.509 security certificate designers forgot about this issue too.

Their hack was to add revocation lists. But for that scheme to work the clients have to run out and check with the certificate issuer to see if the certificate has been yanked. (hence the use of the word “hack”.)

So imagine if Microsoft implemented that scheme.

Each time you go to purchase a new secure eBook the spiffy new MSReader DRM would inquire of Microsoft as to whether it had been de-authenticated. If so, it would commit suicide. All content encrypted with its key would no longer be accessible.

If you were crafty and backed up your DLL’s you could continue to read content you had previously downloaded, but you would never be able to purchase new content. Plus the MSReader could run out every so often, when it noticed the ‘net was available, and check it’s authorization and commit suicide as needed.

If Microsoft implemented this scheme they could provide us with a simple self help desk that would allow us to zap authorizations at will. The “stick” would be that each time you re-authenticate a system you would be forced to re-download all your titles for that system, so you’d want to think carefully. But you would never be locked out of your content unless the bookshelf providers (Amazon/Fictionwise) denied you the ability to download the titles you had perviously purchased.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has been legally found to be a consumer harming monopoly so based upon that legal determination we can safely expect they won’t do anything about implementing something like this.


Bruce, make sure you activated with the same Passport account you used when you bought the books. They can’t be read on another account. If that’s not it then it’s another sign that MS Reader DRM is broken.


Activation is only the first problem with my HP iPAQ 5455 (Pocket PC 2002) and HP iPAQ 4700 (Windows Mobile 2003 2nd Ed.). After I get successful activations using my MS Password (the same one I bought my eBooks with), I get an error msg on both mobile devices that says “This copy of the Microsoft Reader cannot open this title. You may not have the appropriate rights for viewing the content. If you are the rightful owner of this title, please try reactivating your Microsoft Reader. See the Guidebook for instructions.” I can see all the eBooks on my laptop with no problem. What gives here??


That’s why I only purchase eBooks in Mobipocket format.
I can read them on any PDA or Smartphone, and I don’t need anyone to validate a new device.


If DRM is something to keep honest people honest, since most people are honest and not prone to redistribute, said honest people could use the tool at on a PC (where the DRM seems to mostly work), and read unencumbered on the mobile platform.

Clifford V Brooks

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!

Mike Cane

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*.


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.


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

DRM is too big of a hassle.


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.

Robin Capper

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…

Comments are closed.