Extraordinary circumstances means extraordinary failures

Here's a story of DRM and copy protection which shows clearly that they are not very error-tolerant technologies.

As you may recall, I lost my SIM card a while back. While I was waiting for a new one, I temporarily switched to using a 6131nfc as my daily phone. Then, I got a new SIM card, and also a new, shiny E61i. I installed all my old software and files back, and thought "phew."

Well, that was just a beginning.

I have exactly one software which I have actually bought (for the rest I'm pretty happy with whatever the company is offering), and that's Navicore. Their "theft prevention" system didn't like both SIM card and phone changing, not one bit. So I had to call their service line to reset the license code.

Having to call someone to enable your legally purchased software is already annoying, and sort of adds insult to injury: having to reinstall everything is a frigging pain, and it's not made easier by having to grovel in front of someone and try to convince them you're not a thief. Well, luckily the Navicore lady at the other end of the line was very nice and helpful, and reset my code.

Except that this didn't help one bit. Turns out that the software locks itself down once you try to register it with a locked license code. So they told me I should install a bit of software to remove the lock - but not that it does not work on the phone I own. So, the only way to proceed is to reformat the entire frigging memory card and reinstall everything! When did you last see a computer that requires that you format the entire hard drive in order to reinstall a bit of software? (On second thought, don't answer that. This is one of the reasons why I refuse to call these cell phones multimedia computers.)

Anyway, so I go and copy all the data to safety, reformat the drive, and reinstall. Of course, I have to reinstall all of the software because none of them survive the copy cycle. Which is totally bogus - Mac OSX doesn't need any stinking software installers, thankyouverymuch. Why the hell would a cell phone?

Everything fine and dandy? No way. Reinstallation of the software tells me again: "Invalid license key." I call Navicore again, and they tell me happily that I can't install a 2007 upgrade without installing the original first ('cos it's an upgrade, even though it's a complete program). So they reset the license key of the original software that I have, and then I go on and reinstall the original version - which of course refuses to install because there is a newer version already installed. After some creative file deletion later, it nearly works - except that I have to call Navicore support again when nothing works, and they tell me that I need to run the installer manually (because it does not run automatically, just like all other software. Because it would otherwise be too easy.)

After about ten minutes of watching the progress bar (why does it take so long?) I actually had a functional, old version. (By the way, all this installation requires Windows. You can't perform the installation on anything else, so you get all the Windows quirks on top of everything.)

Then, reinstallation of the new version (manually, of course, though this time I didn't have to call the help desk. I already knew what to expect.) Again, it takes about five-ten minutes for the installation to complete. But then I finally had functional software!

All in all, I am not at all happy about this experience. While they are of course trying to protect their own assets, this kind of "theft protection" system falls down horribly when you try to do something that the system designers didn't expect to be a common occurrence. Obviously it's a good idea to design for the most common usecase (changing phones), but the system should fail gracefully when confronted with a catastrophic event (e.g. theft) instead of adding to the catastrophe.

In trying to protect their own asset against theft, the software vendor made it very difficult for their own customers to recover from e.g. theft, and cause their own asset, time, being wasted. Not to mention all the money used for support calls and activation SMSs. I have now used maybe four hours or so to try and get one piece of software back to the state it was before. After this experience, I probably won't buy any other software that uses a similar protection system, knowing that if I ever lose my phone, I will have to do this entire round of shit again for every single piece of software that I have purchased.

Later: Wasn't that easy. Oh no... Navicore released an upgrade this month, and trying to install that on top of my now-functional-software broke the License Manager tool, which meant that I have to - wait for it - FORMAT THE ENTIRE FUCKING MEMORY CARD AND REINSTALL ALL MY APPLICATIONS! YES! THAT IS WHAT THE NICE LADY SAID!

You know... it's rapidly becoming easier to steal this software than to try to use the legitimate version. At least then I wouldn't have to put up with this License Management crap. I used to recommend this software to people but now I just can't do that anymore. Stay away from Navicore, 'cos if you lose your phone, I certainly won't be helping you to reinstall.

Later2: And their EULA sucks, too. They for example forbid you to use the software if you are a competitor, back it up remotely over the Internet, or use it in any way "not explicitly allowed by this contract". You also agree in the EULA that they will install spyware on your phone, and you agree to pay all the costs involved. Also, your right to use the software expires if you make a traffic violation while using Navicore (isn't that a bit... preachy?)


Now we should somehow get a mandatory list of DRM any product has.

Sure, you'd have to educate the masses to know what they want to buy - and that it's *not* the shiny new piece of software, if they can't use it if there's a problem.

I can understand protecting "intellectual property", I get my living out of it. What I can't understand is screwing the customers instead of people who copy the things illegally. I've decided not to buy many pieces of software just because the DRM sucks. See the recent BioShock copy protection scheme for some "real computer" software which is quite hard to use.

Anyway, I think the real problems are ignorance and laziness. I have to admit that I don't often remember to ask "what happens if something fails" when buying software. I buy mobile software very rarely, though.

--Pare, 27-Aug-2007

Out of curiosity, did you actually point out to them that if you'd simply stolen the software, you wouldn't have any of these problems? And if so, did they have a response?

--Mikki, 27-Aug-2007

No, I didn't think about it until I wrote this entry. If it still fails, I'm certainly going to mention that idea.

--JanneJalkanen, 27-Aug-2007

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"Main_blogentry_270807_1" last changed on 27-Aug-2007 13:57:29 EEST by JanneJalkanen.
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