Why is Office XP activation so loathed?

Microsoft is asking you to activate your software before you can use it. You're not required to pass on any personal information , and if for some reason you need to reinstall your software, you can call Microsoft support and get a new activation code. So, what's the fuss?

Let's make sure we've got this straight: Microsoft is asking you to activate your software before you can use it. You're not required to pass on any personal information (though given past episodes, we can understand those who are a bit wary here), and if for some reason you need to reinstall your software, you can call Microsoft support and get a new activation code.

What on earth is so onerous about any of that?

THE FACT IS, Microsoft--along with record labels, movie studios, and for that matter publishers--expect people to pay for its goods. And if they don't expect this, their shareholders should revolt.

So why are people complaining? We've heard all sorts of excuses. It's a violation of privacy. It's just another example of Microsoft using its "monopoly" to make unfair demands on consumers (we actually heard a technology magazine editor make that argument--come on, give us a break).

The real reason they're complaining is that it means it will be much harder to steal software. Sure, folks have all of the excuses in the world--"It's not stealing, because I have a copy in my office," or "It's not stealing, because Office is too expensive in the first place." But the fact is, no matter how you slice it, it ain't kosher.

IN FACT, even Microsoft officials are treading lightly here, explaining that most people won't need to activate their software at all, since in the case of Windows XP, the vast majority of users will get it bundled with new PCs. But why should they feel the need to justify activation? Just come out and say, "We spend a fortune developing new products, we lose millions to piracy, and we're going to do everything in our power to stop people from stealing our software." And while we certainly aren't holding our collective breath for Microsoft to cut prices if it can reduce piracy, we wouldn't be shocked if it raised prices to compensate for greater losses without activation or other antipiracy measures.

Having said all this, product activation may have some kinks that need to get worked out, as our colleague David Coursey discovered last week. It turns out that Office XP disables most of its functionality if the software detects significant hardware changes to the system on which it's installed. But, David says his hardware configuration hadn't changed since installing Office XP, though at the start of a business trip, he was asked to insert his original disc, which of course he didn't have with him since he was traveling. But rather than give him a grace period (we think 30 days is about right, and should be more than sufficient in most cases), it turned off basic features--including creating and saving documents. Microsoft product managers are still looking into David's case and say this is the first time they've heard of something like this happening. But they also acknowledged that if this is anything other than a one-in-a-million scenario, they need to either fix the activation process or revisit how "deactivation" works.

Unfortunately, horror stories like this aren't making it any easier on Microsoft, but that doesn't mean the concept is wrong. They should just make sure that the process works as designed. ASAP.

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