In only a week since release, over 3 million copies of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion have been sold, making it Apple’s most successful operating system release to date. Mountain Lion, along with a refresh to the entire Macbook line, was announced at Apple’s Word Wide Developer Conference in early June. Since Mountain Lion wasn’t ready to ship with the new Macbooks, Apple is offering free upgrades to anyone who purchased a Mac on or after June 11th through their Up-to-Date program.
However, customers quickly ran into problems when they went to redeem their free upgrades. The Up-to-Date website greets customers with a lengthy validation process requiring them to manually enter data that Apple already has associated with their AppleID. After submission one would expect immediate validation (or at least confirmation from Apple within a timely manner). For many customers, however, their validation email took nearly 48 hours to be received. On top of that, customers were greeted with two emails: one email containing a password protected PDF with the actual redemption code, the other email with the password to open that PDF. Why such a convoluted process?
Apple’s fumble with the Up-to-Date program is a perfect example of how protection and licensing can annoy customers while doing little to reduce software piracy. Customers shouldn't have to sacrifice convenience and user experience to awkward licensing or protection schemes because software vendors are paranoid. It’s about time ISVs realize that increasing layers of protection push customers away, either towards unlicensed use or into the arms of more user friendly competitors.
How? Let’s use Apple’s folly as a test case. Imagine you just purchased a shiny new Retina Macbook Pro but you’ve had some trouble with it and patiently waited for Mountain Lion to be released. On release day you begrudgingly go through the entire Up-to-Date process only to find yourself 24 hours later with no Mountain Lion. Instead of waiting any longer for Apple you decide to hit up The Pirate Bay and see thousands of people getting Mountain Lion within an hour and for free. Now where do you think you’ll be going next time Apple releases an operating system update?
Replace Apple in the last paragraph with the name of your company and Mountain Lion with the name of your product. Guess what? You just found a substantial number of your pirated user base. Licensing and protection keep honest customers honest but they’ll only put up with so much before they’re pushed too far. Face it: it can be far easier to obtain pirated software than legitimate software. While you may not be able to stop people pirating based on price, you can prevent them from pirating because your barrier to fulfillment is too high. In other words, the walls you put up may be keeping good customers in, but it’s certainly keeping many potential customers out.
Software vendors don’t need to punish their customers. Software Intelligence offers a solution to software piracy that has virtually no impact on the end user. Customers who are honest like to stay honest so make it easy for them, at the same time keep track of unlicensed users and convert would be customers into paying ones. Want to learn more? Read the White Paper by IDC’s Amy Konary where she discusses the future of software license compliance.
Vice President, Products & Strategy at Revulytics
Victor DeMarines brings extensive security product management and marketing experience to Revulytics, where he is responsible for product strategy and direction. He is a frequent speaker and author on topics including piracy, reverse engineering and the protection of intellectual property.
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