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Windows Updates and Lost Software Licenses and Activations

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Today Windows once again updated more or less automatically. Windows just rebooted without immediate warning after one announcement that an update was available earlier in the day. This is an Insiders Update which tend to be full Windows upgrades that essentially reinstall a newer version of Windows. I'm on the slow Ring so I see updates every few months. That's fine I knew what I was getting into.

Well, every time these major updates happen, along with that Windows install I 'lose' a number of my software licenses for a number of software packages that weren't 'unregistered' before the upgrade.

Right! Unregister. Like I can remember everything that is installed and even if I did, the way Windows auto-updates these days, it's likely I never would get the chance to do it.

Windows Updates kill some Software Activations

So today Insider Build (14342) installed and sure enough I'm back here again. I don't use a lot of commercial software these days, but for me I've been through this dance a few times with these products:

  • Nitro Pro
  • Corel Draw
  • LinqPad
  • Adobe Products
  • Some others I probably have forgotten and will curse when I use them next

The deal is that these products are apparently tied to the local machine and Windows installation and a Windows Update changes enough about this configuration that the license managers of these products decide that this version is running on a new machine.


So then you have the 're-activate'. If that was all it was it'd a hassle but OK I can live with that. But, after a couple of times through the 're-activation' process these packages usually tell you that you have too many activations and you can no longer activate again.

For example this is the lovely notices I get from Nitro Pro after I had a totally legit licensed copy running pre-Update:

Not cool!

If you are a vendor using Hardware/OS based Software Activations...

So I get it. You are a software company, want to license your software and keep people from pirating. Fine. I understand that. That's why I paid you some money for a license.

But for goodness' sake, find a different way to enforce your license!

This is just one more reason more and more people are getting pissed off at commercial software. It's already bad enough with nobody wanting to pay for software anymore, expecting it to be free, and this certainly isn't helping the cause for your commercial software.

While I'm Ok paying for software I use, I'm not OK with getting hassled by you for managing your licensing process on your behalf. This is your software bug and you need to solve this problem.

You as a vendor of a commercial solution who I actually supported with my dollars are now making my life miserable as I have to contact you to argue my case, and waste time dealing with your bureaucracy. And not just once, but again and again. You bump the license count and count it as case closed but I have to come back next month after the next update. It wastes my time and your support staff's time.

I for one believe that it's just fine to pay for stuff that I get value from. But if you make my life miserable with this licensing crap, I am going to change my decision and find another vendor who doesn't make me jump through hoops to use their software.

OS Tied Software

Because of the way Windows 10 and forward will now upgrade, Hardware/OS tied licensing is something that is just not going to work going forward.

Windows itself is updating with major features once a year or less now (not counting Insider Previews) so these updates are a fact of life for all users and not just developers who install preview software. This licensing scheme is just not going to work. Unless you are in fact evil and hoping to coerce hapless users into upgrading their license even though it's still valid.

Whatever you do, don't buy a new License!

If your license errors, it doesn't mean you need to buy a new one. The company that sold you that license should give you and updated license count or otherwise renew your existing license so that it will work on the updated version of Windows. Don't buy a new license because of the scary dialog or because in some cases that's easier than dealing with support. That'll just feed the beast.

To be fair all of the companies I mentioned above ended up upping my activation count - I'm guessing they are all well aware of this problem because it's gotta be happening all the time. The folks at Nitro also were nice enough to engage in a discussion of the problem and I was told they are working on changes for the future.

Regardless, the fact remains that it's major hassle to contact a vendor to get a license reactivated. Other companies like Corel were a royal pain not getting back for weeks until I raised a stink on Twitter.

Give it up!

There are other ways clearly. I have plenty of other licensed software (mostly small utilities) on my machine that doesn't require me to reactivate, so this is a solved problem. Big vendors too - Microsoft and Intuit for example can manage somehow.

So if you're one of those vendors that uses Windows tied licenses: Get your shit together and find another way!

The alternative is to continue to piss off your customers and drive them to other companies or free solutions that can. I know I will if you won't address this issue and I hope others do as well.

If you're a user and you run into this problem yourself, please make sure you contact the vendor and write how displeased (or worse!) you are with this practice. And explicitly write down your use case (say you're a developer and get Insider Previews for example) - chances are the support or dev staff that takes that note can actually empathize with you. Let them know that if they continue with this practice you plan on looking elsewhere. If enough people complain this issue will get fixed fast.

Posted in Windows  

The Voices of Reason


Thomas Freudenberg
May 29, 2016

# re: Windows Updates and Lost Software Licenses and Activations

I was hit by the same issue. I'n on the fast ring for inside builds, any my (German) banking software stopped working because I ran out ouf allowed registrations. I contacted the support, and they changed my account to unlimited registrations. Thanks Buhl! (https://www.buhl.de/).

Kevin Ragsdale
May 30, 2016

# re: Windows Updates and Lost Software Licenses and Activations

I agree 100% that vendors must do a better job on licensing. It should be as transparent (and painless) as possible for users. One solution we came up with was to give purchasers two activation keys (receipt numbers), which allows the user to install on two computers - typically, a laptop and a desktop computer. Once the software is activated, it does call home at startup to verify the activation status. I use a "last in wins" methodology with the activation, so if you buy a new computer and install the software, once you activate the software on the new computer you're good to go. No warnings, no messages about "hey, you've already activated on another computer", etc. If the user goes back to the old computer, they see a brief message about the software being activated on a different computer - click a button, and it is "re-activated" on the old computer.

Of course, this means the next time they run the software on the new computer they see the same message. But again, it's just a single click and the software is "re-activated" on the new computer.

People are always going to try to pirate software - it's a pain and a loss of revenue, but I believe it is much better to be as easy on actual purchasers at the cost of some pirating. Plus, it makes people much more likely to buy the next great product we release.

On the backend, I periodically run reports to check the # of activations for each receipt number - if a receipt number has an unusually high number of activations (especially on many different computers), it's easy for me to disable the receipt number and wait to hear from the customer.

November 02, 2016

# re: Windows Updates and Lost Software Licenses and Activations

xcopy deployment or not buy

Joe Albahari
November 02, 2016

# re: Windows Updates and Lost Software Licenses and Activations

Hi Rick

I'm Joe, author of LINQPad.

From your activation log, it appears that nothing has changed with your hardware, and instead, the Windows Update has deleted the file containing the license data (maybe as part of the insider update procedure). This is stored in .NET Isolated Storage, which is contained in %LOCALAPPDATA% or %PROGRAMDATA% (depending on whether you select 'Activate just this user' or 'Activate all users on this machine' when you activate).

Because the hardware is identical when you re-activate, LINQPad does not 'consume' an activation or transfer (you can verify this by going to linqpad.net/licensing/ListActivations.aspx). If Nitro and Adobe work differently, I would consider this a bug in their activation system.

As for a workaround, first try selecting 'Activate all users on this machine' when activating (if you haven't already done so) - it's possible that only %LOCALAPPDATA% is upset while %PROGRAMDATA% is OK. You could also create a start menu shortcut to re-activate LINQPad via the command-line switch(linqpad.net/faq.aspx#licensing) so you don't have to dig out the activation code when this happens again.

Feel free to contact me if you have more information or would like to discuss it further.

Best wishes

Rick Strahl
November 04, 2016

# re: Windows Updates and Lost Software Licenses and Activations

Hey @Joe - thanks for getting back. When major updates (like Insider Builds) happen the LinqPad license gets blown away. I'm pretty sure it's installed for the current user.

Regardless I think using localstorage is not the best place to store this since local storage is by definition a temporary store. It's possible that a major update just blows away localstorage and starts clean, but whatever it is it's not a great experience when that happens. I'll give the All Users setup a try see if that helps...

FWIW - I love LinqPad and use it all the time, so this is why this is very noticable to me when the license notice pops up :-)

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