- Product activation
Product activation is a license validation procedure required by some proprietary computer software programs. In one form, product activation refers to a method invented by Ric Richardson and patented (US 5,490,216) by Uniloc where a software application hashes hardware serial numbers and an ID number specific to the product's license (a product key) to generate a unique installation ID. This installation ID is sent to the manufacturer to verify the authenticity of the product key and to ensure that the product key is not being used for multiple installations.
Alternatively, the software vendor sends the user a unique product serial number. When the user installs the application it requests that the user enter their product serial number, and checks it with the vendor's systems over the Internet. The application obtains the license limits that apply to that user's license, such as a time limit or enabling of product features, from the vendor's system and optionally also locks the license to the user's system. Once activated the license continues working on the user's machine with no further communication required with the vendor's systems. Some activation systems also support activation on user systems without Internet connections; a common approach is to exchange encrypted files at an Internet terminal.
Microsoft first used product activation in Microsoft Word 97 sold in the Hungarian market. It broadened that successful pilot with the release of Microsoft Publisher 98 in the Brazilian market. Microsoft then rolled out product activation in its flagship Microsoft Office 2000 product with SR-1. Some copies sold in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States required the user to activate the product via the Internet. After its success, the product activation system was extended worldwide and incorporated into all subsequent versions of Windows and Office. Despite independently developing its own technology, in 2009 Microsoft was found to have willfully infringed a patent for the creation of unique hardware signatures held by Uniloc.
An 'unactivated' product usually acts as a time-limited trial until a product key is purchased and used to activate the software. Some products allow licenses to be transferred from one machine to another using online tools, without having to call technical support to deactivate the copy on the old machine before reactivating it on the new machine.
An early example of product activation was in the MS-DOS program D'Bridge Email System, a commercial network system for BBS users and Fidonet. The program generated a unique serial number which then called the author's BBS via a dialup modem connection. Upon connection, the serial number was validated. A unique "key" was returned which allowed the program to continue for a trial period. If two D'Bridge systems communicated using the same key, the software deliberately crashed and/or damaged the user's computer. The software has long since had the entire activation system removed and is now freeware by Nick J. Andre, Ltd.
Transfer / deactivation
Some companies such as Adobe require users to "transfer" activation when moving a product from one computer to another, when replacing hardware in an existing computer, or when reformatting a system hard drive. Transfer may involve deactivating a product on the old system before activating it on the new system. Users may be required to be online and to transmit the deactivation to the software provider.
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