You’ll all doubtless remember the inept piece of monitoring software that killed the live webcast of the Hugo ceremony. I’m sure that’s by no means the only instance of software incorrectly accusing someone of theft. In fact, here’s another example.
A couple of months ago I bought a new PC. It came with Windows 7, which has a whole slew of features intended to catch software pirates. When you first boot the system you have to register your copy of Windows, so I did. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when a few weeks later Windows asked me to re-register. I did. Several times. Eventually this stopped working. I just got messages telling me that the activation service was offline. And Windows started giving me rude messages about how parts of my system would be disabled until I registered the software, which of course I could not do.
I tried complaining about this on Twitter, and Microsoft’s support people soon noticed me. This lead to my getting some diagnostic software and finding a solution. Apparently my copy of Windows did not have the correct product key entered. Instead it had a factory default number. What I needed to do was run some software that would allow me to enter the key and all would be well. And so it was.
However, this confused me. Did someone (Lenonvo? PC World?) fail to correctly license the software before shipping it to me? If so, why did registration work earlier? And why was I getting messages saying that the activation service was offline when the actual problem was an invalid key?
Well, the software was working, so I let it be. Another of those great software mysteries. Except that today I was once again told that my copy of Windows was illegal. Entering the correct key fixed it again.
What concerns me about this is that a bug in Microsoft’s piracy prevention software could result in my being locked out of my PC, and cost me a lot of money to fix. I submit that this sort of problem will get much worse before it gets better. As companies get more and more obsessed with piracy prevention, more and more legitimate customers will find themselves incorrectly punished by badly written software. Phil Dick where are you?
Still, at least Microsoft have answered my questions. PC World haven’t yet addressed my initial support query. That’s 18 days without a response.